"What gives me the greatest hope of all, is not the stone and marble that surrounds us, but what fills the spaces in between. It is you," Obama said to the crowd.
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People poured into the nation's capital and waited in line in the cold to watch history unfold.
"Directly in front of us is a pool that still reflects the dream of a King, and the glory of a people who marched and bled so that their children might be judged by their character's content," Obama said.
"I'm just really excited," said Ryan Poirer from Santa Clarita. "(I'm) just glad that I have the opportunity to take part in a historical event like this."
The atmosphere was reverent and festive at the same time.
"I was married to an African American man for 44 years before he died, and he's here, and he's looking down on us and looking down on Barack Obama, and everything is going to be fabulous," said Santa Monica resident Pat Phillips.
TV director Chuck Vinson of Los Angeles and his wife brought their 10-year-old daughter to the D.C. trip.
"She will always remember this," Vinson said. "This is something she will carry on for generations. She'll tell her children and grandchildren."
The National Park Service estimates between 1 and 2 million people will attend the inauguration on Tuesday.
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