Inauguration Update: A Grand, Historic Day

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NPR's Larry Abramson, Linda Wertheimer and Juan Williams weigh in. Abramson reports from the 14th Street Bridge. Wertheimer, who has witnessed many inaugurals in Washington, talks about how this year's bash compares to others. Williams recalls key people and events leading to the inauguration of the first black U.S. president.


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne with Steve Inskeep. This morning, hundreds of thousands of people are streaming into Washington for the inauguration of Barack Obama. Entire swaths of the capital and neighboring Virginia are closed to private auto traffic. Buses in subways have been packed with passengers since before dawn this morning, and some people are making their journey by foot. NPR's Larry Abramson is watching the influx from the 14th Street Bridge, and he joins us now to describe, well, what you're seeing there, that's what we want to hear, Larry.

LARRY ABRAMSON: All right, well, I'm seeing a beautiful sunrise over the frozen Potomic River rink and a lot of bundled up and people coming up the plight path along the George Washington Memorial parkway. They're coming in on roller blades, they're coming in on foot, they're coming in by every possible convenience, and actually you can hear there's some sort of coastguard boat skimming along the water of Potomic. There - I think they're trying to block people from approaching by water in case anybody just got that idea into their head.

MONTAGNE: Tell us about some of the people you've met since you've been there just for - you've been there a few hours.

ABRAMSON: Well, I've talked to a lot of bicyclists and most people who were taking this route are locals or are seen with locals in Arlington or Alexandria, and they figured out that they didn't want to brave the metro because they are afraid of the huge crowd. And they went to great trouble to figure out if exactly how they could get - if somebody has a themselves dropped off at National Airport and then walked up here from National Airport. So again, the arrangements the people had to make to try to figure out the easiest way to get into the city are incredibly sophisticated.

MONTAGNE: And you had a - I'm left wondering how you got there this morning? ABRAMSON: I took the metro in from out in Maryland, and it was at four in the morning. It was already packed. It's was getting a little tense in there as people on the incoming stations try to shove their way unto to train, so I wonder what that's going to look like later on in the day.

MONTAGNE: But we'll be hearing from you later in the day. Larry, thanks very much.

ABRAMSON: OK. Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Larry Abramson speaking to us from the 14th Street Bridge in Washington D.C. And NPR's Linda Wertheimer is with me here in the studio this morning. Good morning, Linda.


MONTAGNE: You have witnessed many inaugurals here in Washington. What about the mood this year and the crowds, how does it compare to years past?

WERTHEIMER: I think this is the biggest one that I have ever seen. I mean, we - I've seen inaugurals from President Nixon forward. And I think that the first Reagan inaugural was one of the - was something like this, you know, that there was a whole lot of - there were lot of people for whom he was the perfect president for the time, and they were very anxious that he, you know, get the right send off and so there a lot of people coming to Washington for that inaugural. But this is different, this is much, much bigger, and there sort of party atmosphere - all day yesterday it was a lot like Denver was during the convention where everybody was steaming toward Invesco Field for the final night, 70,000 people, which is way more than were actually at the convention. And I think that the sort festival mood is still holding with this crowd. People are anxious to get there, just anxious to be in the presence of the event that changes everything.

MONTAGNE: And you kind of wonder, you want to say in spite of, but maybe because of the economic crisis and the two wars that we're living with right now maybe that adds to some level of hope?

WERTHEIMER: Well, I think there's a hope of change and the possibility of change is something that people are, you know, are very caught up in. But, you know, every inauguration is more expensive, more lavish, bigger than the last one was just by virtue of the fact that four years have passed and everything is more expensive than it used to be. But I think that this - I still think, this is an extraordinary and special occasion for the United States of America, the first African-American president.

MONTAGNE: Linda, thanks very much. NPR senior national correspondent Linda Wertheimer.

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