published Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Chattanooga locals share inauguration stories

by Matt Wilson
Audio clip

Annie Hall

More than 1 million people gathered Tuesday on the National Mall to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama. As the day progressed, we spoke by phone, e-mail and the Web with a few Chattanooga residents who made the trip to Washington, D.C.

Annie Hall and Molly Cooper

Annie Hall, of Chattanooga, was wowed by the size of the crowd and the early hour that folks started making their way to the National Mall.

“People started streaming down the street at 5 a.m.,” Ms. Hall wrote in an e-mail. “(There) must be 10,000 to 20,000 people waiting for the gate to open, chanting ‘Obama,’ singing (and) cheering as helicopters fly overhead.”

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Facebook updates by Ms. Hall’s daughter, Molly Cooper, show they were in the security line at 7:40 a.m. and reached their seats at 9:50 a.m.

While they were waiting for the speech to start, Ms. Hall said she spoke with people from all over the country who were standing nearby.

“You can’t help but meet people and ask where they’re from,” she said.

After Mr. Obama’s speech, Ms. Cooper wrote that she was “struggling for the words to describe what I was just a part of.”

Ms. Hall observed that another crowd gathered in the street by the afternoon, this one to see the Inauguration Day Parade.

The Grays

Chattanooga resident Erik Gray said he was headed out early Tuesday morning to meet “a million or so friends.”

“Today, we witness history,” he said as set out with his family from his Washington hotel room for the inauguration.

Mr. Gray and his family did not have tickets for the inauguration, but they found a spot near the Smithsonian Castle. Mr. Gray’s son, Rigby, 5, played a little football on the grass of the National Mall as they waited.

After the speech began, Mr. Gray said people around him were sharing the moment with others.

“A lady next to us was on the phone with someone,” he said. “A girl on the other side of us was using her iPhone. Others were talking during the speech. How odd. I guess it was good enough for some people that they were just there.”

Mr. Gray said his 2-year-old daughter, Lucy, cried during the speech, but said he didn’t think it bothered too many people.

After the ceremony, the Grays huddled up with the crowd at the Smithsonian Institute’s Freer Gallery of Art to get warm.

“This has been such a great adventure,” Mr. Gray said. “We are so excited to be a part of this.”

Blair Bennington-Cannon

Chattanooga attorney Blair Bennington-Cannon said the National Mall was “cold and crowded, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Ms. Bennington-Cannon said she had no wait to get onto the Metro to ride to the Capitol area, but she later stood in two long lines, one to pick up her tickets and one for security. She said it was “mass chaos” at the gate.

But by 10:30 a.m., Ms. Bennington-Cannon was in front of the Capitol, listening to the U.S. Marine Corps Band.

“We have a great view,” she said.

There was “a good, excited vibe” on the Mall, she said, and no one was being belligerent or raucous.

She said she particularly was inspired to see several older black spectators at the inauguration, all of whom lived through the civil rights movement.

“You just think about how much things have changed in their lifetimes,” she said.

After the ceremony, Ms. Bennington-Cannon went to a bar in the city to watch the parade and wait for the Metro to clear out.

She described the speech as “really cool” and said she was a little disappointed it was all over.

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