Below-freezing temperatures and warnings of logistical nightmares did little to diminish the crowds as they surged onto the Mall, snapping up the few open spots as the sun rose on the scene.
The crowds began gathering just after midnight, even as temperatures dipped into the teens. Leonard Coleman, who arrived at 1:30 a.m., echoed many others when he explained that he had to come “to be at the greatest event of our time and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Even for those who arrived pre-dawn, many ended up some three-quarters of a mile from the site of the swearing-in on the West Front of the Capitol, instead having to rely on the more than two dozen jumbotrons along the Mall to give them their view of the events — a fact few seemed to mind.
“Even though I am not anywhere near it, I just wanted to be in the crowd,” 58-year-old Shelia Powell of Calhoun, Ga., said as she struggled to stay warm. Powell and her group departed for the Mall before 5 a.m., but by the time they arrived found their spot near one of the Smithsonian museums.
The river of humanity that flowed through downtown Washington included a vast array of cultures — blacks from the South, white students from upstate New York, Buddhist monks in flowing robes and foreign diplomats.
Two women from China who have been teaching Chinese language and culture in Kentucky said they traveled seven hours by car, arriving at 4:30 a.m. to be in the American capital.
“We really wanted to make our heart pound with the American people … to see how the American people will celebrate today,” Xiaoping Lin said.
Throughout the week leading up to Tuesday’s swearing-in, the city took on an almost carnival atmosphere. The famous K Street corridor, known for its high-powered law and lobbying firms, was overrun Tuesday with souvenir stands, food stalls and portable toilets.
Expectations among the crowd continued to run high as more and more people collected downtown. It appeared the throng would easily surpass the 750,000 that reportedly attended the inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.
By 10:15 a.m. the parade route, which would remain largely quiet until after the swearing-in, was packed to capacity and closed to additional people.
Some problems were reported with so many visitors descending on the city. According to media reports, one pedestrian was struck by a subway train, snarling traffic and bringing out emergency responders. Also Department of Homeland Security officials told Reuters they were investigating potential threats to the enormous event.