Documenting "Inauguration 2009" in Washington, DC
(slightly larger versions of images available online indicated by thicker border - click to see)

All Text and Images Copyright © Evan Golub 2009

Capitol Building Rehearsal
Police Escort

Marine Saluting the car of the 'President'

In December of 2008, I signed up at the Presidential Inaugural Committee website for media updates and to apply for credentials. It was interesting to receive various press releases and to see more of how things work behind the scenes. On January 6th, I received an e-mail regarding media being invited to the rehearsal for the Inauguration Swearing-In and Parade, I decided to go into DC on Sunday, January 11th for the rehearsals. I RSVP'ed for the parade.

On the morning of the 11th, I headed out at 5:30am, passed the National Zoo at 6:00am and parked at G and 17th shortly after that. I then walked down 17th Street to the National Mall. I first went to the Washington Monument, and then walked East on the National Mall to the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial to take pictures of the rehearsal swearing-in at the West Front of the Capitol Building.

After that I headed over to Freedom Plaza at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street to check-in at the media site. I arrived at 8:00am and the area was open-access. At 8:15am I started to look for the person with whom to check-in put it turned out that they didn't have a check-in list so I just picked a spot overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue and waited for the parade to begin.

A little before 10:00am the parade rehearsal began. First were members of the different branches of the military. Next there was a pause, followed by a group of vehicles. They were a mix of cars and SUVs with a few open trucks with people riding in them. When I noticed that the Marine across the street was saluting all of a sudden, I realized that the black Suburban was probably the stand-in for the President's vehicle. When she dropped her salute after it passed, that pretty much confirmed it. After this segment of the parade passed, I decided to walk around DC a bit to warm up my feet (which had gotten chilly standing around). The remainder of the parade had members of the military walking with signs saying what group they represented in the order of the parade (such as the Suurimmanitchuat Eskimo Dance Group).

On Tuesday evening I received an e-mail informing me that I had been credentialed for the National Mall, West of 4th Street for Inauguration Day. Credentials could be picked up starting the next day at 8am. I headed in around 9am. My credential pickup started with a bit of a rush - there was a crowd of people dressed similarly to me (business attire with black overcoats) waiting to enter the Convention Center so I stood there until they opened the doors - then I saw signs pointing to the right for ticket and credential pickup and the crowd moved in that direction so I followed them to where they lined up at a door - a gentleman then said hello to me and asked who I was with - when I told him he then introduced himself as being with the secret service and told me this was a group attending a briefing, not the media credential pickup line. Oops. He politely pointed me in the correct direction.

When I found the correct room, I was directed to one of the available tables and presented my identification and signed in. They passed the information to others in a staging area in the other half of the room and a few minutes later I had my credential and media guide. I read through the media guide, but many details were still "TBD" at printing time. The one thing it said was that there would be a "Designated Media Location" just west of 7th Street on the north side of the National Mall with a "large media set-up". I don't know what that means, but I'll probably start up around the Washington Monument first to scope out the scene, and then head to 7th Street to see what the media set-up looks like.

Over the next few days I checked the website for more details about where to report on Inauguration Day, which Mall entry point to use, etc. For the location, it ended up being "Just west of 7th Street on the north side of the National Mall there will be a large media set-up." For media entrance, it never changed from "TBA" on the site so I decided to start by coming onto the Mall somewhere between the World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument and work my way down towards 7th Street.

My plan for the morning was to drive down to the National Zoo at 6am and then walk from there. My plan for the afternoon was to play things by ear, but to aim for heading out of DC before 5pm.

    Sign saying this was the right place.

Credentials! (with code number obscured

Approaching the Mall

Approaching the Washington Monument

I headed out a little after 5am to drive down to park at the National Zoo, from which I would either walk to the Mall or take the Red Line a few stops (to Farragut North) and then walk from there. In terms of weather preparation, the morning of the rehearsal showed me that I needed to have more foot warmth, so I wore wool socks over dress socks and put chemical foot-warmers in my shoes after parking at the zoo. For the rest, it was a matter of a wool overcoat, various layers, ear-warmers, ski-mask-wrap, and chemical hand-warmers. I put the hand-warmers between the glove liners I would wear all day and wear alone when shooting, and the ski gloves I'd wear over them when not shooting.

On the drive down I was listening to the radio and heard at around 5:45am that the Red Line was being reported as being at "crush capacity" so I decided to walk down Connecticut Avenue / 17th Street the zoo. I arrived at the zoo at 6am, parked, and started the walk toward the National Mall. As I walked, there were a few other people behind and ahead of me making the same trek. At Duport Circle, the crowd started to grow a bit more. Once on 17th Street, I started to work my way over to around 18th or 19th (I can't recall which) to avoid pedestrian crowds related to the parade route. At Constitution Avenue, things were looking crowded, so I cut down 17th Street to approach my first destination (the Washington Monument) from the West rather than from the North.

