WASHINGTON – Seamus Davis felt the orange crush trying to catch a glimpse of President Barack Obama on Monday.
His grandparents gave him their airline miles, and Washington State Democrats Vice Chair Valerie Rongey gave him a place to stay. The Obama volunteer received tickets to the event from an unlikely source: Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
But when Davis stepped into line at 9:45 a.m., his luck seemed to run out.
“They weren’t letting anyone in,” the 22-year-old Spokane resident said.
The delays at the Orange Gate at First and D streets quickly spread through social media. Twitter users, some with the unfortunate color-coded ticket in hand, tweeted updates using the hashtag “#orangecrush.”
Davis didn’t have a smartphone, and cellphone usage caused some blackouts. Yet he managed to find his way to the lawn just as the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir performed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The security bungle cost him a view of the stage, but he watched Obama take the oath of office for his second term on massive screens flanking the National Mall.
Spokane residents who made the more than 2,000-mile trek to the nation’s capital for the event faced huge crowds, heightened security and temperatures settling back to a seasonably brisk level after a balmy weekend. Witnessing the historic moment and representing the Inland Northwest made it all worth it, they said.
Legislative District 6 Democratic Chairwoman Mary Wissink stood Monday on the Capitol’s lawn with her husband, Spokane lawyer Tom McGarry. The two rose at 4 a.m. to make their way to the ceremony and had better luck with the crowds than Davis.
“We got to see it all,” Wissink said. “We had a clear view of the president.”
Wissink last visited Washington, D.C., in the late 1980s. She carries the memory of her father, an Obama supporter who died in 2011. Alfred Wissink served as a B-17 gunner during World War II and was unable to make the trip on Obama’s first inauguration day.
“I know he’s here in spirit,” Mary Wissink said.
About a quarter mile away, near the Capitol’s reflecting pool, 17 seventh- and eighth-graders from St. George’s School took in the ceremony, which featured musical performances from James Taylor, Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson.
Led by history teacher Steve Gavin, the group toured Williamsburg, Va., on Friday and spent the weekend taking in sights near the capital.
As the temperature fell Sunday night, the group visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument. They paused to pose with statues commemorating the 32nd president’s four terms as parents snapped pictures.
A visit to George Washington’s home on Mount Vernon couldn’t shake the students’ anticipation of Monday’s ceremony.
“It’s a really long-standing thing, so it’ll just be cool to see,” seventh-grader Hailey Poutiatine said. “Because you don’t really get that chance more than once in a lifetime, do you?”
It certainly seemed that way for Davis, whose journey to the inauguration began at an early age. As an elementary school student, he would watch presidential speeches and inaugurations and long to be in the crowd. In the past year, he’s volunteered for the Obama campaign, served as a delegate to the Democratic Party’s national convention in Charlotte, N.C., and wrote both Washington senators and McMorris Rodgers in hopes of nabbing a ticket.
“It’s been a crazy nine months for me,” Davis said.
Clouds rolled in Monday morning, and a stiff southerly wind kept the wind chill factor in the 30s throughout much of the day. The sun peeked out in the afternoon, and the day ended much warmer than Obama’s first inauguration, when wind chills dwelled in the teens.
As the president ended his remarks to a crowd on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, members of the Central Valley High School marching band and color guard departed to tune up for their performance in the inaugural parade. The decorated performers joined members of the United States Navy and a float dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
Spokane native Jemima Wynn rode in the parade as a member of the Culver Girls Academy Equestriennes. The riding group, based in northern Indiana, has accompanied the school’s Military Academy Black Horse Troop in seven inaugural ceremonies.
The scope of Monday’s celebration will stick with Wissink and Davis for a long time. Wissink said she wouldn’t forget “the magic of watching the president speak to almost a million people.”
Davis’ obstructed view didn’t dampen his spirits.
“The fact that I was there, that was enough.”