People began waiting hours before sunrise, their bodies squished against strangers in a massive mob.
It’s unclear why so many ticketholders were denied access to the inauguration.
Tickets were color-coded – and thousands of people with purple tickets gathered at their appointed gate early Tuesday morning.
By 6 a.m., mobs of people had taken over several blocks around the gate. There was no line and no one directing traffic or keeping order.
Ticket-holders, including several Cascade High School students, stood in the same spot for hours without moving a foot. People were packed in so tightly they couldn’t move their arms. Several children and elderly people were caught in the middle of the crowd. Some people called 911, but were apparently told nothing could be done.
Overwhelmed, many tried to leave, but couldn’t get free of the throng.
While thousands of port-a-potties lined the National Mall, there were no toilets in the mob zone. Some people urinated anyway.
Bettye Boone waited near the designated entrance gate from 5:30 a.m. until noon, when Obama was sworn in and she finally gave up hope of seeing him.
She flew from Memphis for the inauguration, spending considerable money to watch the nation’s first African American president be inaugurated.
“I missed my moment in history and that really bothers me,” she said, crying by the fence she’d spent hours waiting beside. “When you’re almost 60 years old and you’ve been through some things with segregation, this is important.”
She had spent all morning near the front of the mob and said ticketholders tried to form a line early on, but there were no police officers or inauguration staff to direct traffic. Confused, thousands of people without tickets pushed their way to the purple gate, creating chaos. Stuck, she and scores of others were literally unable to move.
“At 5:30, I stood in line doing the right thing with tickets,” she said. “This has been ridiculous.”
Around 8 a.m., the crowd roared and word quickly spread that the security screening gates were opening. A few minutes later, Jesse Jackson walked by and people realized the cheers were for him, not an open gate.
Cascade High School parent Bob Dunbar was in charge of keeping three students together and said the being stuck in such a mass of people was a scary experience.
“We had actually gotten out of the line and given up, and then we heard someone hollering over the loudspeaker saying, ‘Purple tickets only,’” he said. “We just kind of pressed our way up and pretty much rode the crowd to the front. We were a little out of control.”
As they went through the security gate, Dunbar and the students were separated, but they reunited a few minutes later and made it into the inauguration at noon – just as Obama was being sworn in.
As music from the ceremony drifted toward the crowd, the mob chanted “Let us in!” and “Purple! Purple!”
Frantic, people called friends and family who were in the ceremony or at home watching on TV to find out what was happening.
Shortly before noon, a man yelled, “Aretha hasn’t sung yet. It’s not over till the fat lady sings.”
He didn’t get in.
Cynthia Butler said she had been waiting with her purple ticket since 4:30 a.m. and never made it to the gate. The 53-year-old Arlington, Va. woman said she walked 12 miles, only to get stuck in the crowd.
“The president should do something to compensate all the purple ticket holders,” she said. “It’s historic, but this put a real damper on it for all of us who came here and failed to get in.”
Herald Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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