- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2013

The crowds weren’t as big as they were four years ago, but hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic spectators flocked to Washington for Monday’s inauguration, where they braved chilly temperatures and heavy security to witness the ceremonial start of President Obama’s second term.

Attendees came from far and wide, with some making the trip on foot from their D.C. homes and many others flying in from across the country.

Spirits were high among revellers, many of whom counted themselves as supporters of the Democratic president, as they took in a day of pageantry that featured patriotic music, Mr. Obama’s swearing-in and speech and a parade and presidential motorcade along Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I think there’s energy, and people are quite optimistic,” said John Coombs, 46, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident who was attending his first inauguration. “I can see hope on everybody’s faces.”

Visitors to the District swarmed the city over the weekend, sightseeing and attending concerts, galas and other events leading up to the inauguration.

Many first-time attendees said the chance to see a U.S. president sworn in was too rare an opportunity to pass up, and that it was well worth having to brave the crowds and stand in lines.

“I’ve watched them on TV, but it’s nothing like actually being here and seeing all the different kinds of people,” said Audrey Black-Tureaud, 53, of West Palm Beach, Fla.

Marissa Joseph, 26, of New Iberia, La., said seeing Mr. Obama’s inauguration was even more meaningful this year, as the ceremony came on the national holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King.

“Just being here and being able to hear him is amazing,” she said. “All those people who fought for us to be here, I’m witnessing the fruits of their labor.”

Local authorities were expecting as many as 700,000 people on the Mall, paling in comparison to the record 1.8 million people who saw Mr. Obama take the oath in 2009 as the nation’s first black president.

The Associated Press reported that a D.C. government official suggested a turnout of as many as 1 million people. Chris Geldart, who directs the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said early and unofficial estimates based on aerial views of how the crowd filled sections of the Mall were much higher than the projected crowd.

The turnout was more than enough to jam security checkpoints and stretch the city’s transit system.

Metro officials reported that travel Monday was heavy but significantly smoother than four years ago, with ridership at 538,000 as of 4 p.m. — about two-thirds of the 807,000 who had traveled Metro by that point on Inauguration Day 2009. The stations jammed again as people left the downtown area, and four stations were closed in the afternoon because of crowding.

Several parking lots and garages filled early. Metro officials by mid-morning said no spaces were available at seven stations across the area.

Checkpoints at the Capitol were jammed, but security personnel moved people through quickly.

“Everybody’s being pretty patient. It’s more organized,” said Michael Moss, 62, of Louisville, Ky., comparing the lines with what he experienced in 2009. Mr. Moss and his wife were buying $5 hand warmers from a vendor near the checkpoint at First and D streets Northwest.

Frances Lippette, 70, of Raleigh, N.C., was decked out in Obama campaign buttons.

“There’s not as many people, but it’s still just as exciting for me,” she said.

With smaller crowds than in 2009, many spectators were still left outside checkpoints with the ceremony well under way.

By 11:30 a.m., officials announced all entry points to the Mall had been closed and advised visitors to go to an overflow area at the Washington Monument.

At a checkpoint at First and D streets Northwest, lines still stretched a full city block to get into the parade route by the time Mr. Obama was sworn in before noon, with people needing to be screened after that. Cups, bottles and Thermoses were piled high where security personnel confiscated liquids, and lawn chairs and umbrellas sat around overflowing trash cans.

After Mr. Obama took the oath and festivities concluded at the Capitol, the celebration moved to the streets where the president rode in a motorcade from the Capitol to the White House.

Excited spectators lined the streets, cheering and waving in a scene that captured Mr. Obama’s dual status as chief executive and celebrity to his most loyal supporters.

The cheers only intensified when he and first lady Michelle Obama got out of their limousine to walk a portion of the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue and wave to spectators.

“Unbelievable,” said LaJoye Trott, 51, of Atlanta, who jumped up and down as the president walked by. “You can’t believe the president of the United States gets out of the limo right in front of you and starts to wave like a regular guy — and really he’s not.”

The party continued long after the Obamas arrived home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., as marching bands paraded along the route to cap a day many visitors said they won’t forget.

Pamela Frazier, 62, of Chicago waited two hours to get into the parade route. She brought four of her grandchildren, who were between the ages of 12 and 16 — three of whom had accompanied her to the inauguration in 2009.

“I want my grandkids to see this again and be a part of history,” she said.

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