By Brian Meaney
President Obama’s historical inaugural swearing in on Jan. 20 turned into a four-day long celebration jam-packed with parties, balls, and celebrities as well as millions of people who flooded the Nation’s Capital to take a part, no matter how small, in the historical moment.
Some may see the paraphernalia as an obvious sign that many in the country see Obama as the way for positive change, but the interest in the balls and galas, official or not, showed how strong the desire was for people to take part in these celebrations.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee planned ten balls for the night of Inauguration where the Obamas and Bidens would be in attendance, but many of the unofficial galas and balls were in just as high demand. As many as 70 other balls and galas were organized, and I was lucky enough to take part in one of these balls.
On the Sunday before the inauguration, right after the concert with Bono, Beyonce, and U2, the Lincoln 2.0 Gala commenced at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and Portrait Gallery.
My date only found out the Friday before that she was given complementary tickets, normally $500 per person, to the Lincoln ball, so the rush to get me a tuxedo was on. I found out at 2 p.m. that I was going and the tuxedo rental required that I got to their store in Central Park by 4 p.m. to get measured and have the suit expedited, at an extra charge of course. Luckily, I managed.
I unexpectedly ended up being one of the many who decided to take the train into Union Station on the Sunday before inauguration. Having no pre-registered ticket caused issues with the train engineer who attempted to charge me the maximum amount, $50, for a 45 minute ride – over a dollar a minute. I am convinced this prejudice was due to my lack of Obama gear; I should have pulled out my tux and paraded that around, but I refrained.
Finally making it to my date’s apartment, I was greeted with the challenge of learning to tie my own bowtie. Youtube was my savior, as I worked hard to practice tying one on my knee, all the while wishing I just rented a clip-on. Apparently monkey see, monkey do worked and on the first try, I was able to secure a perfect bowtie around my neck this time.
However, my elation only lasted so long because when I put on the tuxedo jacket I felt as though the bottom seam-line might touch my knees. I knew I would be one of the youngest there, so sticking out even more with a blatantly too long jacket did not sound appealing. According to my date, that was not enough reason to get out of going, so I begrudgingly headed out the door with the 42 extra-long jacket – I wear a 42 long.
When we arrived to the museum, the main entrance was beautifully lit with blue and red interchanging lights illuminating the awe-inspiring front entrance columns. We followed behind security that ushered the guests and press who were weighed down by massive amounts of cameras.
After stopping by the coat check, our VIP tickets allowed us to be ushered right into the newly renovated 28,000 square foot courtyard as big as a city block with a lit glass ceiling.
The main entertainment took place in this location for the night with festive food, as well as a concert with five different performers, most notably JT Taylor of the hit group Kool and the Gang. While the music was fantastic, the gorgeous museum exhibits definitely took the cake. We were able to wonder throughout the practically deserted hallways, since many were busy dancing.
The most notable exhibit was “The Honor of your Company is Requested: President Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball.” The exhibition took its viewers back 143 years to Abraham Lincoln’s second Inaugural Ball, which was the reasoning behind this particular gala’s name. This small exhibition celebrates the President’s second Inaugural Ball held in March 1865 at the museum’s location.
The ball took place as Lincoln’s second term began, with the Civil War in its final stages, and only six weeks before Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater nearby. The exhibition relates the ball to the building and its history and features artifacts from the Inaugural Ball, including the invitation, menu, engravings illustrating the night’s event, and even Lincoln’s dress coat.
By the end of the night we had our fill of food, drink, and dancing, and had made our way through the majority of the museum. With my date’s hand wrapped around her shoes, which apparently looked more comfortable than they felt, we walked towards the metro.
At the end of the night, I was left with a sense of accomplishment and appreciation for what every person was out to celebrate: the election of a new president and restoring America’s Promise.
By Mary Turner
Sitting in traffic sipping hot Starbucks early Tuesday morning before the sun had even thought about rising, I could not help but notice the hundreds of cars surrounding me with plates from every state across the country. They were probably on their way to work, or maybe heading north to visit Boston.
I knew I would be the only one clever enough to leave at 3 a.m. and take the Franconia-Springfield Metro into D.C. Surely all these “tourists” could not be heading to the same place as I.
Unfortunately, I was still in denial and refused to believe that all these cars were on their way to the National Mall.
Two hours later, after what should have been a thirty-minute trip, I took the last sip of my frappuccino, bundled up, and braved the massive crowds of the metro station. As I hustled onto the blue line train towards Rosslyn, I soon realized that I would become “closer” to my fellow Americans than I ever thought possible.
Claustrophobia, motion sickness, and lack of oxygen aside, there was something in the air, an intangible feeling of excitement and camaraderie on a train ride to history.
After a 15-block detour, due to an unfortunate accident at our intended Chinatown stop, I finally arrived at the Capitol Building. My husband and I secured a cozy spot in front of the JumboTron in the Yellow Northwest Standing area of the Capitol lawn. We still had a decent view of the podium and makeshift stage on the steps of the Capitol.
For some reason the magnitude of the event I was about to witness had not hit me yet. Others in the crowd were already screaming, dancing, crying, and praying. Maybe it is the music buff inside me, but my moment came when Aretha Franklin got on stage and sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
As she sang the words “let freedom ring” to millions of Americans gathered at the Capital, I got chills. With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on my brain from the holiday the day prior, I recalled how at the end of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, he spoke out the exact same words.
“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring’,“ he said.
That is when I realized that I was taking part in something bigger than myself. As I stood with my arms linked to the people around me, of all shades and ancestry, I realized I was taking part in a moment in time, where my fellow Americans and I were living the “Dream” of a great man.
My children will read about the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States in their history books. They will probably ask me questions about it, just as I have often asked my mother to recount the stories of the Civil Rights Movement, John F. Kennedy, and Vietnam.
I will likely not remember the fact that I got two hours of sleep, or that my coffee went cold during the ride to D.C. I will not remember the faces of the people who were squeezed in tightly to me on the train, or the feeling of numbness in my toes as I walked to the Capitol. I will however remember the fact that I was there to witness a historical moment in our nation’s history. I watched a man become president that day, not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his character.