At approximately 12:04 EST Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office from United States Chief of Justice John Roberts and made history; becoming the first Black American to be elected President and the nation’s 44th commander-in-chief. With a crowd estimated of at least 2 million, weathering sub-freezing temperatures, the former junior Senator from Illinois evoked the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, using his Bible, to take on the responsibility of leading the nation of the next four years.
The anticipation had been building all morning, before the sun rose over the nation’s capital as hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Washington Metro system, off charter busses and on foot, making their way to the floodlit U.S. Capitol. By five o’clock the streets leading to the National Mall were packed as the crowd swelled and snaked its way to security gates, with thousands using the underground tunnel that runs underneath the Mall en route to Virginia, as the viaduct was closed to traffic to help move the large crowd.
The mood was festive as people were adorned with an array of Obama paraphernalia, carrying signs, some professionally produced while others were homemade, as the wait in the dark to attend the event turned into a celebration. It was clear through signage, attire, and accents heard in spoken voices, that the masses were not just American citizens but international in nature. One of the lasting memories of the 56th Presidential Inauguration will be the broad representation from all corners of the world that came to the nation’s capital to witness history and share in the optimism that has been evident throughout the weekend.
Following the formal swearing-in, and his address, President Obama and Mrs. Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Biden, were escorted to the East Front of the Capitol where they bid a formal goodbye to President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney and Mrs. Lynn Cheney. The former President and Mrs. Bush boarded a Marine helicopter, with President George H. Bush and Mrs. Barbara Bush on board, for a quick flight to Andrews Air Force Base where they held a private farewell event for key staff. They were then given a final flight to Texas on board the Boeing 747 that had served as Air Force One during the Bush administration.
The President and Vice President, and their spouses, then returned to Statuary Hall for a lunch with Congressional leaders, family, and invited guests where they also received the formal gifts that are a tradition of the inauguration event.