A tremendous crowd filled Washington for Barack Obama's presidential inauguration yesterday, surpassing by many estimates the mark set more than four decades ago when 1.2 million people are thought to have watched Lyndon B. Johnson take the oath of office in 1965.
Early indications were that easily more than a million people, and perhaps 2 million, may have journeyed to the National Mall and surrounding areas for the swearing-in of the first African-American president.
The National Park Service - long relied on to calculate crowds for large Washington events - is expected to provide a firmer estimate later in the week, according to a spokesman. Crowd counting is an inexact and controversial business. Experts cautioned that it would be difficult to quickly calculate the size of the gathering.
The Washington Post reported a crowd
of 1.8 million.
The park service has not done official estimates in more than a decade, obeying an order by Congress to stop in the aftermath of controversy over how many people attended the 1995 Million Man March. Then, estimates varied from 400,000 to more than 1 million.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan's inauguration drew about 500,000 people; President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration drew about 800,000, according to the park service.
Oops! That modifier's misplaced
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., swearing in a new president for the first time, flubbed the opening words of the oath of office. President Barack Obama paused, then repeated the right words slightly out of order.
The presidential oath comes directly from the Constitution. It says, "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
When Roberts administered the oath, he misplaced the word "faithfully."
Obama said, "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear ..."
Roberts continued, "that I will execute the office of the president to the United States faithfully ..."
Obama paused and then said, "that I will execute ..."
Roberts interjected, "faithfully the office of the president of the United States ..."
Then Obama said, "the office of president of the United States faithfully," repeating the chief justice's words.
From there, they got back on track.
ONLY SECURITY HITCH IS 'UNCERTAIN' THREAT
The swearing-in came off without a security-related hitch yesterday, but underneath the calm veneer, federal authorities were intensively investigating a report that a group of Somalia-based militants wanted to initiate some kind of inauguration-related attack.
The day's responsibilities for most security officers ended at 4:39 p.m., when the Obamas walked under the white awning and entered the White House.
But for others it will continue, as authorities search for any indication that the Somalia-based threat was real.
Russ Knocke, chief spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said authorities were taking the threat very seriously but it was "of limited specificity and uncertain credibility."
One federal law enforcement official said the threat involved individuals affiliated with al Shabaab, a radical Islamist extremist group that is active in Somalia.
In recent years, U.S. authorities have become concerned that U.S.-based Somalians are traveling to Somalia to fight alongside al Shabaab and other extremists there against U.S. ally Ethiopia.
WALK TOWARD THE WHITE HOUSE
Barack Obama (below) stepped out of his armored limousine yesterday to greet some members of the enthusiastic crowd that lined the route of his inaugural parade, providing a thrill to viewers who waited hours for a glimpse of the new president and additional stress for the Secret Service officers whose job it was to protect him.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined the Obamas for the stroll. The four walked for about seven minutes before getting back into their limousines.
They left their vehicles again about two blocks from the White House.