Glimpsing history

Crowds along route, at downtown brave frigid weather to see the president-elect

January 18, 2009|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,jill.rosen@baltsun.com

As President-elect Barack Obama's train rolled slowly through Maryland yesterday afternoon on his way to the nation's capital, people eager for even a glimpse of him pulled on their warmest hats and snuggest gloves. They lined the railway paths and packed a downtown plaza, prepared to wait as long as it took. And what it took was hours - hours in the frigid cold, to spot the historic train car or, better yet, catch a wave from the man who, in a few days, will be president.

'I had to be here'

A diverse crowd of about 60 began to gather at 1:30 p.m. in Baltimore's Oliver neighborhood, huddling together in the frosty air in the median of North Broadway.

After standing in the cold for hours, at about 3:30 p.m. they finally heard the first notes of the approaching train's whistle.

Law enforcement officers tried to restrain the crowd, ordering them to get back several hundred feet, but when the train came through, everyone rushed forward.

They erupted, screaming and cheering, jumping and waving. Horns blared.

"I thought I'd never live to see a black president," said LaVerne Stills, 60, of Oliver.

"I had to be here to experience this moment in history. It is an honor and a privilege to be standing here today."

Added Rosalind Johnson of Northeast Baltimore: "I just had to be here. I had to see that train. What an incredible day for Baltimore."

Some of the crowd had distant memories of standing in this same place and seeing another train carrying a politician who electrified a nation - albeit on a much sadder occasion.

From this spot, they'd watched Robert Kennedy's funeral train move through the city in 1968.

"I was brought up in this neighborhood and watched the Kennedy train," said Angela Jones, who drove in from Pikesville with her mother, Patricia Quarles, and son, Kyle Jones, 6. "It is another day in history. We are especially delighted for Barack Obama and Joe Biden coming to Baltimore."

Jacques Kelly

'Now, it's Obama time'

In Middle River, it was possible to get a great view of the train near Martin State Airport. About 200 people milled about at an Exxon station, passing the time throwing footballs and swapping stories.

There was a family of Bush supporters from Kingsville who wanted their 9-year-old daughter to experience a historic moment.

There was a former Freedom Rider with tears in his eyes.

Bonnie Thomson and her husband, David Harris, decided at the last minute to drive in from Glen Arm. They hurriedly took a marker to a piece of poster board so they could have something to wave at the passing president-elect. It read: "Yes, we can. God Bless You."

Zach Free, an 11-year-old from Elkton, braved the cold with his mother, Tammy. "This is the first time I've seen a president," Zach said excitedly. "This doesn't happen every day."

And there was Sylvia Wyche, a nurse from Essex, covered in Obama buttons, who wished her parents were alive to see what she was so proud to witness.

As the train inched toward her on its way to Washington, she pulled up her sleeve to reveal an Obama watch:

"Now," she said, "It's Obama time."

Fred Rasmussen

Signs of hope

For a mere 30-second glimpse of Obama and Biden, about 700 people waited for hours in the biting cold at the Edgewood MARC station.

Lines for hot chocolate and coffee rivaled the lines at the security checkpoint as neighbors greeted one another and danced in place to keep warm to music supplied by a small jazz combo.

Chants of "Yes we can" turned to "Yes we will," as someone unfurled a giant Baltimore Ravens banner and predicted that the team would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in tonight's AFC Championship game and move on to the Super Bowl.

Homemade signs were the order of the day. Pat White of Havre de Grace hoisted a two-part sign with the words "Hope" and "Hon."

Nearby, two small girls bundled up to their eyelashes in hats and scarves held their signs high. For Allure Sapp, 10, of Edgewood, the message was: "I made it to see my president. Jan. 20 2009 = change."

Imari Hawkins, 7, of Abingdon gripped a sign with the message: "2009 We made history! 44th president, Barack Obama."

Candus Thomson

Witness to change

Bhek Simmons, 40, a project manager with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Baltimore, sees parallels between Barack Obama and himself. He, too, has an African father who returned to his home country when Simmons was just a young man. His wife, too, is from Chicago. And he, too, has two young daughters.

Simmons, who lives in Catonsville, started watching Obama at the beginning of the primaries. When the field narrowed to just Obama and Clinton, he became obsessed, watching CNN at 3 a.m. because he couldn't sleep.

He brought his wife, Allison, and daughters Jaylyn, 10, and Jordan, 8, to see Obama in War Memorial Plaza.

"We've been following this from the beginning. We've taken them [his daughters], too, as much as possible," Simmons said.

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