Looking Back at the 2009 Inauguration

The re-election of President Barack Obama for a second term has me thinking back to his first inauguration in 2009. What an amazing experience that was.

I wasn’t interested in attending the inauguration. During the years that I’d lived in Washington, D.C., both Presidents Reagan and Clinton were inaugurated twice but I never felt compelled to take the 15-minute metro ride to the Mall to attend any of them.

Blame the cold. No matter how mild the winter, come inauguration weekend, the temperature would drop so low that it was always an easier decision to stay home and watch the event on television than be outside in the bone-chilling cold.

Blame disinterest. As a recent immigrant,  American politics didn’t capture my interest. I didn’t know the players, and even though only a few blocks separated us, the person holding the most important job in the most important country in the world, didn’t make a direct difference in my world.

President Obama’s inauguration made me feel differently. As a black person, I felt an obligation to witness history. So I bought thermals, and fleece socks, packed my sweats, hand warmers, gloves and scarves, and boarded Amtrak (I had moved to New York City by then) a few days before the inaugural weekend.

The cold Washington air crackled with energy and excitement. A sea of people bustled through Union Station, their voices echoing off the ceiling, creating a buzz of its own. I’ve always found Washington to be a friendly place, but that weekend, everyone seemed friendlier, some downright giddy. As my cousin and I walked around the city, strangers greeted each other and conversations started as if people were picking up the threads they had dropped some time before.

The 2009 inauguration set a record. It was one of the largest gatherings in Washington, DC. It was also one of the coldest January weekends I’ve ever experienced in the Nation’s Capital.

We had planned to leave early – by 5 a.m., my cousin suggested — but we didn’t leave until near 7. We boarded the metro at the second stop on the red line and the train filled up quickly. Closer to DC, passengers, waiting in the cold on outdoor platforms, grew larger and by the time we got to the Catholic University station, the train only slowed. There was no space left.

To control the crowd, streets leading to the Mall were cordoned off by buses, trucks, and police barriers with police and military personnel monitoring some areas.

People streamed on to the Mall by the thousands. Some looked for spots to sit, others for hot beverages to ward off the chill. We settled on a low wall that was close to a television monitor and waited.

Nearly four years later, some images come easily to mind: The elderly black woman in a wheelchair with an old photograph attached to a string around her neck. It was only after I had passed her that I thought of asking her about the person in the photo. But I didn’t want to intrude — it looked too personal.

A young white woman with a sign that read “Obama 2012.” It felt premature. Another one that stated “Our long national nightmare is over.”

In the excitement of the day, we decided we wanted to attend the parade but didn’t have tickets. We hadn’t planned that far ahead. We got lucky. We met someone whose party didn’t show and she had extra tickets which she willingly gave them to us. We found seats on bleachers near the White House and waited for the president, vice president and their wives to arrive.

By the time they did, my feet felt like blocks of ice. As they approached, the crowd cheered wildly and pressed forward to get a better look. President and Mrs. Obama exited their limo near where we were standing and walked right in front of us. So did Vice President and Mrs. Biden.  Caught up in the excitement, I wanted to see with my own eyes but I also wanted to record the event. I fumbled for a few minutes then focused my camera. It a special moment that I was glad to experience.

I doubt I’ll make the second inauguration, which will be held on Monday, January 21st – Martin Luther King Day – but nothing can compare to the first.

Here are a few of my photos and a short video from the inaugural website.

Have you attended an inauguration?

20 comments on “Looking Back at the 2009 Inauguration

  1. I watched on TV. It was cold out there and I wondered how First Lady was keeping warm in what looked to be a more stylish outfit than warm. I know she’s from the windy city but still. I’m from the south and you know how that goes…

    I can only imagine the excitement of being in that moment. I plan to take a trip to DC before Obama’s term is over. Maybe First Lady will let us in and give us some lunch from that garden. I wonder if she’s a good cook.

  2. What a fantastic experience. I love events like that. You know that you could see more and follow everything better from the comfort of your couch, but there’s something about being there that outweighs every obstacle you have to overcome to make it happen. Fantastic experience.

  3. What a beautiful and special experience this was and lucky you, Marcia! I’ve always been curious with how tight security is and just how the overall exciting energy there. Thanks for sharing your personal account and these awesome photos. I’m not sure if those are T-shirts on the last two pictures but they are wonderful keepsakes.

  4. That is very cool that you attended it. I can only imagine the excitement and giddiness. It does make you wonder what the mood will be like for the upcoming inauguration – but one thing I know for sure after reading your post is that it will be very cold.
    A great day to be selling hot drinks to the crowds – but then there are probably security issues.

  5. I love the ‘normal’ excitement of Washington DC, so I can image the buzz and pace on this most historic day! Brrrrrr. . . .I can also image how cold it was but glad you braved it to witness history.

  6. Interesting to see, but I agree, only once. Americans do like ceremonies. Are there similar ones when a new prime minister is inaugurated in Jamaica?

  7. Sounds like an incredible experience! I love that so many people despite it being so cold. That says a lot about Obama!

  8. What an awesome memory. I was going to attend…had a hotel room booked and everything, but I had to cancel at the last minute. It was a proud moment…sadly, I don\’t think this inauguration will have nearly the same amount of enthusiasm.

  9. Usually, second inaugurations attract less people but it’s difficult to predict what will happen.
    There are usually food vendors on the Mall so if it’s cold, they’ll do a brisk business.

  10. You’re welcome, Mary.
    Yes, those were T-shirts I bought that I plan to keep.
    There were some other memorabilia I bought but not sure where they are now.

  11. I thought the same thing, too. Then I remembered they were from Chicago – they’re used to the cold!
    I’d love to do that as well. Wonder how you’d wangle that kind of invitation.

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