There were 250,000 tickets issued for the swearing in ceremony. They were color coded for which section you were in. Orange, blue, silver, purple. Of the 250,000 ticket holders, the Inauguration officials were able to accommodate 245,000 of them.
Several thousand people with tickets to the purple section were caught in a tunnel for several hours without any communication about what was going on – or going wrong. They didn’t make it in.
The silver section was just behind our section, and the blue line and silver line came close to overlapping waiting to get into the gates. Delays in processing people through security were met by anxious ticket holders who eventually over ran the security barriers. Many of the silver ticket holders had turned back, but of those that remained, we believe that many of them got onto the Capitol grounds.
Our tickets were for the blue section. The line wrapped around all four sides of the building next to the actual gate where we were to go onto the Capitol grounds to watch this amazing historic event. Four blocks of line. Surprisingly, it moved quickly and we were hopeful – past the point of reality – that we would get in. The crowd got denser, moved slower, the closer we got to the gate. And then all movement stopped. In the distance, we heard the ceremony begin – and no movement. With each recognizable stage of the ceremony (my memory is usually so bad – why was it I remembered so well from a few quick glances at the program exactly what was happening at each stage?) people became more upset that they were missing the history they had helped to make happen, that they had looked so forward to seeing in person, themselves. When Phoebe and I got within about 10 feet of the gate, two things happened – the crowd began pressing so hard I was worried about a trampling, and then the security officials closed the gate.
Phoebe and I inched our way to the side of the crowd and hustled to the mall so that we could at least watch from there. Amazingly, we made it to the center of the mall, just behind the pond in front of the Capitol, in time to watch Obama give the Inaugural Address.
From what we can tell, our gate suffered a dead generator that powered the equipment to scan people through security. Someone said that when the silver ticket holders broke through security, some of the officers from the blue section were diverted to the silver section for damage control. We also heard that the section was full – that the estimate used to judge how much real estate one person requires didn’t include heavy winter coats that were needed in 20 degree weather. It may also be that our comrades in arms — the renegade silver ticket holders — filled the empty space in the blue ticket section.
I’m glad that they closed the gates finally. If they hadn’t, Phoebe and I might have been stuck there until the ceremony had finished, unable to see or hear anything. Being able to watch Obama give the address on the mall, watching the hundreds of thousands of others there to celebrate the moment, listening to that voice boom over the loudspeakers and the crowd respond – it was as inspiring as we had expected it would be – whether we were on Capitol grounds or in the middle of the Mall.