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Despite a Chill on Mall, Events Warmly Received

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 19 1997; Page A01
The Washington Post

A bundled, scarved and mittened Washington met the kickoff activities of President Clinton's inauguration with a cold hurrah yesterday, and then retreated to get warm.

Visitors poured into the capital from planes and trains. Hotels were draped with patriotic bunting. Stores were jammed with shoppers buying winter clothes. And dance bands warmed up their instruments for the whirlwind of events that help give the nation's capital an electric excitement this time every four years.

"He's back for four more years, and we're here to party," said Katie Sposato, 47, from Adelphi, who described herself as a "big Clinton fan."

"This is a great morale booster for the city," said Pegi Jodry, 45, of Capitol Hill. "Washington puts on a good show."

That show lit up the sky with a fireworks display set off from 10 locations around the city, a unique attempt to bring the celebratory display to all neighborhoods.

Clinton will be at the center of the show tomorrow when he takes the oath of office. But last night, he bowed to the rigors of the weather and unfinished homework, deciding to stay at home to work on his inaugural speech, according to spokesman Barry Toiv.

From the south portico of the White House, Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton watched the fireworks rise from locations around the District to celebrate the president's second term in office. Then Clinton planned to go back to work on the speech.

"There's a very rough draft at this point, but it's moving along," Toiv said. "He's pretty happy."

The fireworks at 6 p.m. were dazzling and mercifully short, allowing those who braved the evening to quickly surrender their frigid viewing posts. Temperatures dropped rapidly at dusk from a noontime high of only 22 degrees.

At public events on the Mall, musicians and storytellers performed throughout the day for audiences wrapped in coats and hats yet shivering still as heaters at many of the huge tents struggled in a losing effort against the cold.

Many of the tents were full. The people inside offered up padded applause and said they would not have missed the festivities just because of a little arctic chill.

"This is a piece of history," said Cheryl Fulghum, 32, of Woodbridge, who brought her two children, even though she acknowledged, "I didn't vote for Clinton."

Temperatures were supposed to be only a bit warmer today -- in the upper 20s -- and were forecast to rise to the upper 30s tomorrow when Clinton and Vice President Gore take their oaths of office.

Yesterday marked the start of three days of official and unofficial activities surrounding the swearing-in ceremony, the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt that a Democrat has had a second inauguration.

The events on the Mall will continue today, with more musical and dramatic performances, storytellers and food, as well as special tents for technology and children. A glitzy Hollywood-style gala will be held tonight at the USAir Arena, attended by the Clintons.

Tomorrow, the official events begin. Clinton will breakfast with legislative leaders before he takes the oath at the Capitol. He will retire for a lunch in Statuary Hall, then proceed up Pennsylvania Avenue at 2 p.m. to watch the two-hour inaugural parade. In the evening, he and the first lady will try to attend at least 15 balls.

Inaugural activities were in full swing yesterday despite the cold. A steady stream of spectators trundled from tent to tent on the Mall, and organizers said attendance was good.

Snow flurries wafted in yesterday afternoon, mixing with the blowing sand and occasionally giving the Mall the look of winter tundra.

"They're out of tea, the coffee is too far that way, and I just ate some spicy rice," complained Barry Becton, of Little Rock. "My hands are already frozen solid, so it can't get much worse than this."

Kiki Moore, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said the tents erected on the Mall were cold at times because tent flaps were opened to let people in, and the sides of the tents were raised for some of the popular acts to allow those outside to see.

"We are trying to keep the tents as warm as we can," she said. "But that hasn't diminished the interest. People are willing to trade a little cold for the entertainment."

Last night, partyers hustled from their limousines and taxis to the dozens of unofficial balls and parties that will continue today and tomorrow.

A crowd of about 12,000 attended the dress rehearsal for the entertainment gala that the Clintons will watch tonight at USAir Arena. Admission to the dress rehearsal for ticket-holders was canned food for the homeless, and organizers were hoping to collect 30 tons of food.

The cold did not deter the hardiest of visitors and local residents, who pronounced the program of entertainment and education a success.

"I think they are doing a tremendous job, considering all the circumstances," said Jennifer Cooper, of Woodbridge, as she hugged one of her twin sons to keep him warm in the children's program tent, called the Millennium Schoolhouse. "The kids are clapping at everything, so they like it."

Gore dropped by for a quick swing through the Technology Tent, the most consistently popular yesterday. Lines to get into the high-tech, gee-whiz display of new technology lasted through the day.

Popular musical entertainment drew crowds at the other tents, and historical performances and storytelling sessions also were well attended.

The free Mall activities, promoted by inaugural organizers as an attempt to open the festivities to the public, drew a mix of party loyalists, for whom the term "die-hard Democrat" took on a frostbitten new meaning, and locals who wanted to share the fun.

"We traveled all the way here to see the president get sworn in," said Rose Robles Diaz, of Sacramento, who was outfitted in a red, white and blue sequined hat and a shirt and buttons showing her loyalty.

Underneath, Diaz and her friend M.Y. Brown, president of the Fresno County Democratic Women's Club, said they had on several layers of clothing to keep warm, including latex underwear, leotard tights, several pairs of socks and pantyhose. Still, everyone was shivering as the temperatures inside the tents hovered near those on the outside.

"It's soooo cold," Diaz said.

But Sarah Tinsley, 48, an elementary school teacher from Gore's home town of Carthage, Tenn., was undeterred.

"We're taking it all in," she said. `We're scoping it all out for four years from now."

