Tuesday's Inauguration Steeped in Tradition

Dec 11, 2011


When Gov. Steve Beshear is sworn in Tuesday to his second term as Kentucky’s highest state official, he will embrace many of Kentucky's historic and colorful inaugural traditions. Beshear has pledged Kentucky’s 59th Inauguration will be economical – thanks to many cost-savings measures – but the all-day celebration will still feature many inaugural customs that have become synonymous with the event over the past 219 years.

One of the longest-lived traditions is the inaugural ball that ends the day’s celebration. While multiple balls became the norm for several governors in the past, Beshear requested that there only be one ball during his second inauguration.

Known at first as “Inaugural Hops,” the early balls were held in the House of Representatives chamber of the Old State Capitol. By 1855, the inaugural ball moved to the old Capital Hotel on Main Street, which had built a ballroom for the purpose in 1853.

After the turn of the century, because of the growing crowds, the inaugural ball was held in the Old Skating Colosseum on Second Street in Frankfort. In 1915, the new Capitol was chosen as the permanent site for the ball. A ballroom built in the new governor’s mansion especially for the inaugural ball was never used because it could not accommodate the growing crowds.

This year’s ball at the Frankfort Convention Center returns the event to downtown Frankfort.

Several events, however, will still take place at the Capitol. After a morning worship service at the convention center, Beshear, first lady Jane Beshear, Lt. Gov.-Elect Jerry Abramson, and his wife, Madeline, will travel by horse-drawn carriage up Capital Avenue toward the Capitol in the inaugural parade.

Governors and their families have ridden on horseback, in carriages and in automobiles in past inaugural parades. In his autobiography, Gov. Happy Chandler alludes to the fact that he was one of the first governors in numerous years to bring back the tradition of riding in a carriage as he did to his swearing-in ceremony in 1935.

This year’s inaugural parade opens with the Army and Air National Guard Colors and the 202nd Army Band. The military played a less decorative role in inaugural festivities during the early part of the 19th Century. At that time, armed soldiers served to protect the governor from possible Indian attacks.

During their swearing-in ceremony, Beshear and Abramson will take Kentucky’s historic oath of office, which still features language regarding duels. The oath of office dates back to 1850 when concern over dueling and deaths that resulted from the practice led lawmakers to place a largely unenforced law regarding duels into the state constitution where it remains today.

Beshear’s inaugural activities will be, however, intentionally less extravagant and more traditional compared with some in the past.

In 1870, a 40-foot balloon of colored paper was inflated and released from the Capitol steps for the inauguration of James B. McCreary. The balloon did soar hundreds of feet but eventually burst into flames over the crowd.

In 1879, Luke P. Blackburn arrived in Frankfort on an elaborately decorated train, complete with a huge, flower-trimmed photograph of Blackburn below a giant “L. P. B.” (his initials) in violets and carnations.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, one of the more popular inaugural traditions will occur at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.


A delegation of Frankfort residents will bear country ham, beaten biscuits and white cake. This tradition,which has been followed for the past 100 years, is said to have started when an outgoing first lady left a baked ham, cake and a platter of beaten biscuits on the dining table for the incoming first lady.