President-elect Barack Obama made an unannounced visit Saturday night with his family to see the Lincoln Memorial, paying tribute to a former president he frequently invokes as an inspiration.
It was a day in which Obama played the role of tourist, seeing the most famous monuments in the nation's capital while experiencing the flavor of the city.
After riding in a motorcade from their temporary home at the Hay-Adams Hotel, Obama, his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha entered the grounds around the memorial shortly after 7 p.m. Bundled in coats in the near-40 degree weather, they walked up the dozens of steps in a close pack and into the memorial.
Once inside, Obama and his family had the opportunity to gaze at the nearly 20-foot statue of the 16th president and see the carved inscriptions of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address on the walls.
After touring the memorial for about 20 minutes, including the lower part of the memorial that houses some exhibits, the Obamas walked out, facing the reflecting pool and Washington Monument. They waved to some onlookers standing around the memorial's lower steps.
Obama frequently invokes the memory of Lincoln. He announced he was running for president in Springfield, Ill., at the steps of the Old Capitol, where Lincoln was a legislator.
He even plans to use the same Bible at his inauguration that Lincoln used for his swearing in. Obama will be the first president since Lincoln to use that Bible, part of the collection of the Library of Congress.
On Inauguration Day, the luncheon that will be served in Congress's Statuary Hall to Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and their families — as well as congressional leaders, justices of the Supreme Court and pending members of Obama's Cabinet — will include foods that Lincoln enjoyed.
Obama will be back at the Lincoln Memorial soon. He plans to trace the train route that Lincoln took and hold a welcome event at the Lincoln Memorial ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration.
Though he's worked in Washington for about two years as a senator, Obama appeared to relish the sights of Washington on Saturday. Before arriving at the Lincoln Memorial, his motorcade drove on grand Constitution Avenue and then swerved around on a road right beside the Washington Monument. His family had the opportunity to get a full, close-up view of the monument for several minutes.
Earlier in the day, Obama dropped by for a bite to eat with Washington's mayor, Adrian Fenty, at Ben's Chili Bowl, the venerable diner in Washington's U Street district. Obama said it was his first time visiting Ben's Chili Bowl and "it was terrific."
After Obama's motorcade wandered through the U street district, passing the African-American Civil War Memorial and a flea market selling shirts that bear his face, he and Fenty surprised the restaurant around lunchtime.
He and Fenty ordered a house specialty, a Chili Half-Smoke — a quarter-pound half pork and beef smoked sausage on a steamed bun with mustard, onions and chili sauce — along with a big helping of some cheese fries.