Correction to This Article
This article referred to the 1930s-era railroad car in which Barack Obama traveled to Washington for his inauguration as a caboose. Although the car was at the back of the train, it was a private car and not a caboose.
Page 2 of 2   <      

A Long Journey Ends

President-elect Barack Obama's train trip to Washington, D.C. is symbolic of Lincoln's inaugural journey and will end with the installation of the nation's first African American president.

For the next two days, friends said, Obama will try to step back and enjoy what he described as an "incredible" time: Sunday and Monday's festivities will commemorate his historic rise to the presidency. The full duties of the office will not be his until Tuesday.

Saturday's trip was a nod to the simple romance of a train cutting through the countryside -- a tableau of America, Obama advisers said -- and for moments of the journey the theme resonated. Forty-one invited guests -- "regular Americans" from 15 states -- rode with Obama and sometimes introduced him at the rallies. The train passed Delaware's woodlands, Maryland's rivers, urban downtowns and suburban malls before rolling into Union Station under the cover of darkness.

Many other presidents had similar ideas for their arrivals in Washington. Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt came slowly by train; Bill Clinton took a bus from Thomas Jefferson's home outside Charlottesville. Obama, a former law professor, turned his experience into a history lesson. He spent time during the past few months studying Lincoln's epic journey -- a 12-day, 1,600-mile trip that included an assassination threat in Baltimore -- and recounted it to friends this month. Similarly, Obama spoke to each of his crowds Saturday about the significance of his predecessors.

"What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed," Obama told a crowd of 300 invited guests in Philadelphia. "What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives."

Five hours later in Baltimore, Obama reinforced that message.

"We should never forget that we are the heirs of those early patriots, ordinary men and women who refused to give up when it all seemed so improbable, and who somehow believed that they had the power to make the world anew," Obama said. "That is the spirit that we must reclaim today."

Obama's journey necessarily included some of the modern realities of life as a soon-to-be president. Secret Service agents monitored the train from the ground, the surrounding waterways and the air above, paying special attention to bridges and chemical plants along the route. Two large planks of protective glass flanked Obama's lectern in Baltimore, and snipers lined nearby rooftops.

The Obama family walked out of downtown Baltimore surrounded by a cadre of security guards and retreated to the train for the final hour of their journey. Obama's wife and their daughters gathered with friends in a train car decorated for Michelle's birthday party. Balloons filled a corner of the car and a birthday banner bordered the windows.

Five or six young girls surrounded Michelle, and she danced with them in a circle. Malia placed a necklace around her mother's neck, causing both of them to laugh. Then the train rolled away toward Washington, heading for home.

<       2

© 2009 The Washington Post Company