Don Samuelson spent most of the morning on Inauguration Day walking in a mass of humanity and standing in line but the chance to see President Barack Obama sworn into office was worth it.
"You've never seen anything like this in your life," the longtime DFL state legislator said moments after the inauguration ceremonies concluded.
The 76-year-old Brainerd resident said that even though he had tickets, he stood in line for three hours. He wasn't upset with his predicament, he noted, because he saw that "Jesse Jackson was behind us in line."
Even though it was wall-to-wall people, the crowd was in good humor and was remarkably orderly, Samuelson said. He said there was a lot of singing and chanting as people waited to get to their designated spots.
Doreen Mahoney (left), Alison Mahoney and a friend received a preview of security measures near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Sunday as they toured Washington. The group returned to the Capitol on Tuesday to observe Inauguration Day ceremonies.
"Well, you didn't want to fall down, I'll tell you," he said. "I've never seen, with a massive crowd like this - nobody was angry."
Samuelson's day started at about 3 a.m. He and his son, Steve Samuelson of Milaca, took a bus and got as close as they could. They walked and waited in line from about 6 a.m. (Eastern time) until right up to the start of the ceremony at about 11:30 a.m.
Steve Samuelson said he attended a Bicentennial celebration in New York City at the Statue of Liberty that was said to have been 2 million people and he said this crowd seemed to be twice the size of that one.
The younger Samuelson, who grew up in Brainerd, said that as a speaker, Obama seemed to be a combination of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Sen. Paul Wellstone. Don Samuelson also appreciated Obama's speech.
"The speech was much like his campaign speeches," Don Samuelson said. "People here have so much hope and so much of a feeling that we can turn this thing around."
While he talked with a couple from Kansas who said they were moderate Republicans, most of the crowd were not big fans of outgoing President George W. Bush. Samuelson said there was silence when Obama praised Bush and cheers when the crowd saw a helicopter flying Bush away from the White House.
Tay Stevenson, a 2006 Brainerd High School graduate and national officer with the College Democrats of America, had tickets but couldn't get to an open gate. As a result he didn't get to see the historic event even though he began waiting at one checkpoint at about 6:30 a.m.
"My story is not unique," the Dartmouth junior said.
Stevenson, who campaigned for Obama, looked at the bright side.
"I got to be in D.C.," he said. "I get to go to this really fabulous ball."
He said it was enjoyable to be a part of the crowd even though his failure to get close enough to his assigned area meant he "got the fuzzy end of that lollipop."
Stevenson was staying at a college friend's parents' house in Bethesda, Md. He hoped to get a second chance to see the new president at the ball.
"Being in D.C. for this is incredible," he said. "You really feel connected to what's going on. It's like being at the epicenter of history."
Doreen Mahoney of Nisswa and her daughter, Alison Mahoney of Savannah, Ga., left Fredericksburg, Va., at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday and arrived at their Arlington, Va., parking spot at about 3:20 a.m.
From there they walked to the Metro subway station in hope of catching the first train, but "it was packed to the gills." They stood near their assigned gate from about 4:30 a.m. until just before 8 a.m. when they were allowed into their designated area. Then they waited for the 11:30 a.m. ceremony to begin in what she described as a friendly, well-dressed, polite crowd.
"I thought it was a great speech," Doreen Mahoney said. "He certainly covered a lot of subjects."
She said moving in such a crowd was like being in an undulating ocean.
"It was hard to stay with the people you were with," Mahoney said.
The crowd was a pro-Obama crowd, she said, noting that the group had a hard time from booing loudly when President George W. Bush was introduced. She said some people started to sing "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," at Bush's introduction.
Even as the crowd dispersed, people were everywhere. Alison Mahoney said there were "huge crowds taking up entire two-lane streets and sidewalks after everybody was leaving."
Asked if she would go to the inauguration again knowing what an ordeal it would be, Doreen Mahoney said it was worth it.
"Yes it was," she said. "It was something to see so many people there."
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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