WASHINGTON- The swell of 2 million voices generated an overpowering sound to the human ear as Barack Obama took the oath of office to become the next president of the United States. The ceremony on the Capitol steps began a new chapter in the story of a man with a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya, who Tuesday became the most powerful person on earth.
The mass of spectators, which spread a mile from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, waved American flags and embraced each other in excitement-and to keep warm.
Starting at 4 a.m., people from across the country and around the world lined up for the ceremony, braving bitter wind, some holding coffee in their hands-others saying they hadn't drunk anything all day so they wouldn't have to go to the bathroom. Few parents dragged their children along-but those little ones who did come had their names and parents' phone numbers taped to their jackets in case they got separated. Some thousand purple ticket holders were angry after being turned away from the ceremony because their assigned gate didn't open, quashing months of anticipation, according to a report by WORLD's Lee Pitts.
"The world is watching today as our democracy engages in a peaceful transition of power," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the congressional committee that helped organize the inauguration.
And the world was watching. Joanne Delaney came across the Atlantic from London to see Obama. She grew up in Ireland, about 10 miles from the hometown of John F. Kennedy's grandfather.
"I grew up with my parents being very inspired by Kennedy," she said. "Barack Obama made me feel the way my parents talked about Kennedy."
"I've said, 'What do you want me to say if I meet Barack Obama?'" Delaney recounted. "They all said, 'Don't let us down!'"
Tears flowed freely for some, especially those who remember a world before civil rights, when African-Americans couldn't eat in certain restaurants.
"We know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven," Pastor Rick Warren said in his opening prayer, to which some in the crowd cried, "Hallelujah!"
The new president of the United States looked as though he felt that cloud of witnesses around him-showing a serious face and speaking heavy words in a deliberate manner.
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real," said President Obama, his breath visible in the cold air. "They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America-they will be met."
The crowd wasn't somber, despite sobering current events.
"Wooohooohooo!" one woman shouted for several minutes on end.
"Everybody I know, they remember historical events, and they're all bad," said Nate Hoeft, who flew in from Los Angeles. "This is the only one I can think of that's good, except for maybe landing on the moon or something."
The thousands of police officers patrolling the crowds kept order, and for the most part people moved along streets and through security checkpoints smoothly. However, reports of chaos surfaced in some parts of town. With all the bridges across the Potomac River to Virginia closed, the hard part was just getting into the city. Metro stations were packed and the roads were jammed, but no one said they regretted coming-they simply shared hand warmers or hats with "Obama" written in rhinestones.
"Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter," Obama said. "And with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."