Once on the National Mall, my plan was to take some pictures from the vicinity of the Washington Monument, walk down towards the media setup that was supposed to be on the North side of the Mall down by 7th Street, and then improvise from there, with the goal of getting some nice general shots of the crowds before picking one of the jumbotrons back near 14th Street as the subject of my "Oath" shot with the Capitol Building in the distance.

The Washington Monument was closed to the public for the day, and bike racks were used to create a fence around the monument. Some of the crowd began to split of to form a group on the East side of the monument, facing the Capitol and the locally-placed jumbotrons. As the rest of the crowd worked its way towards the ticketed area (which started at 4th Street) smaller groups started to form, mostly around the jumbotrons along the North side of the Mall.

In some ways it's too bad they put that structure in the middle of the Mall or this would have been a better place to choose as my final destination - of course, it turns out that I would not have been able to get back to this location later in the morning, as you'll see from an image below of the hill as it appeared a few hours later.

    Crowd Forming Near Base of Washington Monument
View Across the National Mall

Crowds at 7th
Man with Flag Father and Daughter
Washington Monument Crowd

As the morning progressed, the Mall very quickly became more and more packed with people. By the time I had worked my way along Jefferson Drive down to 7th Street along the South side of the Mall, forward movement had become difficult, and as I tried to work my way across to the North side where the media area was supposed to be located, I reached a total lack of movement in the crowd. Looking around, there seemed to be no way to work my way over there. I tried to cut across the Mall a bit further West, but again came to a standstill. I was considering going further West and then cutting down Madison Avenue along the North side of the Mall but it was closed to pedestrians and filled with troops, so trying to cut around that way also seemed pretty much out of the question.

In the end I decided to work my way back towards 14th Street before that became a challenge as well. It was still cold out, and people were clearly trying to stay warm but also seemed very energized as I worked my way back. I maneuvered my way through a crowd near one of the jumbotrons, heading to the jumbotron past it towards 14th Street and saw a cluster of people wearing hats that said "Alaska" but did not get a satisfactory picture that reflected the scene - still, it was clear that some people traveled quite far to take part in the general crowd. As I was walking around, I noticed that there were people distributing small flags around the Mall - these would come into play later in the morning.

By the time I was back near 14th Street, the Washington Monument hill had become fully packed and appeared to have some additional barriers in place. It turned out that even had I chosen that as my target destination for the ceremony, it wouldn't have been possible to return there. The area on "my" side of 14th Street still had some room to move around. After moving around a bit, I picked a spot that gave me a good angle of the jumbotron and the Capitol Building. As the morning progressed, people kept shifting around, and the empty space around the spot I had chosen filled in, but I still had the view that I wanted.

Once I had selected my spot for where I could capture the "action" shots that I wanted with the oath taking place on the Jumbotrons, the "live" Capitol Building shown in the distance, and the crowds all around, it was just a matter of waiting (almost two hours) for things to begin. The crowd was "high-energy" but very peaceful. While it was packed fairly tightly where I was, with people pushing through to try to get to different locations, things stayed orderly (which was good since there was essentially no crowd control within the crowds, rather only crowd control to keep the crowds out of certain areas and streets).

The jumbotrons showed Senators, former Presidents and First Ladies, and other dignitaries as they arrived at the Capitol Building and made their way out to the platform. The first photo to the right shows the President-Elect walking through the Capitol Building to the platform.

At various points during the waiting, the crowd would do a "wave" of waving flags (I presume started in some organized fashion near the "front" of the Mall and then working its way back on its own). The next photo shows the crowd around me waving their flags when they saw the Jumbotron cut to a view of another part of the Mall waving their flags.

After a long wait in the cold, it was finally time for the Oath of Office. The next image is from just after President-Elect Obama started to recite the oath (before the goof).

After the oath of office, rather than listen to the entire Inaugural Address, I decided to try to beat the crowd in getting off the Mall. Unfortunately, new barricades had been moved into place as the Mall began to fill throughout the morning, so my attempt to return to 18th Street was not as smooth as I had hoped. In the end, people were being funneled out through a very narrow path so I decided to wait out the crowd and leave later in the afternoon. Once out of the Mall area, it was then just the walk back to the zoo to drive home.

    Approach Pic
Flag Pic
Oath Pic 1

All Text and Images Copyright © Evan Golub 2009