Inauguration Update: A Sea Of People

Downtown Washington, D.C., is a sea of people around 9:30 a.m., extending from near the White House, where NPR's John Ydstie spies the parade route and St. John's Episcopal Church; to the Lincoln Memorial, where Audie Cornish reports; to the Memorial Bridge, where Allison Aubrey is posted among the pedestrian-only traffic. Steve Inskeep and Don Gonyea also check in.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Downtown Washington, D.C., is a sea of people at this hour awaiting the inauguration of Barack Obama. In the next few minutes, we're going to visit some key spots where people are gathering. NPR's John Ydstie is near the White House at the reviewing stand where soon-to-be President Obama will watch the parade. Good morning, John.

JOHN YDSTIE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, what's the crowd like there on the parade route?

YDSTIE: Well, there is no crowd at all on the parade route, just a few officials milling about in Pennsylvania Avenue between me and the reviewing stand across the street by the White House where the president and the vice president and their families will watch the parade. But there is something going on behind me at St. John's Episcopal Church - a Morning Prayer service where President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden and their wives are right now. And it's something of a tradition in Washington to visit this church before the inauguration. Five presidents, going back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, have done it. Both Presidents Bush worshiped there before their inauguration. So did Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.

MONTAGNE: You know, it sounds like a good time if one wants to watch the parade and doesn't mind missing the inauguration to get a spot if there is not too many people there. But is there a visible security presence given that these, you know, the elects - the soon-to-be president and vice president - are in a prayer service right there?

YDSTIE: There is great security there. I actually came down 16th Street coming to my location here just as Joe Biden was arriving, but there were massive crowds on the street there and lots of security shouting at people to stay on the sidewalks and sirens blaring. Vice President Biden, Vice President-elect Biden, waved at the crowd as they went by. They were all quite excited.

I didn't see the president-elect get here. It's quite possible he may have just walked across the street from Blair House, because you have Blair House on the west side of Lafayette Park where I am standing in this press reviewing stand. St. Johns Episcopal is on the north side. And the White House is on the south side. So it may be that he just walked over there.

MONTAGNE: John, can you give us just a little quick preview of what's - who's going to be in the parade?

YDSTIE: You know, actually, I've got a list of people. Let me just get it out here very quickly.

MONTAGNE: Give us a 30-second view. Yeah, just rattle off a few things.

YDSTIE: Thirty second view. Well, there is the Punahou School JROTC and the school marching band, the president-elect's high school in Hawaii.

MONTAGNE: Punahou, Punahou, excuse me. As a child of Hawaii myself, I can tell you that it's called Punahou. Yes, OK.

YDSTIE: Punahou. I noticed as a Minnesotan, I noticed the Fergus Falls High School Marching Band will be here. Brooklyn Music and Arts Program will be represented. There will be an Illinois home state float. Cleveland Firefighters Memorial Pipes and Drums will be here. Southern Ohio Ladies Aside - I'm not quite sure what that is. But a long, long list of representation in the parade.

MONTAGNE: Well, John, thanks very much. And we'll be talking to you later here at NPR News, whether or not it gets on the morning show or not - or in Morning Edition. NPR's John Ydstie, he's at the reviewing stand where Mr. Obama will watch the parade. And we go now to our own Steve Inskeep, my co-host, who's sitting at this moment in time at the Capitol, on the steps of the Capitol.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

I'm standing. I'm too cold to sit, I'm afraid, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Oh, dear.

INSKEEP: They are checking the seats. They're Windexing the bulletproof glass, or they did a short time ago. And there is this immense crowd off to my right as far as I can see. And let me just do a little geography for you here. The National Mall is a very long rectangle. As far as I can see, it is crowded with thousands and thousands of people. You see the flash of thousands of flashbulbs. And then there is a little hill in the center of it where the Washington Monument rises. And far beyond that, I can just glimpse the pillars of the Lincoln Memorial a couple of miles away, and that's where we're going next. NPR's Audie Cornish is there. And Audie, what do you see from that end?

AUDIE CORNISH: Hi, Steve. Well, just over that little bump you're describing, that's where the sea of people thins out just a little bit. This is where more and more people are gathering trying to push forward as close as they can to the Capitol. But this area is actually still a little sparse. Where there is a big collection of folks is here on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and I've talked to people from California, as close as Maryland, who even though they showed up there at six in the morning made it a point to be on those steps.

INSKEEP: Why?

CORNISH: Well, a lot of them really believe in the symbolism of being on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, being at the feet of Abraham Lincoln, and talked a lot about the strides he made in terms of race in America and that they felt that it was unavoidable that they could not come here and not take in this scene from any other vantage point.

INSKEEP: It certainly was striking on Sunday afternoon to see the president-elect, to see the first black president stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King gave that "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. And with the statue of Abraham Lincoln behind him there, that was a striking image. And I suppose that must have been on people's mind.

CORNISH: And many people mentioned that specifically. They mentioned, this is the place where Martin Luther King came and where there was that march. And you know, it was really interesting, the younger people I spoke to really talked about really having the opportunity to be a part of something, to be a part of another historical event to be happening at this location.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much, Audie Cornish, at the Lincoln Memorial. We're about two and a half hours now from the presidential inauguration. NPR's Don Gonyea is here. And Don, what has the president-elect been doing with his morning?

DON GONYEA: He is at Mass as we speak. He's at St. John's Episcopal Church. That's that church just a block from the White House on Lafayette Park. And just over a half an hour from now, it will be a social coffee at the White House - the outgoing president welcoming the incoming president.

INSKEEP: Coffee not tea. Now tea would be upraised pinky fingers.

GONYEA: Tea may be an option.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: They've got quite a kitchen there.

INSKEEP: Anything hot. So the two first families will spend a little bit of time together this morning. OK, we will continue to bring you more as we learn it here today. And this is a tremendous view from the U.S. Capitol - people continuing to arrive by their thousands. And let's just bring it out - let's just take it out with some music from the Lincoln Memorial. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Recorded music from Sunday night, I believe when Bono was at the Lincoln Memorial. And the crowd continuous to file in.

MONTAGNE: We also have Allison Aubrey on the telephone now. Just one - we have 30 seconds here. NPR's Allison Aubrey, what do you see there?

ALLISON AUBREY: All the people I see are actually headed up to the Lincoln Memorial, and people are streaming in. Many people have walked for miles and miles. There is sort of a quiet expectation among folks here. They're walking quickly. It's not loud and rowdy out here. It's just a lot of reflection and people taking in the scene.

MONTAGNE: And so you're - and the scene there is the Memorial Bridge here in Washington, D.C. We're just talking to Allison Aubrey. Also other folks from all over the city from NPR. And this is our continuing coverage on Morning Edition and later more coverage live of the inauguration of the 44th president. It's NPR News.

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