WASHINGTON (AP) — As massive crowds swarmed the National Mall on Tuesday to witness Barack Obama's inauguration as president, the man at the center of the maelstrom began the day quietly and reverently, at a church service across the street from the White House.
Obama and his family attended a private service at St. John's Episcopal Church, a tradition for those about to become president. The family of Vice President-elect Joe Biden also attended.
The Obamas waved to bystanders, then entered the church to applause from about 200 people. The choir and congregation began singing the hymn, "O God Our Help in Ages Past."
Barack and Michelle Obama, and Joe and Jill Biden, were scheduled to have coffee at the White House with President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney and their wives. Then they would travel the short distance to the Capitol for Obama's history-making moment.
Just beyond the White House fence, huge crowds braved freezing temperatures and jostled for positions to see — with the naked eye or on Jumbotron screens — Obama take the oath of office as the 44th president and the first black to hold the title.
On Monday, a relaxed and upbeat Obama prepared for his big day by invoking the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and lavishing praise on two prominent Republicans in calling for a new spirit of bipartisanship.
After visiting wounded veterans and helping volunteers paint a dorm for homeless teens in Washington, Obama dashed to three black-tie dinners Monday night. One honored Sen. John McCain, the Republican he defeated in November, and another honored Colin Powell, who was secretary of state under Bush.
The third dinner was for Biden, the former Delaware senator who twice sought the presidency himself.
Obama called McCain and Powell American heroes who set standards of patriotism and bipartisanship for all to follow.