BAR HARBOR, Maine — For at least a few hundred area residents, Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States was a big deal, and not just because of where they watched it.
Approximately 250 people packed into the Reel Pizza movie theater to watch the inauguration live on the theater’s two 10-foot-tall screens.
Rick Hirte of Bar Harbor wore a large Obama sticker on his sweater and ate pizza as he watched. He said the event signaled a defining change for the country, and not just because Obama is the first black man to hold such office.
“I think it means we’re going to get away from the nonsense, away from a two-class society,” Hirte said. “I think [Obama] will do a lot for our standing with the rest of the world.”
The majority, if not all, of the crowd clearly supported Obama and opposed George W. Bush. People in each of the two screening rooms hissed when they saw former Vice President Dick Cheney and cheered when Bush left the Capitol building in a helicopter.
But the audience went completely quiet when Obama gave his speech. They sat in silence, in seats and in the aisles, and stood in rapt attention as the new president spoke.
“I’m glad I had some napkins,” Hirte said after the event. “I saw tears on every face.”
The audience was lively throughout. They applauded former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and when the Portland Head Lighthouse appeared as Aretha Franklin sang “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”
They cheered and shouted “Amen!” as the Rev. Joseph Lowery gave the inaugural benediction, and stood and sang along to the national anthem.
Chris Vincenty, co-owner of Reel Pizza with his wife, Lisa Burton, said screening the inauguration live was a natural fit for the theater, which routinely is host to community events. The theater kitchen was open but, instead of paying admission, attendees were asked to donate money or food to the Bar Harbor Food Pantry.
By having the event double as a fundraiser, Vincenty said, it both echoed Obama’s calls for community involvement and gave people a place to gather.
The event raised $1,233 cash for the pantry.
“Both Lisa and I thought this was something we ought to do for the community,” Vincenty said. “I totally enjoy doing this kind of stuff.”
Tom Burton, owner of the local Blues Authority tavern, had maybe a dozen people watch the inauguration at his business, even though he had encouraged people to do so on the MoveOn.org Web site. But he didn’t let the small crowd dampen his enthusiasm for Obama taking office.
“I think [the election] will be viewed as the day Americans saved America,” Burton said. “Thank God Americans saw the need to elect someone intelligent [for] president.”