Presidential inauguration: Locals share the thrill of chance to witness history


Vickie Grant poses with her luggage and some of her President Barack Obama memorabilia at her home in Alachua on Monday. Grant is one of several local people attending the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.

Yvonne Hinson-Rawls thought she would be locked out of a dream as 1.8 million people packed the National Mall and officials began shutting gates to keep the area from overflowing.

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Vickie Grant poses with her luggage and some of her President Barack Obama memorabilia at her home in Alachua on Monday. Grant is one of several local people attending the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer

Hinson-Rawls, who was elected to serve on the Gainesville City Commission in March, had traveled to Washington, D.C., with her daughter and granddaughter in 2009 determined to see the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president.

"I saw the gates close right in front of my face," Hinson-Rawls said. "We were so close."

Hinson-Rawls said her daughter whipped out her smartphone to watch the address on her phone. But her granddaughter, wiping away tears, refused that alternative. That's when Hinson-Rawls said she took her granddaughter's hand and found another entrance. They saw people standing on the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the water frozen over from frigid January temperatures, and they, too, took their spot in time to hear the address begin.

Hinson-Rawls, along with several other Gainesville residents, is returning for the second round.

Smaller size, same excitement

While the public excitement over the upcoming inauguration is not as apparent as that in 2009, thousands of people are heading to D.C. for the chance to see history made one more time.

People flocked to the inauguration in 2009 in record-breaking numbers. Prior to 2009, the highest attendance was 1.2 million, set at Lyndon B. Johnson's second inauguration.

District of Columbia officials estimate that between 600,000 and 800,000 people will attend Obama's second swearing-in, a steep decline from 2009 but an above-average audience for a second-term inauguration. George W. Bush's second inauguration attracted between 300,000 and 400,000 people. Bill Clinton's likely drew around 450,000.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority anticipates hundreds of thousands of people will use the rail and bus systems throughout the weekend, but hotels haven't booked at the same pace as they did four years ago.

Still, Gainesville has its fair share of people traveling up for the event.

Night in and night out during the 2012 campaign, Alena Lawson said she spent hours with her phone glued to her ear, calling residents in Newberry, Alachua and High Springs to encourage them to register and vote in the presidential election.

In Alachua County, Obama received 57.71 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney's 40.40 percent, according to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections website.

The Newberry city commissioner participated in the 2008 campaign as well, and said that the second campaign ran on a huge commitment to repeat what happened the first time: Win the election.

Lawson said this inauguration is a testament that the nation supports what the president has accomplished.

For those who worked on the campaign, it's a personal stamp of success.

"We're witnessing our hard work come to fruition," Lawson said.

A time for firsts

Vickie Grant voted for Obama in 2008 but didn't attend the inauguration. After he won his re-election, Grant said she booked a flight.

"This is probably the last time we'll have a person of color in the White House," Grant said. "I don't want to miss it."

For Alison Blakeslee, a private investigator, this also will be her first time attending an inauguration.

"I expect to come home," she said, "feeling more positive about Washington."

Although Blakeslee said the second inauguration won't carry the glamour of the first, she thinks this inauguration is more appealing in some ways. It shows that the nation trusts what Obama has done so far.

"It's not a transformation of power," Blakeslee said, "but we know about him. We trust him."

The event is something most people will never forget. Ask Ed Krohn, who made a habit of attending inaugurations in the 1990s and early 2000s. He was there for the inaugurations of George H. Bush, Bill Clinton (the second one), and George W. Bush's first.

He went to them for the thrill, he said, and in hopes of finding anything to collect — a ticket stub, a Metro pass. He binds the items into memorabilia books, making them pieces of history.

"A lot of it's not worth a lot," Krohn said. "But it's not about the worth. It's about the chase."

For Krohn, finding items from the conventions, the elections, the inaugurations tell a story about the nation's political process.

About 10 years ago, he went to the Smithsonian Institution in search of inaugural ceremony and ball tickets, as well as convention tickets. He still can't find a convention stub from 1872.

But he did spot John F. Kennedy Jr. at Clinton's second inauguration in 1997.

"I wasn't looking for anything in particular," Krohn said. "I had just turned my head and there he was, three rows in front of me. Things like that make it interesting, when you find what you least expect."

The final piece of the campaign

In 2008, Cynthia Chestnut hosted a house party during the summer, before Obama was officially named the Democratic candidate for president. She was trying to generate energy for the upcoming election.

As fall rolled around, she made calls and went door-to-door, verifying whether Alachua County residents were registered to vote.

"I wanted to do everything I could to get him in office," Chestnut said.

She attended the inauguration in 2009, she said, excited to see a man whose vision would shape the nation's social structure.

Chestnut said she is returning to D.C. for the second inauguration for two reasons. She said she believes it will be the last time in her lifetime she sees an African-American as president, and she wants to share this piece of history with her grandchildren.

For someone who has supported the president since 2008, this inauguration serves as a bookend.

"It's the final piece," she said. "It's the final piece of the campaign."

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