Saturday, 2:15 PM
In Boston, a collective pause for shared experience
First-graders sat transfixed watching television coverage of the inauguration at the Mission Hill School in Roxbury. From the left, the students are Zachary Orlando-Milbauer, 5; Asmani Huda, 6; and Sumaya Ibrahim, 6.
By Peter Schworm and David Abel, Globe Staff
Boston was frozen in place at high noon today, residents and workers in its diverse and sometimes fractured neighborhoods spellbound by the unifying spectacle on their televisions.
(Globe Staff Photo/Wendy Maeda)
Kelly Kearns, 37, and Patrick Leahy, 29, watched the inauguration on a big-screen television at The Vault restaurant in Boston.
From a wine bar in the heart of the Financial District to a hair salon on Blue Hill Avenue, residents young and old were riveted by the spectacle of President Obama's inaugural several hundred miles away, bound by a shared experience of deep emotion and rare scope.
For a few hours, Boston's workaday bustle eerily subsided, as an anticipatory hush fell over even its busiest sections.
It was the rarest of collective experiences. It came in the light of day, and it brought hope. This time, it was not a sports championship or terrorist attack that brought the city together. It was a moment that, political differences aside, many residents said seemed to presage better times.
Some people felt compelled to watch the ceremony in public. It was an event, they said, that deserved to be shared.
Erin Gorden, 41, a Dover housewife, put her 7-year-old twins on the bus this morning wearing Obama shirts before realizing she had no one to watch with.
"I just didn't want to sit at home for what was supposed to be a big unifying experience," she said.
So she met her husband at a bar in the Financial District, which was packed by 11:30. When Obama was sworn in, they drank champagne, as the crowd burst into applause.
For some, the ceremony marked the culmination of the nation's long struggle for racial equality, a day they never thought they'd see. For others, it symbolized the dawn of a new political age. But across racial, economic, and political lines, there was consensus that today's inauguration was a defining moment they would long remember.
"To see this day come is a facet of what Dr. King lived for – not just the occupation of the Oval Office, but equality in the hearts of every American," said Cornelius Jones, 50, of Dorchester, who watched the ceremony on televisions at Best Buy near his Cambridge office with about 50 others. "It’s a big step toward the American ideal being achieved.”
Viewers packed the pews at the Old South Church, where the first antislavery tract was penned, and pulled their chairs close in countless grade-school classrooms to hear the nation's first black commander in chief deliver his inaugural address. They craned their necks at coffee shops and restaurants, crowded into college student centers. They came together in office conference rooms to witness the landmark event.
His presidency represents a chance to right wrongs, they said, and to move the country in the right direction. And quickly.
"I'm hoping that by tomorrow the country will be booming with business and everything will be great," said Ottavio LoGrasso, who watched the inauguration from his barber's chair in South Boston, where televisions in nail salons and Irish pubs flickered with images of the inauguration. "We hope this country can only go up -- not down."
At Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, blue and red paper stars decked the walls, and red white and blue balloons hung from the ceiling, waiting to be released. Students said they were thrilled the day had finally arrived.
"It's history. It's Obama," said Ashlee Smith, a 16-year-old.
At the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, where Mayor Thomas M. Menino and other elected officials viewed the ceremony, the crowd screamed in delight when Obama's face first came on the large theater screen. Mary Henshaw, a 92-year-old Roxbury woman who wore a blue sparkling evening gown top for the occasion, said the experience was a personal redemption.
"I feel like a different person than I used to be," she said.
Joan Austin, 65, of Jamaica Plain, struggled to put her feelings into words.
“Now my grandchildren have a better chance at ... ” Here she paused, adding, ``Life.”
When Obama took the oath of office, hugs were exchanged, and tears fell. Rows of people held hands in solidarity.
At a Boston kidney center, patients even watched the ceremony during their dialysis treatment.
"We knew that our patients were going to be on treatment at noon and it's such a historic event, we didn’t want them to miss it," said Jaclyn Petros of Fresenius Medical Care's Boston Kidney Center.
At Muriel's Natural Hair Studio on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester, a hair stylist set out a party tray of fruit, cheese, and crackers for customers. Errol Kidd, a 35-year-old construction worker from Randolph, watched the inauguration with metal clips in his hair, under a dryer. He had been laying tiles until 1 a.m. and rushed to the studio to have his hair done, but his eyes fixed on the corner TV with three other customers.
“It feels good,” Kidd said. “I never thought I would live to see it … It's almost like a dream. I feel like good things are going to happen now. [Obama] is going to do what's best. He is a very smart man.”
At Logan Airport, travelers and workers alike craned their necks toward television monitors. At Gate 40, flyers on the 11:45 am flight to Ft. Myers lingered as long as they were allowed. After they were herded onto the plane, four airport workers remained at the gate, looking mesmerized.
In downtown Boston, bank tellers sat alone at their desks. Shop owners stood in empty stores waiting for customers. Kiosks that sell umbrellas when it rains and gloves in the cold were hawking Obama t-shirts for $10.
At the hair salon, people toasted President Obama with plastic cups filled with gold colored Prosecco.
“Now he is, now he is president!” said Steve Veillard, 32, who was sitting under a hair dryer.
Peaches Taylor-Franklyn nodded, smiling, and said, “Good things. We have waited a long time.”
Brian Ballou, Noah Bierman, Maria Cramer, David Filipov, Tracy Jan, Eric Moskowitz, Keith O'Brien, Maria Sacchetti, and Matt Viser of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Gabrielle Dunn contributed to this report.