Practice Inauguration Lacks Some Pomp and the VIPs

Starting before dawn, officials staged a large-scale rehearsal of the upcoming presidential inauguration and parade, with thousands of people deployed later in the morning at the Capitol and along the parade route.
By Michael E. Ruane and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 12, 2009

The president wore a beret and a white sign around his neck that said he was the incoming chief executive.

He looked tall and presidential, and when he was introduced yesterday morning on the west front of the Capitol, the crowd beneath the setting moon cheered.

Then he strode to the microphone and gave what might have been the shortest inaugural address in history. "My fellow Americans," he said. "God bless America."

That was it. Brief and a little surreal, as a participant put it later. And so was much of the traditional inauguration rehearsal, the large-scale practice for next week's inaugural ceremonies and parade.

"I think I had an out-of-body experience," said LaSean McCray, 38, the Navy yeoman first class who portrayed soon-to-be first lady Michelle Obama. "It was just so awesome and beautiful."

It was real and unreal at the same time: just a practice, with stand-ins for the VIPs. But against the same backdrop as next week's event, with some of the same pomp and music, it felt like its own slice of history.

"I'm just so proud and so glad to be a part of this," said Staff Sgt. Derrick Brooks, 26, of Fayetteville, N.C., who, in his Army beret, portrayed Barack Obama at the Capitol.

"Standing there, looking over the city, it was beautiful, and it felt wonderful to just be there and be a part of this country and know that it's a change, a change in history," he said.

The rehearsal started before dawn on Capitol Hill and ended before noon near the White House. It drew its own crowds and created its own traffic jams as police blocked off streets around the parade route.

Everything, it seemed, that could be practiced was practiced. Ceremonial details were gone over two and three times, according to Howard Gantman, staff director of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Several military bands and units, along with bands from Howard University and Dunbar High School, marched the route.

Even the formal departure, in which President Bush will be flown from the Capitol, was practiced, with a Marine Corps helicopter landing and taking off from the East Plaza twice.

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