Obama rides history for date with destiny (Lead)

January 18th, 2009 - 10:11 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 18 (IANS) Barack Obama, who would become America’s first black president in two days, rolled into Washington for his historic inauguration on a vintage train, retracing the last leg of his hero Abraham Lincoln’s journey in 1861.Riding a 1939-vintage, royal-blue “Georgia 300″ rail car that presidents and candidates before him have used, Obama Saturday drew large, cheering crowds of people who braved freezing weather and gathered along the tracks in cities and small towns along the way.

With his train ride and his ceremonial arrival in Washington, Obama was evoking the same historical imagery that he employed to kick off his presidential campaign: the spirit of Lincoln, who as the first Republican president steered the Union forces to victory in the Civil War and ended the slavery of blacks in the US.

Spanning 148 years, the 137-mile (220-km) train journey symbolically linked Democrat Obama with Lincoln, who too travelled by rail from Philadelphia, the birthplace of the nation’s democracy to the capital city to be sworn in for his first term in 1861.

In Baltimore, the last stop of his journey that Lincoln made in 12 days, some 40,000 people stood shoulder-to-shoulder in sub-zero cold to greet Obama at a late-afternoon rally that filled a plaza in front of the city’s war memorial.

His welcome was raucous and animated, as the sea of people cheered, waved and took pictures. Tears rolled down one woman’s face as Obama spoke. “We love you, Obama!” another yelled out. “I love you back,” Obama answered calmly, eliciting a roar from the crowd.

The same emotions were expressed up and down the tracks on the 8-hour journey that started with a call on Americans to “take up the work” of the nation’s founders anew.

“Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast,” he said at a town hall meeting in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station before getting on board the train.

As the train pulled out of Philadelphia, onlookers waved from overpasses. As it passed though the city’s neighbourhoods and surrounding suburbs, small crowds of people bundled against the cold who were gathered along the tracks waved, many of them holding American flags.

The train stopped in Wilmington, Delaware, to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his family from his home town. There he made a call “to pick ourselves up once again” during an economic crisis.

“It was here in Delaware that the Constitution was first ratified. … And now it falls to us to carry forward that American story to make it our own . . . to ensure that everyone in this country can make it if they try,” Obama told thousands assembled at the train station there.

Obama’s train made “slow rolls” at a few spots along the route so he could step out onto the back of his carriage and wave to the crowds that lined the tracks in frigid weather.

In Claymont, Delaware, the town where Biden’s family moved in 1953 when he was 10 years old, several hundred people gathered to cheer and wave to Obama.

They held signs reading “Halleluja, We Did It,” and “Hail to the chief.” In Edgewood, Maryland, the waiting crowd chanted “Obama” as the train rolled by.

Obama was joined on the train trip by about 40 invited “everyday Americans.”

He and Biden, along with their wives, visited them during the trip.

“This is more than an ordinary train ride, this is a new beginning,” Biden told the crowd in his hometown of Wilmington.

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