By Michael E. Ruane and Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Seventy-five days and counting -- to "game day," as the military planners call it. Inauguration Day to the rest of us.
It is not a lot of time until Jan. 20, the day Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the nation's first black president.
The congressional committee in charge of the swearing-in announced yesterday that the inaugural theme will come from stirring words spoken by Abraham Lincoln and be linked to the 200th anniversary of his birth next year.
"A New Birth of Freedom," words taken from the Gettysburg Address, will be woven throughout the inaugural ceremonies and will commemorate the Feb. 12, 2009, Lincoln Bicentennial.
Both men were legislators from Illinois. Both were elected at crucial moments in the nation's history. And the election of one paved the way for the election of the other, more than a century later.
In addition, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and prosecution of the Civil War helped end slavery, and Obama, in his election night speech Tuesday, used Lincoln's "of the people, by the people, for the people" words, also from the Gettysburg Address.
It was at Lincoln's second inauguration, in 1865, that African Americans were allowed to participate in the parade for the first time, according to the congressional committee.
"At a time when our country faces major challenges at home and abroad, it is appropriate to revisit the words of President Lincoln, who strived to bring the nation together by appealing to 'the better angels of our nature,' " Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said in a statement. "It is especially fitting to celebrate the words of Lincoln as we prepare to inaugurate the first African-American president of the United States."
"On January 20, as President-elect Obama takes the oath of office, he will look across the National Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, where many of the sixteenth president's immortal words are inscribed," Feinstein said. "Although some inaugural traditions have changed since Lincoln's time, the swearing-in ceremony continues to symbolize the ideals of renewal, continuity, and unity that he so often expressed."
Meanwhile, inaugural balls and a parade must be arranged. Platforms and reviewing stands must be built. Marching bands picked. Military escorts for VIPs interviewed and selected. And plans made for the throng of visitors, perhaps the most ever to see a presidential inauguration.
But like Lincoln, Obama has been elected during perilous times at home and abroad, and the nation's economic distress could mitigate the urge to celebrate and dampen the customary extravagance.
Hotel reservations, however, have been brisk and many hotels are sold out, despite expensive minimum stays and pricey packages. One of the priciest, the J.W. Marriott's $1 million 300-room package, was purchased this week. A hotel spokesman said he was not at liberty to name the purchaser.
At the Ritz-Carlton in the District's West End, a team of four reservations managers fielded inauguration bookings that started pouring in yesterday morning, as soon as guests knew Obama was the president-elect. By the end of yesterday, the hotel was about 80 percent booked, and the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown was about 60 percent booked, said Colleen Evans, a hotel spokeswoman.
"Wow, they're jumping, the numbers are jumping," Payton Wynne, reservations manager at the Ritz-Carlton in the West End, said as he watched the tallies climb in real time on his computer screen.
The Pentagon's Armed Forces Inaugural Committee yesterday added 70 service members to its staff of about 200 yesterday. The newcomers will serve mostly as drivers of the 150 cars, vans and buses used in the inauguration ceremonies.
The Armed Forces committee is accepting applications from bands and groups seeking to participate in the inaugural parade. Any group may apply to participate, and information can be found at http://www.afic.northcom.mil. Navy Lt. Mike Billips, a spokesman for the committee, said applications will be handed to Obama's Presidential Inaugural Committee, once it is established, to pick participants. Applications must be received by 5 p.m. Nov. 14.
District workers have repaved and painted crosswalks on the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue. Traffic lights in the center of the avenue will be removed before the parade and quickly replaced after marchers pass.
Construction of parade reviewing stands in front of the White House began last week. The congressional inaugural committee has printed about 250,000 tickets, which will be available through members of Congress and the presidential commission.
Actual attendance could be much higher. Over the years, according to past estimates, inaugural attendance has ranged from a few hundred thousand to the 1.5 million who attended President Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration in 1965.
"It would not shock me if we had those same kind of numbers" for Obama's inauguration, said Darrell Darnell, head of the District's inaugural committee.
The inauguration has been deemed a national special security event by the Department of Homeland Security. The designation means that the U.S. Secret Service will be the lead law enforcement agency and will coordinate other agencies, including D.C. police, U.S. Park Police and U.S. Capitol Police.
Each of the law enforcement agencies has a representative on a steering committee, and roughly 22 subcommittees examine every aspect of inauguration security.
"We break down every possible eventuality that could go on, from a security perspective," Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said.
Staff writer David Montgomery contributed to this report.