Around the city, the region, the country -- and perhaps the world -- people stopped what they were doing yesterday to take in the pageantry and the significance of the moment that a black man, the son of an African immigrant, became president of the United States. Some stayed close to home, gathering together to share this day in history. Those who made it to Washington braved low temperatures and enormous crowds -- and even if they were hundreds of thousands of bodies away from the ceremony, stuck in place along the parade route without access to the TV screens showing the swearing-in, shut out of the places they hoped they'd be, they were excited they would have a story to tell from the day Barack Obama became the 44th president.
History was waiting -- but some people couldn't figure out how they were going to get there, or back.
So enthusiastic was Ragan Denton to see Barack Obama become the nation's first African-American president that she packed up her car, her boyfriend and her two daughters (ages 8 and 16) and drove 14 hours from Memphis to Baltimore for the inauguration. She had planned ahead as far as reserving a hotel room in the city back in September and thought she'd probably drive to Washington yesterday.
Last week, however, she snagged train tickets to Washington right before they sold out. Only glitch: The tickets were one-way.
Still, as she waited with swarms of others to board an early-morning train at Penn Station, Denton, 34, still considered the tickets a "blessing." She thrilled she would be a part of the celebration in D.C. and knew they'd come up with some way to get back. That was a worry for later.
Liz F. Kay
Those unlucky enough to be called for jury duty yesterday arrived at the Clarence M. Mitchell Courthouse in Baltimore by 8:15 a.m. They were assured that a television would be set up for anyone who wanted to watch the swearing-in. Until then, Meet the Parents was the provided entertainment.
At 11:50, a jury room official announced that because of technical difficulties, the inauguration would not be shown. The potential jurors, who had been sitting all morning without a single judge calling for a jury, grumbled. But the official managed to get a live Internet video stream of the ceremony on a computer monitor at the front of the room. A dozen people crowded around, leaning in to hear the faint sound and shushing each other.
One man was able to call up an Internet feed on his laptop computer. The room broke into applause after Obama took the oath of office. A few people cried. Five minutes into the new president's address, a court official finally located a radio and turned up the volume so everyone could hear.
Still, many were disappointed that the courthouse had not made better provisions to show the inauguration in a city Obama won with 87 percent of the vote. "This is pathetic," said Lori McBee, 30, who lives in Mount Vernon. She called her husband and asked him to tape the ceremony.
After the radio broadcast, court officials continued the presentation of Meet the Parents. Not a single jury was called.
Their tickets should have put them within a few yards of the U.S. Capitol during the swearing-in, but after waiting in line for three cold hours yesterday morning, M. Shawn Copeland and Sister Dr. Jamie T. Phelps were turned away by officials who closed their entrance due to heavy crowds.
So the women returned to Union Station, where they figured they could at least watch the ceremony on TV. But there wasn't a television set to be found. Shortly before noon, they spotted a newspaper reporter watching a live video feed on his laptop. They asked to watch with him.
"It's a very important day," said Copeland, an associate professor at Boston College. "Probably more important than we realize."
Gus G. Sentementes
Feeling they wanted Inauguration Day to be a shared experience, hundreds of Marylanders poured into the Baltimore Convention Center's ballroom to witness the moment many saw as the beginning of a new era. The crowd, which had the feeling of a party with neighbors, waved small flags, cheered, hugged and cried as the new president was sworn in. They took pictures of the ceremony on television as though they were standing right there on the Mall.
The crowd didn't even become angry and impatient when the big live broadcast of the ceremony lost sound for a few minutes. Instead, many there talked about the need for people to come together and take more personal responsibility for their actions and their lives, themes that echoed Obama's.
Wesley Shaw, a 39-year-old city worker, said he had been changed by the election. He didn't believe that white America would ever elect a black man president, he said, but as Obama began winning one primary after another, he began to feel a new sense of citizenship. "During the primaries I started feeling like an American," he said.
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.
And while the crowd screamed and applauded at times, it went silent during Obama's speech.
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.
Nick MadiganCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun