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Obama Inaugural Wows Overflowing Crowd Watching Big Screen At Bay Street

Originally Posted: January 20, 2009

Colin M. Graham

As President Obama took the oath of office with his wife by his side the audience at the Bay Street Theatre leaped to their feet in applause. Photos by Colin M. Graham

A Reporter's Notebook:
Sag Harbor - Just as our nation's capitol was mobbed with enthusiastic crowds of ecstatic Americans celebrating the inauguration of our 44th president, so too was Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor where it seemed the entire community turned out to revel in President Obama's ascension to this country's highest office, filling the community theater to standing room only capacity.

Audience members continued to trickle in to the theater right up until the time of

When the doors opened at 10 a.m. there was already a moderately sized group present in the theater and in the lobby, purchasing refreshments, chatting with friends and family and reserving seats for those on their way, which turned out to be a prudent decision. By 11 a.m. the theater was almost full and by 11:30 a.m., extra chairs were being brought in to accommodate the people filling the aisles and back row.

This morning's showing of the inauguration at Bay Street is not the first time the theater has opened its doors to the community for the viewing of important civic and political events, Bay Street hosted similar live screenings during both the presidential debates and on election night (Bay Street makes a point of keeping their political events non-partisan), but neither of them drew as large a crowd as today's main attraction, the inauguration.

Asked whether they were expecting such a strong turnout, Tracy Mitchell, general manager of the theater, admitted they were pleasantly surprised. "We really had no idea. This morning when the phone started ringing was at the point that I realized, 'Oh my God, the whole community is coming out.' It was thrilling. I'm not shocked, but we really had no idea what to expect."

The cross section of the audience was almost as stunning as its volume. Some people came from the neighboring communities of Southampton and North Haven, some pulled their kids out of school for the day so they could watch the event; one lady even brought her dog. There were older couples dressed in slacks and button downs waving miniature American flags sitting next to younger groups wearing work boots and jeans, and children ranging from toddlers to teenagers, all of whom converged on this one spot to share in a common achievement.

The audience waits expectantly for the inauguration to begin as the VIP members take their seats on the dais.

Harper Levine of Sag Harbor took his 11-year-old daughter Sarah out of Sag Harbor Elementary for the day so that she could celebrate this very special event. "When we heard they weren't going to be showing the inauguration in Sarah's class, we figured that in consideration of the historic significance this would be a good day for her to miss school," Levine said, clearly excited to be sharing the moment with his family. "She'll probably learn more about the history of this day by being here than she would from being in school."

By the time President Bush and President-elect Obama emerged from the White House after coffee, the audience was in such a charged state of excitement the atmosphere in the room seemed better suited to a music festival or a professional sports playoff game than a presidential inauguration. People cheered, whistled and applauded when their favorite politicos came on screen and booed and hissed at others.

Senator Ted Kennedy and and former Vice-President Al Gore received a prodigious and thunderous round of applause that were second only to the ear-splitting accolades given to President Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden during their on screen appearances. Even Aretha Franklin fell slightly below our charismatic new President on the applause-o-meter.

The crowd was abuzz with anticipation as then President-elect Obama finally arrived at the ceremony

The outpouring of emotion and energy was truly awe-inspiring, as was the speech given by President Obama after being sworn into office. As he spoke to a crowd that stretched nearly two miles from the podium where he delivered his message, evoking a rhetorical cadence that combined the voices of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the entire audience at Bay Street Theatre sat, stood, or crouched transfixed by the massive image on the screen before them.

Jenny Peck of Southampton came down hoping to hear President Obama deliver a message of "unity, hope for our nation and a promise of a new era. We've been going through difficult times as a country; I'm originally from Germany and I experienced the war and saw all the terrible things that it brought and I really feel that Obama will do a great job for this country and I'm really excited to be here." It was clear that neither she nor anyone else present was disappointed with his message.

It has been said that more people in the country tuned in to watch the inauguration on television than have ever tuned in to watch any one event in history, which is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is that it demonstrates the magnetism President Obama exudes over a vast swath of this country's population. If there ever was a political figure in recent years who was truly capable of overcoming the distractions of partisan politics and unifying the citizens of this nation under the common goal to be socially responsible and proactive agents of change, it would seem, at least by judging from the reactions of the audience at the Bay Street Theatre, that the 44th time is the charm.

By the time Obama finished his speech, the audience had whipped themselves into a frenetic state of excitement.


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