Obama's First Inaugural: A Look Back at the 2009 Celebration in Photos

Monday's swearing-in ceremony and parade are expected to a much lower-key occasion than the record-setting, full-blast affair four years ago.

It's perhaps hard to remember, or even believe, the euphoria surrounding Barack Obama's inaugural festivities four yeas ago. Despite a crumbling economy, January 20, 2009 seemed like a high point for the United States. The nation was about to welcome its first black president, and there was an air of triumph and hope. Barack Obama's approval was at impressive highs, while outgoing President George W. Bush's favorability was in America's subbasement. 

In that atmosphere, nearly 2 million Americans gathered in Washington, D.C., to mark the inauguration. Throngs filled every corner of the National Mall, weeping with joy, waving flags, and hugging strangers. After a swearing-in ceremony punctuated with performances by stars including Aretha Franklin and Yo-Yo Ma, a 15,000-person parade accompanied the first family to the White House; the assembled crowd roared a raucous farewell to Bush as he flew away in a Marine chopper. Later that evening, Barack and Michelle Obama bounced between 10 separate official inaugural balls.

What a difference four years makes. Although Obama won reelection by a comfortable margin, the economy continues to crawl, the public remains highly polarized, and Congress is gridlocked over fiscal issues in a nightmare Groundhog Day scenario. This year's inauguration is expected to be a much more subdued affair. While the 600,000 to 800,000 attendees organizers expect this year easily outpace the figures for Bush and Bill Clinton's second inaugurals, that's still a steep drop-off from 1.8 million four years ago. There will only be two official balls this year, although the surviving events will be grander in scale. Corporate donations, taboo four years ago, are welcome this time around. But even with that loosening, fundraising is lagging.

As Washington prepares for this year's festivities, here's a look back at the landmark '09 inaugural in photos.

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David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers political and global news. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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