When the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library's doors opened at 10 a.m., about 20 people waited outside for seats in front of a television screen in the building's main hall. By the time Barack Obama was sworn in two hours later, it was standing room only.
The entire student body of the St. Ignatius Loyola Academy walked from Calvert Street to the library, where the students sat on the floor down front.
"Barack Obama is trying his best to make America whole again," said 11-year-old Solaimon Turner, of Northwest Baltimore. "He told us, 'Do not lose faith.' "
Eighth-grader Stephan Camphur, 13, who lives in West Baltimore, described the speech as "emotional" and "inspiring."
"A lot of people will want to be like President Obama," Stephan said.
With dozens of Democrats absent from the Maryland State House to attend inauguration festivities, the normally sidelined Republican Party served an important function during perfunctory legislative sessions yesterday: showing up.
Without Republicans, the House of Delegates and Senate would not have achieved the quorum needed to gavel into session. "Republicans saved the day, Mr. Speaker," Del. Christopher B. Shank, the minority whip from Washington County, called out after the quorum call.
"Yes, you did," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat.
Then the two parties went their separate ways. Many Republicans and legislative aides planned to gather in a caucus meeting room to watch the inauguration on television, while several Democrats headed to the governor's reception room, leaving it unclear how long vows of bipartisanship will last on both national and state stages.
Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority leader from Southern Maryland, said he would commemorate Obama's inauguration just as he did those of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. "This inauguration will be no different for me," O'Donnell said. "It's a great day for the republic. I'm awed by our peaceful transition of power, and I honor it by going to work."
Laura Smithermanand Gadi Dechter
Leaving the ceremony proved more challenging than the already-daunting task of getting there. As thousands steamed out of the National Mall moments after the new president's speech, the streets near the Smithsonian buildings became human gridlock as waves of people ran into metal barriers and were forced to turn back.
Some people knocked down barricades in frustration near 14th Street Northwest and Constitution Avenue. Camouflaged National Guard troops initially protested but finally removed some of the metal fences, eliciting cheers from the crowd. Pedestrians who stumbled into the parade route encountered more human traffic jams as they mixed with those who were camped out for the afternoon's main event.
Even a recommended exit route on 18th Street took on the tone of a grim march as pedestrians plodded up eight blocks to an overflowing metro station literally shoulder to shoulder. A normal 15-minute walk took more than an hour. It would take them much longer to reach their final destinations.
"Well, they thought most of this through. God bless the Port-a-potties, but they could have thought more about the getting-out part," one woman muttered as she crossed G Street.
Along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, there was an almost carnival-like atmosphere, but for the cold and the imposing presence of police lining the grand boulevard shoulder to shoulder. Pop music blared from speakers. Some people danced to stay warm. Kids clutched American flags. And they turned out early, many arriving before the security checkpoints opened at 7 a.m.
They never saw the swearing-in, just heard Obama take the oath over giant speakers.
"It was worth it, runny nose and all," said Tim Brown, a counselor from Winchester, Va., shortly after the president passed him near 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue more than seven hours after Brown had arrived.
James Briscoe, an 84-year-old retired machinist, remembers being discriminated against because of his race when he was a gunner's mate on an aircraft carrier decades ago. And yesterday, he saw a black man become president of the United States.
"He's going to finish what he started," Briscoe said after watching the new president give his speech. "This is a turnover for us. It's going to change. This is when we go all the way."
Sitting next to him at the Liberty Senior Center in Randallstown, Evelyn Heath, 87, described Obama's speech as "beautiful." To Heath, who grew up in Gulfport, Miss., at a time when racism was rampant and oppressive, Obama's inauguration as the 44th president, and the address he gave that followed, was nothing less than transformative.
Obama's evocations of an all-inclusive nation, in which people of all creeds and colors work toward a common destiny, recalled for Heath the advice of her parents when she was still a child.
"They said to me, 'You can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's right,' and that's what kept me motivated," said Heath, who did baby-sitting jobs and worked in an office after graduating from high school. Later, she married and had two children. "It's all turned out right," she said, beaming at the TV screen.