Local Politics

National Mall closed as crowds swell

Posted January 20, 2009 10:38 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The U.S. Park Police, which provide security for the National Mall, closed the mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument Tuesday morning as crowds continued to swell for Barack Obama's historic presidential inauguration.

Braving frigid temperatures, an exuberant crowd of hundreds of thousands packed the mall on Tuesday to celebrate the inauguration of the nation's first black president. Many were too far away to actually glimpse the proceedings, but they said they wanted simply "to be here."

Marjorie Young, of Zebulon, came from the Triangle to take part and was given two tickets to the inauguration by Wake County Commissioner Lindy Brown, who couldn't make the trip.

"I won't be able to repay this favor because I've been trying forever to get tickets," Young said. "We're having like a reunion. We came for the March on Washington 40-something years ago."

Watching Obama's inauguration would complete the trip Martin Luther King Jr. laid out for the nation during the 1963 March on Washington, she said.

"This is the dream come true," she said. "(King) wasn't able to see this, but this is what he was looking for. Things have changed a lot – not enough – but we're hoping for a good change (with Obama)."

Just before noon, Obama will step forward on the West Front of the Capitol to lay his left hand on the same Bible that President Abraham Lincoln used at his first inauguration in 1861. The 35-word oath of office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, has been uttered by every president since George Washington. Obama was one of 22 Democratic senators to vote against Roberts' confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2005.

More than 10,000 people from all 50 states, including bands and military units, were assembled to follow Obama and Biden from the Capitol on the 1.5-mile inaugural parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, concluding at a bulletproof reviewing stand in front of the White House.

Security was unprecedented. Most bridges into Washington and about 3.5 square miles of downtown were closed.

Obama's inauguration represents a time of renewal and optimism for a nation gripped by fear and anxiety.

John Bair, of Chatham County, could sense that mood shift as he made his way around Washington in recent days as a rickshaw driver for Greenway Transit.

"(My friends and I) were talking. 'Let's go to the inauguration, make some money and see a really cool event," Bair said as he pedaled down streets near the mall.

"People are happy. They really feel like they can hold their heads up," he said. "You talk to anybody out here, (and) you see smiles. You don't see people getting angry at each other."

Culminating four days of celebration, the nation's 56th inauguration day began for Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden with a traditional morning worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House. Bells pealed from the historic church's tower as Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrived five minutes behind schedule.

The festivities won't end until well after midnight, with dancing and partying at 10 inaugural balls.

"It is a big party. It's all going to be a big party," Bair said.