WASHINGTON (AP) - It was altogether a more intimate affair than four years ago. Just a party of untold hundred thousands, chilling in the nation’s backyard.
President Barack Obama’s inauguration Monday brought out a festive crowd of flag-wavers who filled the National Mall to overflowing, hailed his moment with lusty cheers and spent their down time spotting celebrities amid the bunting.
No match for the staggering masses and adrenaline-pumping energy of his first turn as president on the west front of the Capitol. But a lively second act.
After a roaring rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” came James Taylor strumming his guitar and singing “America the Beautiful.” Then an all-for-show swearing-in, replicating the official one Sunday.
Then Obama spoke, as all presidents must in one way or another, about “one nation and one people,” healing words after a battering ram of an election and before the partisan struggles ahead. The address clocked in at 18 minutes, about the same as in 2009.
Sharon Davis of Suitland, Md., retired after 22 years in the Air Force, said it all made her proud beyond words. “There’s a lot of energy here today,” she said. “But it doesn’t compare to last time, when it was just off the charts.”
Spectators stood five to six deep along the broad sweep of Pennsylvania Avenue for the afternoon inaugural parade, featuring more than 8,800 military and civilian participants in floats, marching bands, dance troupes and more. Chinese-American folk dancers from Delaware, a Kansas University trumpet ensemble, Boston College “Screaming Eagles” and Idaho firefighters contributed to the eclectic mix.
It took 90 minutes for Katasha Smart of Randallstown, Md., to get through security and into position for the parade after walking from near the Washington Monument, where video and audio malfunctions made Obama’s address hard to see and hear.
“The energy level is lower,” she said. “Before it was just so exciting _ you could be walking for miles and miles and it didn’t even feel like an effort.”
The excitement picked up, though, when the Obamas came by in the parade and made the all-but-obligatory exit from their limousine to walk for a few minutes. Shouts of “Get out!” turned to happy chants of his name. He and his wife, Michelle, blew kisses to the spectators before getting back in the car.
Hours before the pageantry, people on foot spilled out of Metro stations near the White House and streamed toward the scene, official vehicles sealed off intersections blocks from the White House and Obama stood for a blessing in the “Church of Presidents.”
The service at St. John’s Episcopal Church captured the intended tone of the day: unity. Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church spoke in the blessing of “this new season of opportunity after conflicting opinions and visions and platforms clanged against each other like a resounding gong. “
A sea of people filled stretches of the National Mall from the west front of the Capitol back to the Washington Monument and beyond, to the reflecting pool. No one expected a repeat of the unprecedented crowds of four years ago. But for many thousands, it was not to be missed.
David Richardson, 45, brought his children, Camille, 5, and Miles, 8, from Atlanta to soak it all in and to show them, in Obama’s achievement, that “anything is possible through hard work.”
The “mostly Republican” Vicki Lyons, 51, of Lakewood, Colo., called the experience “surreal” and “like standing in the middle of history.”