President-elect Barack Obama begins four days of inaugural celebrations Saturday. The weekend starts with a day-long railroad trip to Washington, re-tracing the route Mr. Obama's political hero, Abraham Lincoln, took to his inauguration.
The final leg of Mr. Obama's long journey to becoming the first African-American U.S. president starts Saturday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Presidential Inaugural Committee spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth says enormous crowds are expected to greet Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden there and at the three stops that follow.
"It will, of course, begin in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our country, stop next in Wilmington, the home of our very own Joe Biden, the next vice president of the United States, and make its second-to-last stop in Baltimore, before its final arrival in Washington, D.C.," she said.
Wyeth says the president-elect's train will follow the same path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861, when he traveled secretly, trying to avoid an assassination attempt in the early days of the U.S. Civil War. The association with Lincoln is meaningful to Mr. Obama, not only because both presidents came to Washington from Illinois, but because Lincoln signed the order ending slavery in the United States.
"I think it was important to the president-elect to begin this entire weekend of inaugural festivities with something that does harken back to the days of Lincoln. This trip, in particular, is really the final leg of a journey that started, for him, on the steps of the old state capitol in Illinois," she said.
A massive crowd is also expected Sunday for an outdoor concert in frigid weather at the Lincoln Memorial. The president-elect is scheduled to address the gathering, which could top one million people, and features performers including Bono, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen.
The Lincoln Memorial was the scene of the famous 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech by the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King, whose birthday will be honored with a national holiday on Monday.
A crowd projected as high as two million people will gather on Washington's National Mall on Tuesday to watch Mr. Obama take the oath of office as the nation's 44th president, and to see the parade that follows.
With record crowds comes a record level of security in Washington. Many bridges and roads into the city will be closed on Tuesday, and thousands of police officers will staff the weekend's events.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says they will be joined by about 18,000 members of the military, with 14,000 more on standby in case of an emergency.
"In the unlikely event that there should be some sort of crisis that requires some sort of consequence management, we will have the forces and the skills readily available to assist law enforcement in any type of activity like that," he said.
Homeland security analyst David Heyman says despite the huge, enthusiastic crowds, he believes Mr. Obama, his wife and daughters will be well protected.
"The Secret Service has gotten very good at protecting, sort of point protection over a particular secure package, the so-called bubble around the president and his family," he said.
The festivities conclude Tuesday night with numerous formal dances, or balls.
Then, on Wednesday morning, the new president goes to work, faced with two wars and an economy in crisis.