Credit: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery

“Historic” is the most common way of coining the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama. Of the unestimated millions of people who washed up on the Mall on Tuesday, a good chunk came just to be “part of history”—a phrase that may never again get the workout it got over the last couple of months. Much of the sentiment was sincere, voiced by idealistic people who are hungry for a break with the past.

Still. Earnestness and a longing for change cannot possibly account for a celebration that booked every ballroom, atrium, reception area, and conference room from here to the boonies of Prince George’s County. This was a four-day frenzy that ran on something other than just idealism.

What really drove the inaugural explosion was a great big excuse. It was an excuse to dress up for the first time in 10 years. An excuse to put on those gold shoes and organize a party called the “Land of Enchantment Inaugural Ball.” To throw free Red Bull to passing motorists, clogging up traffic, and to attach some symbolic significance to a hot dog and a bowl of chili. To extend bar hours, to be publicly drunk with strangers, to be optimistic at a time when everyone’s losing their jobs. To turn the District into the densely populated, unlivable city that it has never wanted to be. Thanks for the parties. And the excuses. We’ll take it from here.

—Erik Wemple

Slideshow by Ted Scheinman