The Mall events, entitled An American Journey, emphasized education and entertainment. At the Millennium Schoolhouse, Maurice Gaye, 10, was on the lookout for inaugural bigwigs. "I'm hoping that I'll see a lot of famous stuff, like Bill Clinton and his limo," the District native said.

He had drawn his arms up inside his jacket to better huddle against the chill, but he and his grandmother were enjoying the children's tent. "I think it's about kids telling people about the future," he said. "Kids aren't just small. Kids can do anything."

On stage, the Yelm Prairie Elementary School Choir was performing in blue jackets and red scarves. The 68 third- and fourth-graders couldn't show off the red sweat shirts they had bought especially for this performance.

"It was really, really exciting," said Amanda Gordon, 10, a member of the choir. "I was jumping off the walls." She said she's looking forward to her tour of the White House. But just the fun of the trip was exciting to her. "I think it's pretty cool because the hotels we're staying in have comfortable beds."

A little later, the children learned a lesson about cold air currents at the performance of Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who hosts a science show on PBS.

He and Elmo, the Sesame Street character, were the main acts of the day at the Millennium Schoolhouse. Nye drew such a large crowd that tent flaps were opened to let people on the outside look in.

"Open the back of the tent. Everybody's hot; let's get a little ventilation," Nye said from the stage, joking about the cold.

A standing-room-only crowd packed one tent to watch actor Avery Brooks and his stirring musical tribute to Paul Robeson, the actor, singer and civil rights activist.

Audience members, huddling close to one another to keep warm, watched in rapt silence as Brooks's deep, booming voice filled the chilly tent. Heads bobbed to the sounds of such songs as `Sweet Georgia Brown,' and the audience offered rousing applause at the end of each song.

Brooks said after the performance, which he has given in cities throughout the country since 1982, that he was proud to have the opportunity to present the show on the Mall.

"The time is sort of irrelevant," he said. "The fact that we can speak this man's name in the nation's capital . . . is a privilege."

In the inaugural souvenir tent, George Veitengruber, 23, of Allentown, Pa., was rubbing his hands together to keep warm as he hawked inaugural souvenirs ranging from $2 buttons to $55 silver inaugural picture frames. "How about gloves?" one frostbitten customer asked anxiously, "Do you have gloves?"

"All I have is my own personal gloves," Veitengruber said. "You want them? They're at least a thousand dollars."

Just about the time Veitengruber was asked whether anyone was shelling out money for the silver picture frames, Janice Brunson, of Phoenix, grabbed one off the table and said she'd like to buy four. "It's history," she said. "We suffered through all this weather, and this is Bill Clinton's time. He's our boy."

She said she bought four of the picture frames, one for each of the inaugural invitations she received as vice chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Some seemed undeterred by the cold. Ulysses Gosset, a reporter with the French television network TF1 was oh-so-impeccably well-groomed as he repeated an attempt to film a report for the evening news broadcast. Gosset was unflappable, even as his crew jumped and huddled to try to keep warm and a woman in a red hat sneaked up behind him to ruin his last shot.

He had someone who spoke French -- Devin Stewart, of Bethesda, a staff assistant to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) -- to interview for the program. But Stewart waited for a while and then gave up. "It's just not worth it," he said, wringing his hands. "It's really just too cold out here."

Huddled together on a cold bench outside the Heritage Hall tent, Floridian Lisa Weiss listened quietly as her sister-in-law and mother, Wendy and Dee Weiss, debated what they wanted to do for the day.

Finally she spoke up. "What we want," Lisa Weiss said slowly, punctuating each word for emphasis, "is not to die of hypothermia."

Seats for the events inside the Smithsonian museums and the Holocaust Museum were understandably popular. At the Baird Auditorium in the Museum of American History, a long line waited to see Celtic Thunder, an Irish musical and dance group.

The popular group has performed for the president at his annual St. Patrick's Day celebration. The young girls dancing jigs brought yelps and cheers from a packed crowd.

Other performances throughout the day included Cambodian American Heritage, Khmer art form and Six Nations Women Singers, a native American group.

Inside the big Harmony tent, Eddie Palmieri and his band pounded out a heavy jazz beat for a standing-room-only audience wearing the warmth of animals -- down, fur and wool. Outside, Capitol Hill resident and Smithsonian archaeologist Jodry took a few dance steps while walking her black Lab, Cody, 4, to the music coming from the speakers.

"I just love it," Jodry said. "There are lots of free things. This is just like the folk life festival. Everybody is smiling, standing shoulder to shoulder and just feeling good."

Hot food was popular. Lines for food tickets were long, and warming items such as jambalaya and crawfish pie and foot-long hot dogs sold well inside the American Kitchen Tent.

But most people strolled right past one small dessert cart selling Italian ice. By 2:30 p.m. Hurdy Gurdy, a Columbia Italian ice chain, had sold only 20 of its lemon, chocolate, tangerine and strawberry Italian ice desserts.

"We knew we weren't going to a major killing, but we figured we could do good enough," said co-owner Jay Whetstone, 35. "We thought the conditions would be a little bit warmer in the tents."

But he and his employee, Drew Slack, 19, took it in good humor. Earlier in the day, they made a sign that read: "8 Million People Served" -- but they crossed out the word "million."

Staff writers Amy Argetsinger, Peter Baker, Scott Bowles, Peter Finn, Lisa Frazier, Patrice Gaines, Hamil R. Harris, Jon Jeter, Susan Levine, Tara Mack, Brian Mooar, Robert E. Pierre, Alice Reid, Fern Shen and Linda Wheeler contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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