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Post-Inauguration Facts and Figures from the NPS – but Don't Expect a Crowd Estimate

Crowd at the 2008 Inauguration.

How many people were here for the Inauguration? The NPS isn't allowed to make an estimate. Photo by by swyngarden via Flickr.

The Big Day on the National Mall has come and gone, thankfully without major incidents. The National Park Service has compiled a few behind-the-scenes facts and figures, but contrary to published reports, there won't be an official estimate of the crowd from that agency.

Guest Services, Inc., the NPS’ concessioner and partner for food sales on the National Mall, sold the following items between Sunday, January 18th, and Tuesday, January 20th: 140,000 kosher hotdogs; 15,000 sandwiches; 100,000 bottles/cans of soda and water; 130,000 cups of hot chocolate; and 50,000 Italian sausages.

There was no mention of whether Tums were also available, but in view of the above menu, if they weren't, someone missed an opportunity.

While the above sales may amount to a mini-economic stimulus package, the big crowd left more than a few literal packages behind.

The National Park Service with the cooperation of the Presidential Inaugural Committee and volunteers cleared the National Mall of 95 to 100 tons of debris starting at 8 p.m. the night of the 20th, leaving the Mall clean by morning. Blankets, sleeping bags, folding lawn chairs and coolers had been left on the National Mall.

There were reportedly few significant medical issues, but event organizers were well-prepared. Through a five-part partnership among the National Park Service, the D.C. Department of Health, the American Red Cross, the Department of Health and Human Services and D.C. Fire Department, 16 First Aid tents were staffed on the National Mall. Altogether, they assisted 3,240 patients. There were no details available concerning any possible correlation between those patients and the consumption of sausages or hotdogs.

Opportunities for visitor education and interpretation at the event weren't lost.

Park rangers presented over 250 interpretive talks from January 16th through January 20th to over 8,500 visitors at parks throughout the region. Talks were specially designed to connect visitors to presidential history. Park staffs contacted over 363,000 visitors throughout the region (not just the National Mall) on January 20th alone.

Public and media interest in the size of the crowd was high, and there were published reports in a number of major outlets claiming that the NPS was going to reverse a policy that prohibits "official" crowd estimates by the agency. The NPS put those rumors to rest with the following tactfully-worded statement:

Today’s Washington Post analysis of the inauguration of President Barack Obama contains an estimate of the crowd on the National Mall – 1.8 million

It was an incredible day for the nation, including the men and women of the National Park Service who supported inaugural activities.

The National Park Service does not contest the crowd estimate and will use the figure of 1.8 million attendees when we refer to the inaugural in the

Since 1997 the National Park Service and the U.S. Park Police have operated under Congressional restrictions related to crowd counting in Washington,
DC since 1997. The House of Representatives Report 104-625 – Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 1997, contained the
following language:

“The Committee has provided no funding for crowd counting activities associated with gatherings held on federal property in Washington, D.C. If event organizers wish to have an estimate on the number of people participating in their event, then those organizers should hire a private sector firm to conduct the count.”

In case you missed the background on this issue, the question of NPS crowd estimates for events in Washington, D.C. dates back to the October 1995 "Million Man March." Using long-established procedures, the agency pegged attendance at that event at 400,000—a figure guaranteed to raise the ire of organizers.

The political fall-out from that affair led to the 1997 congressional restrictions on NPS crowd estimates that still stands today.

Trivia fans can take heart, however—it's apparently still politically correct to report on the number of hot dogs and polish sausages sold on NPS property.


I posted this on another site on Jan. 21, 2009:

The inaugural crowd estimates, from 2 to 5 million, were hyped beginning November 4, 2008. The MSM had settled down to around 2 million by the day of the event. But with late reports that hotel bookings lagged behind projections and reports of less than expected traffic on area highways that filtered in, estimates from satellite photos are beginning to appear. A reasonable early estimate comes from an Arizona State University Professor who specializes in crowd counting. He estimates the number to be 800,000 people, less than the estimated 1.2 million person record set in 1965 for the Lyndon B. Johnson inauguration. The web page explaining this current estimate is at:

I am a veteran of many crowds on the Mall, and I have to disagree strongly with the ASU professor on this one. First off, let me say that I did not vote for Obama -- I left a blank ballot for President. The 1.8 million number for the Mall is an extremely reasonable number, and the entire crowd was no doubt closer to the 2 million range, if not a little larger. I attended the March for Women's lives back in 2004. That crowd has a verified size of 1.1M people. How do we know it was 1.1M? Because, the organizations who put the march together actually had large teams of people signing people in and passing out stickers to anyone who attended to minimize double counting. When the names were analyzed, there were 1.1M people counted, and that number may be smaller or larger depending on the numbers not counted and those double counted.

How far did that 1.1M stretch? It stretched from 3rd Street to 14th Street NW, where the Washington Monument is. It was shoulder to shoulder for those 11 blocks, and there's a photo taken from the top of the Monument showing crowd size. What a shot like that doesn't tell you is that the area of the mall is actually wider than you can see in a camera shot. There are a lot of trees, and the area stretches more widely than the narrow shot we are accustomed to seeing. Besides that, a lot of the crowd had spilled as far as Constitution Avenue. You cannot simply fly a helicopter and get a super good estimate because there is a lot that's hidden.

In any event, that's 1.1 M over 11 blocks of the Mall. What about the Obama Inauguration? Well, it was bigger. The crowd stretched from the base of the Capitol and around the Reflecting Pool to 3rd Street with people filling up that entire space. From visuals, you could see it filled up that same expanse from the Mall all the way to the Washington Monument but moreso than in the March for Women's Live. From reports of people on the Mall, it continued shoulder to shoulder all the way to 20th Street! That's not too many blocks from the Lincoln Memorial. Then, there was another crowd reported on and around the Memorial.

Now, that crowd couldn't be as large as the crowd on 3rd to 14th because of the World War II Memorial and the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The crowd from 3rd to 14th was at least but probably larger than the 1.1M. However, 700,000 additional people is an extremely reasonable number given the amount of space filled, especially the wide expanse in front of the Capitol.

A lot of other people were along the parade route, afraid they wouldn't be able to get there if they saw the Inauguration. That route was supposed to hold 300,000 people max - numbers were cut off by the police; that's why you didn't see it filled during the parade. The police chief claimed it would probably be closed by 10:30 AM, hours before the Inauguration. Let's assume that it wasn't, that everyone managed to get to the Inauguration on time and that they weren't as motivated by the parade as predicted. I'd have trouble believing that number wasn't at 200,000, and by crowd shots of the motorcades going through the streets, I'd have trouble believing it wasn't.

So, 2M seems reasonable; I've never seen anything close to that before in Washington from years and years of attending marches of all sizes.

Metro had record numbers of riders that day despite a lot of issues (for instance, someone was hit by a train). That's despite Metro telling people that they wouldn't be able to handle the crowds and urging people to walk.

It would be hard to believe hotel bookings lagged behind projections given that they were filled up months in advance; however, if they did, it's reasonable to believe people stopped trying. The best way to get space was to find friends in DC or find places to stay via Craig's List. That's how people always do it in Washington; this is just a bigger example of it. And, the DC / Baltimore metro area has well over 5 Million people, some estimates put it closer to 7 M if you could Annapolis (and for these purposes, why wouldn't you?) You don't think this population didn't turn out? Of course they did. Work was generally cancelled in the region, anyhow, and that followed a holiday.

So, people who don't know Washington can rationalize and claim that there were fewer people, but there most certainly was at least as many as the MSM claims here.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

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