Against a landscape of bare trees and red, white and blue bunting, they came carrying children on their shoulders, pushing the sick and elderly in wheelchairs, and bearing innumerable cups of coffee.
It was not the gigantic, jubilant throng of 2009 that jammed Washington, thrilled with the historic nature of Obama’s first inauguration.
But it was a huge crowd of hundreds of thousands of joyous people — extraordinary for a traditionally subdued second inauguration.
“I was as moved this time as I was last time,” Julie Jackson-Murphy, 46, of Atlanta said as she stood, still waving two American flags after the ceremony.
“We were crying before he even spoke,” she said. “It just still seems surreal. It was the solemnity and culmination of it all.”
People sang and cheered near the steps of the Capitol, congregated at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and stopped to reflect at the Lincoln Memorial, two miles from the inaugural platform.
They listened as the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” penned in Washington 150 years ago, and they heard the president say they were all made for this moment in history.
And they heard Beyonce, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson sing during the ceremonies.
But some of the patience and exuberance of 2009 seemed to be gone. The crowd fumed over congestion, as people migrated en masse to the Mall and the Metro system, and to the parade route, even though the hassles were far less severe than four years ago.
Busy bathrooms, transit problems and a major Jumbotron meltdown also left people angry and frustrated.
“Last time it was a bigger crowd, more energy. We had to get past the shock, the disbelief,” said Charlene Gumbs, 36, of New York City. “This time it’s not a novelty.”
Event organizers said about 1 million people descended on the Mall and parade route — far less than the 1.8 million estimated by the city in 2009.
“Even though the crowds are large, it’s nowhere in comparison” to four years ago, Washington Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.
The National Park Police declared the area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument full a little before noon and guided the spillover to the grounds of the Washington Monument.
There, the biggest glitch of the day unfolded, as the big screen set up to broadcast the action malfunctioned, leaving hundreds of frustrated spectators.
“Boo!” shouted several people standing along the fenced perimeter of the monument.
“Ugh. Are we going to have to go watch this in Starbucks or something?” one woman said.
“We’re going home to watch it,” said Kathy Farrell, 54, of the District, who was there with visitors from Pennsylvania.