WASHINGTON -- Thousands began gathering in the dark, chilly pre-dawn hours at the Capitol Monday, part of the 500,000 to 700,000 expected to flood into the city for President Obama's second inauguration hours before his address and the festivities surrounding it.
They filled street corners and stood in long snaking lines all around the Capitol and surrounding neighborhoods. Just blocks from where Obama will be inaugurated, people were shuffling down streets snapping photos before sunrise. Many wore long coats, hats, scarfs, ear muffs and sequined Obama hats.
Dionne Davis, 36, of Columbus, Ohio, woke at 4 a.m. determined to get as close as she could to the festivities without an official ticket. She watched the last inauguration at home, but decided this time, she had to be here.
Davis traveled from a family member's home in Capitol Heights, Md., parked at the Metro and took a long train ride into the city. "I just want to be part of history," Davis said. "I want this to be something I can tell my kids and grandkids."
Briskly walking down 3rd Street at 6:30 a.m., Davis said she was happy to brush shoulders with other people. She's ready for a long day and has supplies to prove it.
"We ate before we left, I took my vitamins, and I got my bottle of water," she said. "I'm just excited. These are experiences that last forever."
"What the Inauguration reminds us of is the role we have as fellow citizens in promoting a common good even as we carry out our individual responsibilities," Obama told supporters during a reception Sunday. "The sense that there's something larger than ourselves that gives shape and meaning to our lives."
The Obamas were scheduled to attend an 8:45 a.m. service at St. John's Episcopal Church, with the ceremonial swearing-in at the Capitol scheduled for 11:45 and Obama's inaugural address set for 11:50.
Before 7 a.m., the Metro station closest to the Capitol building looked and sounded like a baseball stadium. Crowds flocked from trains and up the escalators, where they were greeted by vendors selling pins and posters while volunteers carrying "ask me" signs offered directions and greetings.
Vendors set up folding tables for several blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue behind the Capitol, selling trinkets ranging from Obama pins and T-shirts to knit caps embroidered "Obama: Back 2 Back"
"Good morning, welcome to the inauguration!" a pair of volunteers sang out to the crowd.
DuWanna Thomas, a lawyer and consultant from Atlanta, was on an Orange line Metro train headed to inauguration festivities by 6:15 a.m. She came to Obama's inauguration four years ago.
"This is very rewarding for me," said Thomas, armed with an Obama blanket and a small backpack with food. "It's just excellent. He's the best president."
Pam Johnson of Floyd, Iowa, was also on a Metro train by 6:15. She voted for President Obama twice and managed to snag a ticket to his second inauguration. "This is an experience of a lifetime for me to be right here, right now," said Johnson, president of the National Corn Growers Association. "When I found out the opportunity to go, I didn't want to miss it."
Johnson said she's especially excited to go to the Agriculture Ball tonight. "People call it the farm prom," she says.
Thomas Kannam, 8, came with his mom, dad and older sister. It's Kannam's first inauguration. "I want to see the president," Thomas said, holding tightly to a blanket wrapped around his shoulders for warmth.
The Kannam family, from Durham, Conn., was on its way to a church prayer service before attending the inaugural parade. They got tickets through a friend who worked on Obama's campaign.
The New York African American Chamber of Commerce sent two buses with 56 people on each, according to Raquel Sanchez, 41, of New York. They arrived at about 5:45 a.m. Some were unable to put partisan politics aside.
"I hate the divide in the House and in Congress," said Stephanie Simmons, 59. Obama has struggled because Republicans won't work with him, Simmons said, which she said may also be "a black-white thing" beyond just regular partisan differences.
Gary Strauss, Catalina Camia, Paul Singer and Yamiche Alcincor, USA TODAY