Rome resident George Pullen and his wife Ann were at the ceremony and said at first, they were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the crammed crowd.
“It was a little bit overwhelming being crushed into a small area with about 900,000 people, but before the ceremony started, it loosened up,” George Pullen said. “They opened some other areas and we were actually able to move to where we had a direct view of the podium during the ceremony.”
Pullen said he could feel history come alive during the inauguration.
“The history there, to me, is impressive,” he said. “Everything in the ceremony, and particularly the president’s speech, was uplifting, confident, hopeful. It’s just really trying to build on unity for the country with the people standing out there. There was unity there. And the president built on that.”
One of the best moments, Pullen said, was hearing thousands of people chant the commander-in-chief’s name.
“Hearing that many people shout ‘Obama! Obama!’ … that was moving, especially for a guy from Georgia who doesn’t get to do that kind of thing in Georgia much,” he said. “We just don’t have that much solidarity.”
Bishop Norris T. Allen of Rome was at the inauguration with a group that included Model High School students as well as a West End Elementary student.
“There was a lot of history that took place at this inauguration … it was truly awesome,” Allen said. “I feel like this was an inauguration to unify the country.”
He said the fact that President Obama was sworn in using Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bible was a very moving part of the day.
“(H)e laid his hand on Martin King’s Bible,” Allen said. “That was one of the things I feel like will go a long way.”
Martha Davis, who was part of Pullen’s group, said it was a day she would always remember.
“It was overwhelming,” Davis said. “The president’s speech was interesting, to the point… the whole program was just great. It was just marvelous, it was an experience that anyone in their lifetime could have. It was the most marvelous day I’ve ever had.”
Wendy Davis of Rome was one of thousands of inaugural attendees who packed Metro trains. She came four years ago as well, but was among the many ticketholders who couldn’t get in then because of the massive crowds.
“I thought I was early last time, but I obviously wasn’t early enough,” she said.
In his speech, Obama urged the nation to set an unwavering course toward prosperity and freedom for all its citizens and protect the social safety net that has sheltered the poor, elderly and needy.
“Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” Obama said in his relatively brief, 18-minute address. “We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class,” he added, echoing his calls from the presidential campaign that catapulted him to re-election.
The president declared that a decade of war is ending, as is the economic recession that consumed much of his first term.
Obama’s second inaugural lacked the electric enthusiasm of his first, when 1.8 million people crammed onto the National Mall to witness the swearing-in of the nation’s first black president.
Far fewer people attended this year’s inauguration — officials estimated up to 700,000 people — but the crowd still stretched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. And shortly before the president spoke, U.S. Park Police announced that the public viewing areas on the Mall were full.
Security was tight across Washington, with streets closed off for blocks around the White House and Capitol Hill. Military Humvees and city buses were being used to block intersections. Volunteers fanned out near the Mall to help direct the crowds.
David Richardson of Atlanta and his two young children were among the early-goers who headed to the Mall before sunrise.
“We wanted to see history, I think, and also for the children to witness that anything is possible through hard work,” Richardson said.
Staff Writer Lauren Jones contributed to this report.