WASHINGTON — It was a day of history, pomp and circumstance. It also was a day of massive crowds, sold-out souvenir newspapers and sub-freezing temperatures.
And, of course, Aretha Franklin, who wore a sparkly hat as she belted out a heart-felt rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” before Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Gloria Thomas of Longdale, Calif., on Tuesday. “I dreamed pretty big, but I never dreamed that something like this would happen in my lifetime.”
Thomas, who said she suffered from heart disease, was catching her breath after the ceremony — and sending a text message to her family to tell them that she was “part of history.”
“I feel important,” Thomas, 52, said. “This makes me feel like I count. Obama’s going to turn this world around for the better; you watch.”
She was part of a massive throng of attendees that jammed the streets of the capital, the Metro system and the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. Starting well before dawn, excited onlookers, many of whom joined the serpentine lines to get to a good viewing spot, filled the city.
“We got on the massively packed subway at 7 a.m.,” said Stephen Langsdorf of Hallowell. “It was completely full, but at every stop more people got on. It was full, but it didn’t matter — the mood around here for the last several days has been so happy and inclusive and excited.”
Some people reported the crowd’s good mood prevented a dangerous situation arising when thousands of ticket holders — including some who received theirs from Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office — couldn’t get through the security gates to a viewing area.
“I waited for hours within several hundred yards of the gates with no direction or assistance from the police or fire-fighters. There was no crowd control, no one seemed to know what was going on, and rumors abounded,” said Willow Wetherall. “To make matters worse, multiple ambulances inched their way through the crowd, creating dangerous surges of movement in their wake.”
Wetherall, originally from Orono, has been helping the BDN cover the inaugural activities.
Lots of people were dressed to the cozy nines in full-length fur coats, and Obama bling such as winter hats with the new president’s name emblazoned in rhinestones.
“Did you see all those minks out there?” asked Barbara White of Milwaukee, Wis. “Everybody dressed up for Obama. We thought it was Sun-day in church.”
Spectators including White cheered twice when George Bush flew off in his helicopter — once when they saw it on the JumboTron, and again when they spotted the actual helicopter flying overhead.
White said she enjoyed the moment, and sent him off in style.
“I sang “Hey, hey, hey, good-bye,” she said, grinning.