Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help

Go to Main Story


Go to Inauguration '97

Go to National Section

Go to Home Page


Paraders, Viewers Bask on Avenue

By Peter Finn and Victoria Benning
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 21, 1997; Page A13

A late-starting Inaugural Parade snaked down Pennsylvania Avenue on a suddenly sunny afternoon yesterday, thrilling crowds who overcame their impatience to bear witness to American democracy and savor a rich tapestry of American life.

"I love the country. I love the system. I love the land," said Kashmir Singh, 53, in a hymn befitting the moment as he waited for the parade to arrive at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. "This is a great boost spiritually." The parade, with President Clinton and the first family at its head, stepped out at 3:44 p.m., about an hour and 15 minutes behind schedule. The last marchers, the 150-strong Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, finally turned the corner and started down the parade route at 5:10 p.m., with street crews already beginning to clean up behind them.

"We like to think that we embody all the different qualities that people have seen in the parade," said rear guard member Joseph Chase Permetti, who served in Kenya.

Those qualities included the austere discipline of military honor guards and the loose amble of Arkansas mules, the rousing sounds of marching bands and the subtle motion of Eskimo dancers, the balance of young unicyclists from Ohio and the solemn visages of Navaho code talkers.

Despite the darkening hour, the Clintons watched the rest of the parade to its end, waving their goodbyes from the presidential viewing stand shortly before 6 p.m. Other true-blues in the thinning crowds also stuck it out for the entire 2• hour procession—as much for the marchers as for the experience.

"This has really been a great parade," said Charlotte Adams, 35, of Lusby, Md. "The first part was very historic, but the part that makes it so memorable [is] all the young people who have come to give their all and perform."

The marchers, too, felt the import of the moment and their place in history.

"It's like a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Shelby Jones, of West Potomac High School, which formed the Eastern Fairfax All-Stars Marching Band with Mount Vernon High School.

"We may never get this opportunity again, and this morning my adrenaline was going so much. It's just so exciting."

Just before the parade began, Idelle Hamilton, 14, a ninth-grader at Mount Vernon High School, said she really wanted to sneak a look at the president, despite a band rule requiring members to look straight ahead as they march.

"If you're really quick, you can move your eyes without moving your head," she confessed in a whisper.

Viewers at the end of the parade route seemed to be extra enthusiastic about the District's Shaw Junior High School Marching Band—a sort of hometown pride. After the parade, Shaw's band director Lloyd Hoover summed up the experience—"Awesome."

"As I was walking along, I was thinking this is the last time I'll ever do this," said Hoover, who will retire from Shaw this year. "It was kind of a sad feeling, but what a way to finish a career."

"It was so exciting," said seventh-grader Chaquette Jackson, 12, who helped carry the school's banner in front of the band. "The best part was when I got up there by the president . . . he waved at us."

Drummer Frederick Simpson, 15, a ninth-grader, said, "It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I've never seen a president before. I'll keep this moment in my head forever."

Members of the Virginia Tech Highty Tighties had the unpleasant parade position behind several animal participants—the Rasputin Mule Farm from Arkansas, Irene the official Democratic Donkey and Bill the Mule. But band members said they were just thrilled to be able to participate.

"I don't care who we had to march behind as long as we got in," said Lou Pochet, a 20-year-old sophomore from Suffern, N.Y. Pochet's saxophone blocked his view of the ground so he "didn't know what I was stepping in," he said. "But I feel sorry for the trombone players. . . . They could see everything."

The Maryland American Legion Post, 31 men and women strong in powder-blue blazers, waited at Fourth Street and Madison Drive NW to start marching. The senior member, age 82, was absent with heart trouble, but several of the flag bearers were in their seventies.

Ronald Harper, participating in his third inauguration, said one parade is much like another. "The first one we went to was Carter's," he said. "It was bitter cold. They rushed us down the avenue. We practically ran through."

"This is a perfect day," said Harper, of Catonsville. "I look forward to it. I'm 71 years old now, and I hope I can go many more." He said he doesn't find the long walk to the White House tiring because, "I do a lot of walking at home."

The group only practiced its march once—earlier this week. "When you're good," joked one member, "you don't have to practice."

For some, just getting to Washington was an achievement. The wind chill was 80 degrees below when the South Dakota State University marching band left Brookings, and the 230-member band traveled for 28 hours with no overnight stop to make it to the parade on time.

"It's like a heat wave here, it's so warm," said freshman Sarah Sterzinger, 19. "Bill Clinton loves us and we think he's a neat guy, so we had to be here for him."

At 13th and Pennsylvania, a band famous for not being in the parade performed for the milling crowd during the wait for the inaugural cavalcade. The Cody (Wyo.) High School Band got that corner after Clinton heard they were bitterly disappointed at not being chosen to march. And the band has made the most of its newfound status this week: The group played twice at the Kennedy Center.

"If we had been marching, we wouldn't have gotten to do all this stuff," Derek Spitzer said. "There's nobody disappointed about not marching at this point."

As Clinton's limousine approached each block on the parade route, a frisson of anticipation swept through onlookers, who hoped he would get out at their corner. But for many, their only contact with the president was a glimpse through thick, green-tinted glass and a brief "Hello, Hello," coming from a loudspeaker on the vehicle.

President Clinton finally got out for a stroll at 15th and Pennsylvania, walking the last block to the viewing stand in front of the White House.

The Clintons didn't shake any hands, but for John Roach, 44, and Gary Gorman, 41, the president did the next best thing.

Roach and Gorman, from Madison, Wis., wore giant cheese wedge hats in support of the Green Bay Packers in next Sunday's Super Bowl. Clinton pointed at them and traced a triangle in the air above his head.

"He's obviously a Packer fan," Gorman said.

Jennifer Crook, 22, a student at American University, looked through a perfect crack in the crowd as the Clintons emerged. "They got out of the car and then held hands," Crook said. "I'm really excited."

Behind the first family, Vice President Gore and his family also exited their limousine, and some in the crowd at 15th and F streets started chanting "2000, 2000, 2000."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top



Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help