There’s been lots of talk about how many people will fill the Mall come Jan. 20 for one of the country’s more historic inaugurations. In an article last week, the competition across town - which we call the Other Paper - talked the million people who came to bicentennial celebrations in 1976 and the Million Man March in 1995, “which drew about a million people, give or take a few hundred thousand.”
Huh? At the time, the National Park Service said the crowd was 400,000, which raised such howls of protest that the Park Service stopped giving crowd estimates from then on.
And - haven’t we forgotten a certain religious gathering - the Promise Keepers meeting on the Mall in 1997 - that did draw close to 1 million? Actually, I heard it was closer to 1.2 million but none of the Park Service guys wanted to go on the record.
I attended all three events. Beginning with the gigantic July 4, 1976 bicentennial celebration, the Mall was packed, packed, packed from the Capitol down to the Lincoln Memorial. I was a college student then, sitting near the Lincoln Memorial and I remember well how crowded it was. However, we were spread out on blankets, so it wasn’t like we were all standing bunched together. We sat there most of the day, which is what you had to do to get prime seating for the fireworks celebration that night.
I also was at the Million Man March. By the time you got anywhere near the Washington monument, the crowds were pretty spread out and concentrated around the jumbotrons. There were far fewer people there than at the Promise Keepers gathering two years later where people were largely standing much of the time AND packed together, which makes for a much denser crowd. Am mystified why the Other Paper did not mention that gathering, which drew plenty more folks.
So let’s set the record straight on crowd counts, not forgetting the Promise Keepers gathering. Maybe Obama will outdo them all. Maybe he won’t, this being January (and probably a chilly day to boot) when the inauguration will take place. I stood out in the rain for one of the Bush inaugurations and thousands of us eventually sought refuge in one of the nearby national art galleries. The parade bleachers were nearly empty, the weather was so cold. But then again, that inauguration was not history. This upcoming one is.
- Julia Duin, religion editor, The Washington Times