BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — For Peabody native Eileen Duff, inaugurations are nothing new.
Duff, a governor’s councilor, was a college student at Trinity Washington University when President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated for his first term in 1981, and she attended the second inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1997 while working in Washington for the Federal Communications Commission.
Still, Duff, now a Gloucester resident, is headed to D.C. this weekend to see President Barack Obama sworn in for his second term, and “I’m absolutely thrilled to be going,” she said.
Some other North Shore residents will also be in the crowd.
Marianne Rutter, chairwoman of the Boxford Democratic Town Committee, will be there, as she was for Obama’s first inauguration four years ago.
North Shore Community College President Wayne Burton also has tickets to attend the 57th Presidential Inaugural ceremonies, only this time, he hopes he doesn’t get stuck in the “Purple Tunnel of Doom” as he did four years ago.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll confirmed yesterday she is in D.C. for the inauguration with her 12-year-old daughter, Ailish, a seventh-grader at Saltonstall School.
“We are having a terrific time,” Driscoll said in an email. “D.C. is in full inaugural swing with red, white and blue bunting everywhere you look. We toured the U.S. Capitol Building today and the place was abuzz with activity. Lots of excited folks — young and old — taking in the preparations. We heard the practice run of the ceremony earlier today.”
In addition to the inaugural address, the audience on Monday will be treated to performances by folk-rock legend James Taylor, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, “American Idol” winner and pop star Kelly Clarkson, and Beyonce, who will belt out the national anthem.
“The swearing-in ceremony commemorates such an important historic event,” said Congressman John Tierney of Salem, who secured tickets for many on the North Shore. “... The fact that it shares the day with remembrances of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes it an especially significant time.”
Burton also sees the civil rights significance of Obama’s second term. Four years ago, however, Burton nearly missed it all when he got stuck inside a street tunnel where those holding purple tickets were directed before being screened at the purple gate.
The “purple people” were jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in what was normally a two-lane road, Burton said.
“When we finally surfaced, our line encountered the yellow ticket people and chaos ensued,” Burton wrote in an account of the day.
Just minutes before the ceremony, Burton made it in and got a spot on the Mall, but from where he stood, he could barely see the podium.
Even so, “it was euphoric. The people, many of us didn’t believe it would happen in our lifetime, and people were in tears when he took the oath,” said Burton, who marveled at the diversity of the crowd watching the inauguration of the first African-American president, fulfilling a dream for many.
The timing of Obama’s inauguration holds special meaning for Burton, who said he met Martin Luther King at Bowdoin College in 1965. Burton recalls asking King what he expected from a junior at a college in Maine, and Burton recalls him saying: “‘If your conscience stops at the border of Maine, you are less a person than you should be.’”
It was a line that stuck with Burton, who later in life became dedicated to social justice.
As for which gate he is scheduled to enter on Monday: “I’m now on the green team,” Burton said.
Rutter wants to be in Washington for the swearing-in ceremony, but she will also take in a convention on Sunday called the Obama Legacy Convention, made up of Obama campaign staff and volunteers who will talk about various topics surrounding the campaign and how to keep that energy going.
“I’m excited about that,” Rutter said.
Four years ago, Rutter witnessed history. This weekend, “it’s history renewed,” she said.
“I don’t think the crowd will be as big, but I don’t think this will mean less enthusiasm.”
In fact, while the crowd may be smaller than the historic 1.8 million people who attended four years ago, Rutter said it may feel more united. She was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008 and to the convention in Charlotte, N.C., last year, and she said there may be more of a feeling of unity among those Democrats, given there were divided loyalties four years ago among delegates who had backed Hillary Clinton’s failed nomination attempt.
In Charlotte, Rutter found “we were a completely unified party, and we were glad to be there.”
For Duff, just being back in D.C. is fun.
“The great thing about D.C. is you can walk around and you never know who are going to see,” she said.
Back when Reagan was inaugurated, there was far less security around than there is today. “You could walk into a lot of events,” Duff said.
Duff said she is excited about witnessing the public ceremony to mark the start of Obama’s second term.
“I’m a fan of the president’s,” Duff said. “I don’t agree with everything, of course, but I think he’s done a fabulous job turning the economy around.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews. Staff writer Tom Dalton contributed to this report.