Columbia man witnessed spontaneous White House celebration

Monday, May 2, 2011 | 8:09 p.m. CDT; updated 8:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 3, 2011
By 2 a.m., the crowd on the north side of the White House becomes a sea of cheers and cell phone cameras.

Rick Shaw, director of the Pictures of the Year International competition at MU's Reynolds Journalism Institute, was in Washington this past weekend for a POYI-sponsored event. He witnessed the gathering outside the White House when news broke of Osama bin Laden's death. This is his account.

The incessant drizzle in Washington, D.C., ended at dusk, and by midnight, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was deluged with waves of red, white and blue emotion.

Only a few hours earlier on Sunday, hockey fans trickled down F Street, disappointed that their Washington Capitals had not triumphed. But President Barack Obama's unexpected announcement to the world that U.S. forces had killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden energized the downtown atmosphere.

It was an irresistible and rejoicing current.

The north side of the White House is an open and inviting place for tourists to get good vacation snapshots for the family blog. The pedestrian-friendly avenue between Lafayette Park and the black-iron fence of the First Lawn provides an as-good-as-it-gets welcome mat to the executive mansion.

Some walked, some sprinted, but most set a quick-step cadence to connect with this defining moment in American history. In five minutes, the White House fence was lined three deep with restored patriots. Another 10 minutes and the width of Pennsylvania Avenue was packed, shoulder to shoulder. And in less than half an hour, the celebration spilled into the park and joined the statue at its center, of Andrew Jackson waving to the crowd atop his steed.

Spontaneous choirs belted out "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America." A single "wa-hoo" would build into a mass crescendo. Flags appeared from nowhere, large and tiny. Poster boards were decorated into flags. If no flag, signs with slogans. And for one, a world map was just as satisfying to proudly hold aloft.

The locals arrived and joined with others. Strangers became allies. Politics was pushed aside. Ale was embraced. Tourists stood mesmerized. Law enforcement displayed a quiet mask of intimidation, never admitting to the occasional glint of a smile. Journalists flashed cameras and mics as they skillfully swam the shifting tide. And all whispered unknowingly to themselves: "Amazing."

It was not a callous voice cheering a violent death, but a voice of relief and jubilation as the 10-year cloud of anxiety and frustration cleared above the White House and from the nation. It was a night that the melting-pot cliché rang true.

A jubilant crowd floods Pennsylvania Ave. in the late-night hours Sunday on the north side of the White House after President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden in a military raid in Pakistan.
Cheering crowds wear and wave anything red, white and blue Sunday as they swarm Pennsylvania Ave. on the north side of the White House moments after President Obama announced the operation against Osama bin Laden.
Faces of joy and relief were abundant Sunday along Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the White House.
A flag-waver joins the jubilation in the late night hours of Sunday on the north side of the White House following President Obama's announcement.
Amid the celebration, a couple takes a moment for a more intimate reflection.
Crowds and traffic jam the streets of Washington, D.C. Sunday near the White House hours after President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. Police and White House security blocked many of the area streets to control traffic.

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