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Well before dawn, a crescent moon still hovering, Americans from as far away as Alaska and as near as just up the street swathed themselves in layers against sub-freezing temperatures and trooped onto the National Mall in Washington to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event - the inauguration of Barack Obama as the country's first black President.
They were white and black, famous and ordinary, nonagenarians and infants, packed shoulder-to-shoulder across much of the three-kilometre-long grassy strip from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
Parents and grandparents brought children to show them that they too could grow up to be a President.
They waded through some of the tightest security ever in Washington to get to their goals. Some stood for more than eight hours to see the inauguration, others for even longer to see the post-inaugural parade.
The sense of history was especially palpable to the African Americans who made up as much as half the crowd - many times more than their 12 percent of the population.
Dorothy Williams, 62, of Trenton, New Jersey, grew up in segregated South Carolina and had badly wanted to attend the 1963 March in Washington, when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
But as a teenager, her father wouldn't let her attend, "so I was going to be here for this", she said emphatically.
Alta Morrow, 61, from Florence, Alabama, was attending her first inauguration. "I never felt the need before. Obama is a man sent by God - but we have to remember to do our part. This is truly living the dream," she said.
Near the Washington Monument, revellers roared with cheers of delight when they caught a glimpse of Obama, his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha on the dozens of jumbotron screens that lined the Mall.
"We are so grateful," a woman in the crowd called out as the nation's first black President took the stage. "Thank you Lord," another echoed as the service opened with a prayer by mega church pastor Rick Warren.
People waved their hands in the air and pumped their fists, chanting "O-ba-ma!"
As he took the oath of office, a thunderous cheer went up from as many as 1.8 million people watching in the public areas.
Nearer the main action, even members of Congress, amazed by the spectacle, snapped their own pictures and gaped at the human carpet unrolling from Capitol Hill.
There was disdain for outgoing President George W Bush. The crowd booed and broke into spontaneous singing of "Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye" when his image appeared. Later, as a helicopter lifted Bush on the first leg of his departure from Washington, visitors nearer the Capitol gleefully waved goodbye.
For many, the day began at distant subway stations in suburbs waiting in long lines, or in hotels up to 400 km away. A sense of camaraderie grew as riders exchanged information, even as tempers flared when trains filled up and left people waiting for the next ride.
Others biked in from outer neighbourhoods and suburbs, parking their wheels at two "bike valet" areas. Many walked for miles.
If it was difficult getting there in the morning, the crush getting home was even worse. A massive crush shuffled up 18th Street, the only channel out on the western end of the Mall.
Even so, visitors stopped to scoop up souvenirs emblazoned with the new President's face, and spontaneous dancing broke out just blocks from the White House.