January 20: Inaugural Bells (1925)

In Observance of Inauguration Day

The bells in Epiphany’s tower were installed in 1922 as a memorial to seventh rector, Randolph McKim. The number of bells (15) was intentional to accommodate the wide range of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Within a year of their installation, the bells were used to mark a presidential transition. Halfway through his first term in office, President Warren G. Harding died while on a trip to the west coast. Epiphany’s bells tolled for the president’s death. Vice President Calvin Coolidge was quietly sworn in by his father, a justice of the peace, at their Vermont homestead.
Epiphany’s bells began their inaugural history when they were rung for the inauguration of Calvin Coolidge’s first full term on March 4, 1925. (Beginning in 1933, the Twentieth Amendment changed the inauguration date to January 20.) Coolidge (depicted here with his wife, Grace) was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol by Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft. This was the first time a former U.S. president administered the oath of office. This was the first time that the ceremony was broadcast nationally on radio. This was the first time that Epiphany’s bells rang to mark the beginning of a president’s term of office. For the 23 inaugurations since, Epiphany’s bells have rung to mark this pivotal moment in American democracy.

 

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