Inaugural fever

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland, one of the bluest states in the nation, will have more than one reason to celebrate when Barack Obama is sworn in as president of the United States on Jan. 20. From Aberdeen to Frederick, Baltimore and Washington's suburbs, the state is anticipating a bonanza of visitors as hundreds of thousands of Americans descend on the nation's capital for the inauguration.

It's an extraordinary chance for the state to put its best face forward, including a rich African-American heritage, and promote its scenes of significant turning points in American history. Marylanders should revel in it.

At a time when the economic outlook appears as gray as a winter sky, the inauguration offers a chance for local businesses to pump up their bottom lines. So far, reservations at hotels across the state are mounting, and tourism officials are urging travelers to extend their stays through the three-day Martin Luther King Day weekend before the Tuesday inauguration.

Extra MARC and Amtrak train service should be available to keep cars off the road and make the trip from Maryland to Washington hassle-free. Shuttle buses from downtown hotels would give guests easy access to Baltimore's museums and other cultural attractions.

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture presents the courageous journeys toward freedom and self-determination made by African-American Marylanders and the life story of Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the Supreme Court. Nearby are Civil War battlefields at Antietam and Gettysburg, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered a memorable address that also inspired Mr. Obama's victory speech this month.

Four years ago, about 300,000 people attended the inauguration of President George W. Bush. Planners of the Obama inauguration say more than a million are expected. While some are using the opportunity to cash in on the excitement by charging exorbitant amounts of money to rent their Maryland suburban homes, others are generously hosting friends who can't afford the pricey alternatives.

Those who make it to Washington should be prepared for a crush. The U.S. Secret Service will have the daunting task of coordinating security on the National Mall with help from 58 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and an additional 4,000 officers from police forces around the country. It sounds like a monumental exercise in crowd control, but that many people have descended on the Mall before, in 1965 for President Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration and more recently for a 2004 abortion rights march.

If the January event is anything like Mr. Obama's election celebration in Chicago's Grant Park, the new president should inspire a joyous crowd and some dancing in the streets. Despite continuing conflicts around the world and a depressing economic slowdown, change and hope for a new beginning should be a powerful message for Americans facing an uncertain future.

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