With the exception of random sound checks, the National Mall was quiet and almost devoid of people on Sunday, Jan. 20 — especially when compared to the 1 million or so onlookers expected to flood the area for Inauguration Day. And while a half-dozen versions of “God Bless America” rotated through speaker sets lining the lawn, Chief Justice John Roberts quietly swore in President Obama in the White House’s Blue Room, moments shy of the noon deadline mandated by the 20th Amendment.
The occasion placed President Obama in the company of Rutherford B. Hayes, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, who all took the oath of office on the Sunday before the public ceremony.
Speaking of the public ceremony …
Amid the decorations and attendees seated on the Capitol’s balcony, one could narrowly make out a small figure, about as large as a single letter from the text of this report (a “t” maybe). And that was for the people standing at the front of the public-access areas that started at 4th Street, between Independence and Constitution avenues. Otherwise, those who watched the big-screens on the lawn saw a similar presentation to those watching at home or on their office computers, only with a slight temperature difference of 30-40 degrees.
That said, there’s absolutely no means of simulating the power that emanates from such a vast, unified crowd. It’s hard enough to describe the grandeur and elegance of the National Mall on a normal day, much less on a day when a million bodies have congregated to watch an event that has transpired every four years since 1789.
But for many, including a handful of North Carolinians that I tracked down, glimpsing the president was a treat, but also a side note to the weekend’s uptake.
Jocelyn Daily, a 20-year-old George Washington University student from Greensboro, didn’t have to travel far to partake. But it was curiosity about the event’s structure that brought her out to the lawn. “It was the first time I was able to vote,” Daily said, “and I was interested to see what actually happens here in person.”
Being part of the crowd, observing inaugural body became the resounding answer as to why people traveled so far for an event that lasts less than an hour. It was why 16 members of New Bern’s Day Spring Ministries loaded into a church van and drove north. This enabled them to see the events and stand together while looking across the Capitol. The Hargett family made the five-hour trip from Cary to see the Inauguration and stay with family. They were in Washington, D.C., four years ago, but couldn’t make it to the actual ceremony.
Like the Hargetts, Chris Alexander, the sole Asheville resident to respond to my meek “Are you from North Carolina?” sign, was also crashing with family. He too missed the 2009 affair, and didn’t want to miss it this time around. “I came up for the event,” Alexander said, “but I forgot how vibrant the weekend would be.”
“It’s a personal experience,” Ieshia Squires said. She also cited the historic significance of the date: the second inauguration for the first black president happening on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — and in the same year as the Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary. “When is that going to happen again?,” she said.
Squires, along with friends Monica Gibbs and Susan Harman-Scott drove up from eastern North Carolina, Pamlico County to be specific. Aside from coming to show support for the President, Gibbs and Scott had also arrived having served as delegates from the 3rd Congressional District in the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
“Coming to D.C. was a nice way to cap off our delegate season,” said Gibbs.
A note: The photos that accompany this piece were taken on throughout the day on Sunday and Monday morning. But alas, the battery life met its end before the endeavor to find and talk to North Carolinians. So, just try to imagine a group of patriotic, slightly cold but enthusiastic group of fellow Carolinians.