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Jamming on the Mall for Obama

A huge crowd gathers between the Lincoln and Washington memorials on Sunday, Jan. 18, for an inauguration-opening event of musical performances interspersed with speeches and historical readings.

Lines to clear security moved briskly during the morning and early afternoon. By 1:30 p.m., however, the five checkpoints manned by Border Patrol agents and other security personnel were overwhelmed, and lines stretched for blocks. Several thousand people were still waiting to enter when the Obamas walked down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to start the show.

Frustrated visitors complained of confusion and conflicting instructions as officials began closing checkpoints about 2:30. In some cases, people waiting at one entrance were sent to another checkpoint only to find that one closed as well.

"Somebody should explain why they're not letting us in," said Susan Hussar of Falls Church, who arrived at the 17th Street and Independence Avenue entrance at 3 p.m. She was denied entry even though she could see open space inside the secure area. "People are coming out, but they won't let people in."

U.S. Park Police Chief Sal Lauro said officials decided to close the area around the Reflecting Pool before the crowding became dangerous.

"It was starting to get to the point where we thought it was getting unsafe," Lauro said. Officers asked permission to shut checkpoints as the areas filled, he said.

But Lauro denied that there was disorganization.

"I don't know how much more organized we could have been," he said. "We had officers out there directing crowds as best we could."

Emergency medical personnel took 16 people to hospitals, according to police. Most had minor problems related to falls and other medical conditions. One man was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack.

At times, the multitudes seemed to dance as one, Americans from every corner of the country, of every generation.

Stephen Sherman danced wearing the jacket of his World War II uniform. Sherman, who grew up in an almost all-white town in Colorado, asked family and friends to give him only money on his recent 88th birthday so he could fund his dream: going to Obama's inauguration.

"I still got a mean dance," he said in between taking photos with dozens of new friends.

The Lincoln Memorial's long history as a venue that mixes politics and music was on the minds of many in the audience. A group of women from southern Virginia wore "I Have a Dream" T-shirts marking King's historic address from these steps and the concert that proceeded it.

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