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Presidential promenade

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 21, 2009

Emotional mass fills Mall to witness transition to President Obama

WASHINGTON – On the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial, people stood gazing across a vast carpet of humanity that stretched to the cream-colored inauguration platform two miles away.

Dwyan Turner West, a 36-year-old tech manager for the Army, listened quietly as Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation’s 44th president. West, an African American, stepped to the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, bowed his head, clasped his hands and saluted.

His angular face was taut, his eyes blinking. At the conclusion, he raised his right fist in the air, then both fists. A stranger, a white man, leaned into his ear and said, “Welcome to the new America.”

Turner West shook his head and smiled. “We did it,” he said. “We finally did it. It’s here.”

Such was the sentiment of many of those who braved the cold and the crowds Tuesday to witness the transition of power and to hear Obama’s first words as commander in chief.

The air was filled with the stirring music of John Philip Sousa and Aaron Copeland and with chants of “Oh-Bahm-UH!”

And when Obama stood before the throng and began his inaugural address – “My fellow citizens!” – a voice from the thousands in front of the Capitol enthusiastically responded: “Yes, sir.”

Such sentiment was the soul of the day.

People wept, danced, sang and kissed.

They formed an emotional mass stretching from the foot of the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial two miles away.

Well before sunrise, crowds began arriving on the Mall from across the country, by all means of transportation. Others staked out spots hours in advance along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, where Obama and his wife, Michelle, thrilled the crowd by walking a stretch. Many others celebrated at the 10 official balls and countless parties throughout the region.

With many bridges and roads closed to personal vehicles, the Metro subway system was jammed with a record number of riders.

There was confusion at some Metro stations, which shut down at times because too many people were streaming in.

But the biggest headaches took place at checkpoints near the Capitol, and some people with tickets to the swearing-in did not get to see it.

Considering the size of the crowd and the security challenges it presented, however, the day went off without major problems.

As dusk fell, no one had been trampled or seriously injured, according to officials. There was no property damage. And officials, pronouncing the day a resounding security success, reported no arrests.

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