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Merchants peddled the parallels between King and Mr. Obama, with pictures of the two on T-shirts selling for $25. For $50, souvenir hunters could pick up a basketball jersey which read “Denver 2008 - Day of Change.”

By late afternoon, police were telling high-spirited delegates, many sporting large hats, buttons and signs, that from the back of the line it could take two hours or more before they finally reached their seats, even with the stadium entrance clearly visible.

People standing in lines shared sun-block lotion, and when two officers spotted an elderly woman trying to climb a steep hill just to reach the back of the line, they gently took her by the arms and escorted her to a more accessible entrance.

As the hour for Mr. Obama’s speech approached, the stadium took on the anticipatory air of a major sporting event or rock concert. Supporters did the wave in the stands and took countless photos of themselves and the scene to capture the historic night.

In addition to yet more warm-up political oratory as the Democrats wrapped up their four-day convention, musical stars provided entertainment as the huge throngs settled in.

Among them: John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, and “Dream Girls” star Jennifer Hudson, who sang the National Anthem.

Amid the light-hearted festivities, there were some who said the evening carried much more momentous historical overtones.

“People shouldn’t forget why they’re here,” said veteran civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, an associate of King’s and a former candidate for the Democratic nomination himself.

“It has been a 45-year marathon,” he said. “Barack Obama is running the anchor.”