Inauguration Update: Crowds Building Around D.C.

NPR's Debbie Elliott, Frank Langfitt and Ari Shapiro report from around D.C. Elliott is on the Capitol grounds, where the inauguration ceremony takes place. Langfitt is at RFK Stadium, where busloads of people have been arriving since 3 a.m. And Shapiro is where those busloads of people are headed: the National Mall.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

For NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne with Steve Inskeep. Today is the day that Barack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States. He'll take the oath of office at noon here in D.C. in a ceremony in front of the U.S. Capitol. As dawn breaks, hundreds of thousands of people continue to pour into Washington to witness the swearing-in of the nation's first black president. Over the next few minutes, we'll check in with our correspondents who are covering today's events and we're going to start with NPR's Debbie Elliott. She's on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and she joins us live. Hello, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Well, how does it look at this first light?

ELLIOTT: Oh, it's just beautiful. The sun is just coming up, and I'm starting to now make out people on the Mall. I'm standing on the west front steps of the Capitol looking out at the Washington monument, and when we got here this morning, it was dark but you could tell people were there because of all the camera flashes going off. People were looking up at the beautiful U.S. Capitol taking pictures. The Capitol is all adorned in red, white and blue and - as the workers here are making the last minute preparations for the inauguration to begin.

MONTAGNE: And tell us something about those - that ceremony, how is the program expected to unfold?

ELLIOTT: Well, in about an hour, the first gates will open for people to come to the seats that are here on the Capitol grounds. These are the people, you know, dignitaries who have gotten tickets from their members of Congress or several Congress members have lotteries for people to apply for tickets. And then up - as you look up toward the Capitol, there are seats where all of the dignitaries will be. The first people to come in will be the VIPs, the members of Congress, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court. They will fill seats, then there are these high-backed blue chairs that they've just brought in. The last people to come in of course will be President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama.

MONTAGNE: Now, just briefly, obviously, a ceremony and a day of celebration also work to do today.

ELLIOTT: Also...

MONTAGNE: Some work...

ELLIOTT: Work to do today?

MONTAGNE: The new president will have to do today.

ELLIOTT: Yes, he will be going immediately to the Capitol to sign his nomination recommendations for his Cabinet so that that work can get underway. There's activity in the White House, getting ready to change occupants, lots of work going on behind the scenes.

MONTAGNE: Debbie, thanks very much. We'll be checking back with you later. That's NPR's Debbie Elliott at the Capitol.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And thank you. Thank you, and let's get a view now of crowds in another area from NPR's Frank Langfitt. He's outside RFK Stadium where busloads of people have been arriving since three o'clock this morning. Hello, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT: Hi. Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us about the scene over there.

LANGFITT: Well, it looks like the lots are almost full now. As you were saying, they got here about three o'clock, about an hour and a half before the lots were supposed to open. And you had all these tour buses really from all over the country circling RFK waiting to get in. Now you have a lot of people streaming towards the Capitol. They're getting on shuttle buses, lining up and making their way. It's a neat scene. I mean, you have huge numbers of people streaming towards these shuttle buses, you have a lot of vendors selling funnel cake and hot chocolate. There's an Obama blowout sale, $3 for everything, very appropriate to our times. They're selling t-shirts and pendants and everybody seems you know, very up and in a very good mood.

MONTAGNE: What are they telling you this morning? And you know, you're seeing visions, we're seeing on television actually people waving flags and whatnot over there at the National Mall. What are people telling you as they arrive?

LANGFITT: I think people, you know - first of all, they want to get to the mall, so I think they're probably in a little more serious mood over here at RFK in that they're very focused on transportation and staying warm. But it really seems that they've come here for history more than anything else. I think there'll be a great celebration on the Mall. But they seemed really moved by what happened in this last election and the fact they were, you know, going to see our first African-American president. I met a woman named Betty Jennings, 70 years old from Gainesville, Florida, retired teacher, and she was actually on a walker. She has a really bad back and she was bundled up in a big sort of white fur coat. And she said that you know, this was just something she never thought she would see and there was no way that she wasn't going to come here and see it. And she took off - I mean, gosh more than a day ago from Florida in a bus and just arrived here about 2:30 this morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, speaking of somebody who is older and maybe, you know, problem walking, it's very cold here. How are people expecting or are they coping with the cold so far and the fact that, of course there are going to be big crowds standing a long time?

