Umbrellas of cascading fireworks over a snow-dusted White House lawn, the elegance of the storied Black Tie and Boots Ball and ever-tighter security precautions last night presaged today's 55th inauguration, when an expected 100,000 will sit and stand in the cold and cheer and jeer the president on his historic victory lap.
Persistent snow showers from late yesterday morning to midafternoon left the city streets covered as law enforcement agencies began buttoning down about 100 square blocks of Washington.
President Bush, who will attend a church service and then be sworn in at noon today, attended the concert and fireworks on the Ellipse, as well as the Texas-themed ball. "No night is too cold to celebrate freedom," Bush told the crowd on the Ellipse after he was introduced by Vice President Cheney.
The president and first lady Laura Bush, and Cheney and his wife, Lynne, planned appearances at three candlelight dinners to thank those who contributed $100,000 or more to underwrite much of the $40 million cost of the inaugural celebration, which is expected to become the most expensive in history. The $40 million does not include the cost of a web of security, including everything from 7,000 troops to volunteer police officers from far away, to some of the most sophisticated detection and protection equipment.
One question remained: Just who will line the route and fill the bleachers for today's festivities. Some federal law enforcement officials said it was unclear where spectators without tickets could find places from which to view the parade because bleachers covered much of it and protesters had acquired permits for spaces along the route.
Come one, come all was the message from Presidential Inaugural Committee organizers, who planned the parade, had the bleachers erected and sold the tickets. They said about 100,000 people were expected to attend the parade.
About 40,000 bleacher seats were distributed for the route, including the reviewing stands, according to Yier Shi, a spokesman for the committee. Shi said the committee members had reviewed tapes of the parade four years ago and that they expect there will be plenty of room for 60,000 other people -- which would include a variety of protesters -- to line Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and 17th Street NW.
There was no such ambiguity about last night's Black Tie and Boots Ball. It was such a hot event that the 10,000 tickets sold out 48 minutes after they went on sale online. Attendees were bundled in sequined gowns and black western hats, fur coats, scarves and gloves. They will need the coats, scarves and gloves again today. At the noon swearing-in, the temperature is expected to be about 30 degrees with a 10- to 15-mph breeze, making the wind-chill about 19 degrees. When the parade begins at 2 p.m., temperatures are expected to reach the mid-30s.
And there's a chance for a bit more snow, said Steve Rogowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling.
As plows and salt trucks worked yesterday to clear the parade route, more than 3,000 police officers from out of town crowded into McDonough Arena at Georgetown University to be sworn in as special deputy U.S. marshals and receive an hour-long briefing on what to expect along the route and from protesters. The oath gave them arrest and enforcement powers in Washington, though D.C. police said that the city's police, along with U.S. Park Police and other federal agencies, would handle most arrests.
The large contingent of outside officers -- 1,000 more than originally disclosed by authorities -- will work with D.C. police to help secure inaugural events.
The officers came from departments as far away as Seattle and as near as Manassas. More than 65 agencies contributed about 3,000 troops to the D.C. police for the inauguration and its balls. Police officials said they expect to have an officer stationed every seven to 10 feet along each side of the parade route.
Police officials said they were amazed by the turnout and response by outside agencies to provide help. The District government is footing the bill for the officers' time and expenses but is trying to recoup the cost from the federal government.
"I have never seen a gathering of law enforcement like this," D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey told the officers as he welcomed them to the District. "The eyes of the world will be on us."