Festive, optimistic Obama supporters fill Grant Park
A festive, optimistic crowd filed into Grant Park for Sen. Barack Obama's evening rally this afternoon, helped by a police decision to allow access early.
Although early reports had it that gates wouldn't open until 8:30, security checkpoints began allowing people through at 3:30 to relieve congestion as people gathered at the main Congress Parkway access point. Within 15 minutes, the gathered crowds were through, and people streamed along after that. Chicago Police Lt. Jeff Mappa said the crowd was mellow and orderly.
This calmed many lingering fears, as Sarah Lewis of Barrington had said while playing cards on the street with friends and waiting for the gates to open that her one concern was, "I hope not a riot."
She also liked Obama's chances if the polls proved correct, but was going to wait for the election results before celebrating.
"As a Democrat," she said, "I'm used to us screwing up at the last moment."
Yet for the most part, the crowd was optimistic and prepared for revelry. "This is really so much fun," said Sarah Davy of Willow Springs. "It's like being at a great summer party."
"I've got shivers," said her sister Kit Keane of Chicago. "I haven't been this excited since the '60s."
"It's a historical event, and it's happening in our back yard," said Mark Schechter of Chicago. "It's once in a lifetime that it happens in your town with your senator being elected president. It's a great moment."
The Obama campaign reportedly gave out about 70,000 tickets to the rally proper in Hutchinson Field in Grant Park. Chicago officials also expected hundreds of thousands of additional people to watch the returns and Obama's eventual speech on huge televisions just north on the other side of Buckingham Fountain in Butler Field.
Congress Parkway was divided down the middle by fencing, with ticketholders going through to another line to await access to the rally proper, while others simply streamed into Butler Field. A battery of portable toilets worthy of Taste of Chicago awaited them, but only a single pizza tent that looked sure to be overwhelmed. Yet that didn't temper the general optimism of those who made the trip downtown for the event.
"You gotta be here," said Marge Ackerman of Western Springs.
Northwestern University students Abby Miller, Karin Magary and Garen Checkley drew attention and abundant cell-phone photos by carrying a banner reading, "Join the Obamanomenon."
"We decided we wanted to come down and do something about two weeks ago," Miller said, "and 'Obamanomenon' seemed sufficiently interesting and difficult to pronounce."
Elsewhere, Ronnie Wickers, wearing a Cub jersey with "Obama 08" on the back, turned up leading chants of, "Obama, woo! Biden, woo!"
Yet the best indication of the pleasant mood was that even a street preacher standing at the corner of Congress and Columbus Drive finished his rant about the Bible and a holy Volvo by saying, "Enjoy your rally!"