LANGFITT: I think it's - people are taking layer upon layer of clothes. They're getting these hand-warmers that you can sort of break open and keep your hands warm. But more than anything else, I think that you know, they're probably going to be very cold and maybe suffer a bit, but they're more than willing to do it because they really don't want to miss this.

MONTAGNE: Frank, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt outside RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. And now we go to a place where all those busloads of people are headed. NPR's Ari Shapiro is on the National Mall and he joins us live now. Ari, hello. Good morning.

ARI SHAPIRO: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So the picture...

SHAPIRO: Well, I...

MONTAGNE: The pictures we're seeing are quite stunning, the U.S. Capitol, it's bathed in light, thousands of people are already gathered at the Mall. You hate to say, the visuals are better than the audio but I must say this morning, I have to tip my hat to the looks of the thing. It's amazing.

SHAPIRO: Well, let me see if I can give you a sense of that. Thousands of people, everybody with American flags, everybody in high spirits watching the sun come up over the illuminated Capitol, and I'm actually sitting here with somebody who is from Delaware, a woman named Sarah Sordin(ph). She got off work last night, hopped in her car, drove here, has been here all night and is now celebrating her birthday here at the inauguration this morning.

MONTAGNE: Do you want to put her on the line?

SHAPIRO: Absolutely. Here she is.

Ms. SARAH SORDIN(ph) (Inauguration Attendee, National Mall): Hello there.

MONTAGNE: Hello, Sarah Sordin. How are you?

Ms. SORDIN: I am so happy to be here. I just can't wait to hear what he has to say to the nation. But most of all, I'm just so glad that we have come together as a nation, one for one and one for all.

MONTAGNE: So you're not put off at all by the cold or the crowds or the fact that you'll be standing there for hours and hours?

Ms. SORDIN: I don't feel no cold. I am so excited. I don't feel no cold. It's my birthday. I'm going to see Obama. I'm from Delaware and Biden is up there. Hey, what can I say?

MONTAGNE: It's your birthday. Well, happy (laughing) birthday. This will be some day you'll certainly remember easily then.

Ms. SORDIN: Yes.

MONTAGNE: All right...

Ms. SORDIN: Fifty-two years.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, Sarah Sordin, thank you for joining us. If you want to pass this back to our own Ari Sharipo, appreciate it and have a you know, good day today.

Ms. SORDIN: I shall. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: I'm back, Renee. Hi.

MONTAGNE: So tell us some more, Ari. I mean, you're looking out there. It's you know, it's going to be some day ahead of us.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: And it's already going strong.

SHAPIRO: Jumbotron TV screens all across the Mall with people gathered in front of them. They just turned on within the last hour and now there's this presidential inauguration logo. The moment that the TV screens lit up, everybody let up a cheer. You know, people who are coming here have to kind of decide whether they want to go to the parade route or the Mall. And so the people here got here early, they decided to be here, they've got front row seats for the Jumbotron TV screens and they can see the real thing in the background with the illuminated Capitol dome and they're just getting ready for an event that people described as a once-in-a-lifetime memory.

MONTAGNE: Now, do you know exactly - do you want to give us just a small rundown of what we expect to see later today? What the ceremony will be?

SHAPIRO: You know, actually I got a sneak preview of it yesterday. I was walking past the Mall and Aretha Franklin was practicing "America, The Beautiful." So, I can tell you, that's going to be a highlight. In addition, there's of course, the inaugural address, a number of bands, the swearing-in with Chief Justice John Roberts followed by the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and the hundreds of thousands if not, millions of people here to watch it.

MONTAGNE: Ari, thanks very much. That's NPR's Ari Shapiro on the National Mall here in Washington. And I am sitting here with NPR's Ron Elving. He's senior Washington editor, and I just want to chat with you just for a few minutes that - a few seconds rather we have left. You've seen inaugurations.

RON ELVING: This is my seventh.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. And I mean, how does this - how does this, well, how can I say it? I want to say rate but maybe how does this look compared to the rest of them?

ELVING: The closest it would compare in terms of weather would be 1985, the second Reagan inaugural. But the closest in terms of mood would be the first Reagan inaugural in 1981 when there was a tremendous sense of change in Washington, very different political change. But a tremendous sense of watershed moment, and we're seeing that again now going in the other direction if you will from right to left. And I would say that the enthusiasm of these people combining the braving of the cold and the excitement from the two Reagan inaugurations is really quite unprecedented.

MONTAGNE: Ron, thanks very much. We'll be talking later through the morning. Ron Elving, senior Washington editor, and you are listening to Morning Edition from NPR News on this Inauguration Day.

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