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Obama Inauguration Expected To Break All Records

  • Heather Maher

Crowds near the Washington Monument for a pre-inaugural concert on January 18.

Crowds near the Washington Monument for a pre-inaugural concert on January 18.

WASHINGTON -- When Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20, he will do so upon the Bible that his personal political hero, Abraham Lincoln, used for his own swearing in, in 1861.

Lincoln, America's 16th president, served from 1861 until his assassination in 1865 and is widely revered for having preserved national unity by winning the Civil War and ending the practice of slavery.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, who, like Obama, was an Illinois legislator before he rose to the presidency.

Using Lincoln's Bible is one of a few personal touches that Obama has put on the inaugural ceremony. Others include the inclusion of soul singer Aretha Franklin, evangelical megachurch leader Rick Warren, and a young poet to deliver the traditional inaugural poem.

Even without those details, the country's 56th presidential inauguration would be anything but traditional: Obama is the first black president elected in the country's history -- a milestone many Americans considered impossible not long ago.

Obama will be sworn into office one day after the country observes Martin Luther King Day, a holiday that honors the inspirational black civil rights leader.

Bigger Than Ever

This particular inauguration is set to break all records: it will be the most costly, most security-conscious, and most watched in U.S. history.

The tiny District of Columbia, which is home to the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and all federal agencies, is spending almost $50 million to accommodate and protect an expected crowd of almost 2.5 million spectators and participants.

On January 18, despite cold temperatures, a crowd of some 75,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in downtown Washington to watch an inauguration concert featuring Hollywood celebrities like Tom Hanks and Queen Latifah, and musical artists U2 and Bruce Springsteen.

Video from the concert at the Lincoln Memorial:

Obama, who could be seen singing along at times, gave a brief speech at the end of the concert that contained both optimism and caution.

He repeated his warning that the challenges currently facing America are daunting. "In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Obama said. "Our nation is at war; our economy is in crisis."

But he told the crowd that, looking at their faces, he was reminded why he ran for president in the first place.

"As I prepare to assume the presidency, yours are the voices I will take with me every day I walk into that Oval Office -- the voices of men and women who have different stories but hold common hopes; who ask only for what was promised us as Americans -- that we might make of our lives what we will and see our children climb higher than we did," Obama said.

Tightly Scripted

Obama's inauguration will begin around 11:00 local time, when he, his wife Michelle, and their two daughters travel in a motorcade from Blair House, located just across from the White House, to the U.S. Capitol.

Obama will ride down the wide boulevard that connects the two institutions -- called Pennsylvania Avenue -- in a new armored Cadillac that has already been nicknamed "The Beast" in the press.

On the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Obama will sit with his family in a specially built area enclosed by glass and warmed by heaters. The weather forecast is calling for freezing temperatures and clear skies. After music by the United States Marine Band and children's choruses, Warren -- who has been criticized for his conservative views on women and homosexuals -- will deliver the invocation.

More music will follow, and then Joe Biden will be sworn in as U.S. vice president by Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. After still more music, Obama will be sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

Then it falls to Obama -- the 47-year-old Columbia and Harvard Law School graduate whose oratory skills have served him well from the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention to the "more perfect union" speech tackling race and prejudice in the heat of his primary battle against Hillary Clinton -- to deliver the most important speech of his life.

He is said to have started working on the address immediately after November's election victory, in which he took 53 percent of the vote to Republican Senator John McCain's 46 and a wide margin (365-173) in the electoral-college vote.

Obama's address is followed by a poetry reading, a religious blessing, and the national anthem.

By lunchtime, the United States will have its 44th president.

President George W. Bush made his farewell speech to the nation on January 15.
Then President Obama, former President George W. Bush, and about 200 political dignitaries will gather for a lunch inside the U.S. Capitol. They will dine on a menu of classic American dishes its creators say were inspired by the 200th anniversary of President Lincoln's birth: a seafood stew, roasted duck and pheasant, and apple cake for dessert.

After lunch, the celebrating begins in earnest with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue featuring ceremonial military regiments, citizens' groups, marching bands, and floats. Obama and his family will ride along the parade route in their motorcade, but whether he will spontaneously get out of the car and walk -- as previous presidents have sometimes done -- is only known by the Secret Service.

Crowded House

More than 2 million people are thought to have traveled to Washington for the inauguration and many of them will try to squeeze onto the two-mile long National Mall, a wide green park dotted with national monuments like the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

It marks the first time in U.S. history that the National Mall has been opened for an inauguration. Since most people will be too far away to see the swearing in ceremony, organizers will show the proceedings on more than two-dozen giant screens that have been set up.

The size of the crowd is a bit of a logistical nightmare for Washington, which has a population of 600,000. City officials say hotels are at full capacity and the city's metro will see "crush conditions."

In this age of mass terror attacks, the inauguration of the country's first black president has significantly heightened security concerns that were already high.

Officials have already closed all the streets surrounding the White House and U.S. Capitol to anything but pedestrians and bikes, and many bridges into the city will turn away commercial traffic all day.

Federal law-enforcement authorities have reportedly based some of their security plans on lessons learned from terrorist attacks on New York, London, and Mumbai. Hundreds of teams of intelligence analysts, bomb experts, hostage negotiators, and more than 20,000 law enforcement agents will cover potential threats from the air, sea, and land.

Dozens of balls are scheduled all over the U.S. capital on inauguration evening, and President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will personally attend 10 of them. They range from exclusive, invitation-only galas to inclusive, populist affairs, but most will feature music and dancing and lavish buffets.

People who don't have an invitation to a ball will at least be able to celebrate longer than usual: the city is allowing bars to stay open until 5 a.m. -- four hours past their normal closing time.
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