Utahns thrilled to have been a part of history

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On a stunning day, all the predictions were exceeded as Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States. The crowd was gigantic, the emotions enormous all around the world.

With a surreal shrug of the shoulders Sen. Obama stepped up to take his place in history as the first African-American president of the United States. Standing next to his wife and with his hand on the same bible Abraham Lincoln used nearly 150 years ago, President Obama was sworn into office a few minutes past noon.

The unprecedented inauguration comes nearly two years after Mr. Obama announced his candidacy. Addressing a massive crowd, the new president said thank you. "I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors," he said.

Acknowledging the road ahead will be bumpy, Obama said he remains hopeful. "The challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America, they will be met. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America," he told the crowd.

While the president reached out a hand of bipartisanship, Utah's congressional newcomer, Republican Jason Chaffetz, said that's something that will only go so far.

"The Congress is supposed to be the check and balance on the president, not the president's cheerleader. At the same time, I want him to be successful, and I'm sure he wants the Congress to be successful," Chaffetz said.

Meanwhile, those present at the inauguration keep talking about history being made, and the crowd is certainly part of that. Those in attendance describe the mass of people as looking surreal on the national mall.

Official estimates from NBC News show 1.8 million people were at the inauguration. Being in the middle of the mass was a humbling experience for people we spoke with.

"We waited in the cold for five hours before we got in, and every second was worth it," Sandy resident Ray Greenwood said.

For Rob and Monta Thomas of Sandy, Obama's speech struck a chord; in particular, the president's call for Americans to pull together, to pitch in for a better life. "[By] encouraging people to take personal responsibility, and also looking for ways to help neighbors and others; I thought that was really powerful," Rob said.

"Really, honest to goodness, he gives me hope that maybe we can pull together as Americans and make change," Monta said.

Many other felt the same way. "There's a lot of optimism. For as tough as the economy is, the optimism is very high; and it's fun to be a part of it," said Salt Lake City resident Chris Meacham.

Liz Hone, a Kenyan living in Utah, told us, "I've never seen anything like this. It's like something out of history or in the Bible. It's lots of people."

In fact, this event attracted so many people that some would say something was bound to go wrong. Many people left, frustrated, without even using that hard-fought inauguration ticket.

Just over an hour before it began, exuberance turned into frustration for them as they realized they were not going to get in to see the ceremony. The reason was a bottleneck at the entrance, where huge numbers of people created gridlock.

No one outside the fence knew what the problem was and that led to frustration. "Nobody knows what's going on. There's nobody to direct you, and I'm getting frustrated right now," one woman said.

A man climbed a tree for a bird's-eye view of what was going on and answer questions from below. "He was basically telling us where, if people were actually coming through, and where people were coming in at," another woman said.

One woman tried sneaking under the barricade, and the crowd started chanting: "Let us in!" But considering the overall size of the crowd, their experience was not typical. In fact, we didn't run into anyone from Utah who had a bad experience.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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