Fayette County

Inaugural scenes: downtown, spontaneous hugging, reflection and an Honest Abe

Suzanne Bhatt and Rita Conner just happen to be sitting next to each other in front of the big TV at the Central Library downtown to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama.

The second he is sworn in, the two women, one white, one black, leap to their feet and hug like long-lost sisters.

"We don't even know each other," Bhatt says tearfully, handing Conner a tissue.

But at this second, it seems, hugging a total stranger is not just possible but the only possible thing to do.

The moment, like the library crowd itself, is a tribute to Obama and his described vision of a multi-hued, multi-faithed, multi-dimensional country. Here on the second floor sit custodians and college professors, black and white, children and senior citizens, all of whom look on the scenes from Washington, D.C., with similarly rapt faces. OK, well, maybe the children aren't exactly rapt, but they are here, pulled out of school by parents like Margaret Readdy, who wanted her sons, 3-year-old Thomas and 7-year-old Theodore Ehrenborg to see history.

"This is an important day, and it's nice to be with other people," says Readdy, a math professor at the University of Kentucky.

Downstairs, the library auditorium already is filled with students from Lexington Traditional Magnet School and Sts. Peter and Paul School, and there in the back row sits Abraham Lincoln. What, after all, would an Obama inauguration be without his spiritual forefather present?

Jim Sayre, looking appropriately mournful in his beard and bow tie, is Honest Abe enough to admit that he's not sure what Lincoln would think about this momentous day.

"I think he'd go back to what Thomas Jefferson said about all men being created equal," says Sayre, who was hired by the library to show up in costume. "My opinion is that it's all ordained by the Creator. I just hope this fella makes the best president ever."

Crowds upstairs and down cheer and clap constantly — for Joe Biden when he first appears on the dais, for Aretha Franklin when she sings, for the applause lines in Obama's speech.

Russell David is off of work and says he could have stayed home, "but when something this significant is going on, you don't want to experience the moment alone. You want to be with other people."

Lots of other people feel the same way. One block away at the Kentucky Theatre, the main 800-seat theater is nearly filled.

That crowd is unabashedly partisan. They boo when Dick Cheney or George Bush are shown and give several standing ovations to Obama. After Obama's speech, there is a prolonged standing ovation, and lots of people hugging.

Theater manager Fred Mills says that until Monday, he had planned to show the inauguration in the smaller State Theater next door, which holds 340.

"I got to thinking about it, and how I would hate to have people drive down here, find a place to park, get out in the cold and not be able to get in," Mills says. "I'm glad I made the move."

Back at the library, Laura Mack listens to Obama's call for sacrifice in the face of economic disaster and international turmoil.

She says she keeps thinking about her father, a black soldier who fought in World War II for a country that despised his race. She remembers living in Alabama in the 1940s, a time that "wasn't pleasant," to say the least.

Yes, she thinks, America is in some trouble. But it has come a long way, and today, it has chosen well.

"Down in my sanctified soul, I'm certain," she says. "Yes, we're going to pull out of this."

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