The 1767 King James Bible also was used at the inaugurations of Presidents George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Dwight Eisenhower and Warren Harding. "There's a direct historical link with this Bible," said Natalie Rule, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
St. John's Lodge No. 1, A.Y.M., Free and Accepted Masons, of New York City has owned the Bible for 200 years. It's usually on display at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan.
On Inauguration Day 1789, when members of the first Congress gathered at Federal Hall to swear in Washington, they realized there was no Bible on hand. A Mason who was a marshal in the inaugural parade volunteered to fetch one from the nearby lodge.
When Washington put his hand on the 9-pound book, it was open to Genesis, Chapters 49 and 50. When he finished reciting the 35-word oath, he ad-libbed the phrase, "I swear, so help me God," which has been included in the oath ever since.
The Masons offer their Bible for every presidential inauguration. President Clinton opted to use his grandmother's.
On Friday, Jules Garfunkel and three others from the lodge's Bible committee will carry the book in a specially made leather case to Washington. "It's held very close to the chest," said Garfunkel, who sleeps with it in his hotel room.
The book is so fragile that not even Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, who will administer the oath at Saturday's inaugural ceremony, is allowed to touch it. Instead, it will rest on a red cushion trimmed in gold braid that Rehnquist will hold, Garfunkel said.
Rule said she did not know whether Bush wanted it opened to a particular spot.