Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Long Journey Ends


By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2009; Page A01

ABOARD THE INAUGURAL TRAIN, Jan. 17 -- On the final leg of a two-year road trip, Barack Obama rode into Washington on Saturday in an antique caboose with the contented look of a man convinced he was arriving at his rightful destination.

A slow-rolling special Amtrak train carrying the president-elect, his family and his closest friends and advisers departed Philadelphia at noon and pulled into Union Station 6 1/2 hours later. It was part of the journey that will take him to the White House, and for Obama, it was a day to be savored. He spent much of the 137-mile train ride, with his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters by his side, staring out the windows at a vista of supporters who waved and chanted his name.

Bundled in winter jackets, they gathered along highway overpasses, icy lakes, Little League baseball fields, cow pastures and neighborhood cul-de-sacs -- all to catch a glimpse of the man in the 1930s-era blue caboose as the train rumbled by. Firefighters stood on their trucks to take pictures; schoolchildren waved handmade signs. Three times during the trip, the train slowed and Obama stepped onto the rear platform to wave at shrieking onlookers and blow the whistle.

What began for Obama two years ago as a long-shot presidential bid launched in Abraham Lincoln's shadow in Springfield, Ill., ended with another tribute to the 16th president, Obama's political idol. His 10-car train retraced the route Lincoln took to the capital before he assumed the presidency in 1861. Obama stopped to deliver speeches in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore, often referring to the spirit of Lincoln and the Founding Fathers.

"We are here today not simply to pay tribute to our first patriots but to take up the work that they began," Obama said.

In Wilmington and Baltimore, thousands of supporters waited outside for hours in temperatures that dipped into the teens. They climbed onto trees, flagpoles and walls to get a clear view of the stage. Obama entered the rally in Wilmington wearing a long black coat. He rubbed his hands together and blew on them for warmth. The crowd applauded for more than a minute before he managed to bring silence.

"Thank you. Thank you," the president-elect said. "We have been touched by your grace, and we will fight for you every single day that we are in Washington."

Obama, typically so serene, was visibly affected by the receptions he received. He sometimes paused onstage to survey the magnitude of the crowds, and he beamed in Wilmington as more than 7,000 joined in a chorus to sing "Happy Birthday" to Michelle Obama, who turned 45 Saturday.

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