Hours from inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden paused on what might have been his triumphal entrance to Washington Tuesday evening to mark instead the national tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic with a moment of collective grief for Americans lost.
His arrival coincided with the awful news that the U.S. death toll had surpassed 400,000 in the worst public health crisis in more than a century — a crisis Biden will now be charged with controlling.
“To heal we must remember,” the incoming president told the nation at a sunset ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. Four hundred lights representing the pandemic’s victims were illuminated behind him around the monument’s Reflecting Pool.
“Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights into the darkness ... and remember all who we lost,” Biden said.
Chicago joined the nation’s capital in remembering the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some buildings across the city arranged their window lights to look like candles.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and first lady Amy Eshleman stood in Millennium Park and looked over a darkened downtown skyline to honor the memory of victims of the pandemic.
- Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left) and first lady Amy Eshleman hold candles while looking out toward a darkened Chicago skyline during a national COVID-19 memorial, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- The Blue Cross Blue Shield building arranges it lights in the form of a candle during a national COVID-19 memorial in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left) and first lady Amy Eshleman hold candles while looking toward a darkened Chicago skyline from Millennium Park during a national COVID-19 memorial, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters after a national COVID-19 memorial Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- A woman walks by Cloud Gate on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
The sober moment on the eve of Biden’s inauguration — typically a celebratory time in Washington when the nation marks the democratic tradition of a peaceful transfer of power — was a measure of the enormity of loss for the nation.
During his brief remarks, Biden faced the larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War president who served as more than 600,000 Americans died. As he turned to walk away at the conclusion of the vigil, he faced the black granite wall listing the 58,000-plus Americans who perished in Vietnam.
Biden was joined by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who spoke of the collective anguish of the nation, a not-so-subtle admonishment of outgoing President Donald Trump, who has spoken sparingly about the pandemic in recent months.
“For many months we have grieved by ourselves,” said Harris, who will make history as the first woman to serve as vice president when she’s sworn in. “Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together.”