President Ulysses S. Grants second inauguration on March 4, 1873, was the coldest on record, with near-zero temperatures, snow, sleet, and bitter winds. Despite the weather, the days festivities continued, with the inauguration ceremony at the Capitol, the traditional parade review at the White House, a spectacular fireworks display, and the grand ball. The ball, however, was a disaster. It was held in a temporary structure on Judiciary Square, designed to house more than 6,000 guests. It was described as "gayly decorated and brilliantly lighted,"1 however, no heating equipment had been installed. Women and men danced with their coats on, food and drink froze solid, and musicians were barely able to play their frigid instruments. Canaries had been imported to sing to the guests, but instead dropped dead in their cages from the cold. The president and his cabinet arrived about 11:30 p.m. to strains of the U.S. Navy Bands "Hail to the Chief," but stayed only a short time before being whisked into a nearby private, heated room for supper. Only about half the guests attended the ball, and by midnight everyone had gone home. Undoubtedly, this Harpers Weekly engraving is an idealized view of the festivities.
1. "The Second Inauguration," Harpers Weekly, 22 March 1873, 980.