Warm welcome on a cold day

Inauguration | Despite frigid temperatures, thousands gathered in Baltimore to greet President-elect Barack Obama, as he made his way to Washington
by Emily Belz
Posted 1/17/09, 12:00 am

BALTIMORE- Though Saturday began with thermometers dipping down to 1 degree Fahrenheit and the local health department issuing warnings about the dangers of the extreme cold, the frigid temperature didn't keep a crowd of enthusiastic people from warmly welcoming President-elect Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and Jill Biden to the city's main plaza, on their final public stop on their symbolic train trip to Washington, D.C.

The whistle-stop tour, reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln's ride on the rails to Washington to take office in 1861, began in Philadelphia and included three stops along the way, where the president-elect spoke to thousands of well-wishers.

In Baltimore, the largest gathering along the route, some attendees spent the entire afternoon shivering in the cold so they could be there when the train rolled in. However, with about 30,000 people pressed into War Memorial Plaza, the collective body heat made the time waiting more bearable. As the clock ticked slowly toward Obama's arrival time, organizers led everyone in jumping jacks to help keep the blood flowing. Helicopters circled overhead, and the Secret Service took to the roofs around the square. Children bundled in multiple layers of clothing had difficulty bending or putting their arms by their sides.

But people were feeling pretty good.

"I've never seen anything like this in Baltimore," said local resident Andrea Katkow.

"Ol' Bushy boy put us in the wilderness. America, we're back! We all want to do something now," said D.J. Gilton who came all the way from San Francisco. "We're all out here in this cold, freezing our butts off."

Many said they waited for hours so they could "see history." Some of the overflow crowd, however, had to settle for watching the event on large TV screens in the city's Inner Harbor.

Before the Obamas and Bidens stepped out to greet the crowd, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley spoke, causing a few impatient attendees to shout, "Wrap it up!"

When the president-elect finally did appear, over three hours after the square opened, the crowd went wild.

"I love you!" someone shouted.

"I love you back," said Obama, as he delivered his third speech of the day.

"Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast," he said. "What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own hearts-from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry-an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."

"And as I prepare to leave for Washington on a trip that you made possible, know that I will not be traveling alone. I will be taking you with me. . . . Americans from every corner of this country, whose hopes and heartaches were the core of our cause; whose dreams and struggles have become my own."

Despite the infectious euphoria, some in the crowd were sober-minded about what lies ahead.

"I see him as a politician who's going to disappoint us," said Baltimorean Jen Moran. "Historically this is wonderful. We have to be a little more realistic about what he'll be able to do."

"There will be frustrations and disappointments," Obama himself said. "I will make mistakes."

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously reported for the The New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @emlybelz.

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