By Kelly Rix

Long before the election night rally opened its gates, the excitement was already brewing on the streets in anticipation of what most hoped would be a Sen. Barack Obama victory. Street vendors selling Obama T-shirts, pins and other memorabilia lined Michigan Avenue as thousands of people descended on the South Loop to watch the rally.

The gates to Hutchinson Field, which was open only to ticketed guests, opened earlier than originally announced, and the crowd grew steadily throughout the early evening. Supporters who were not lucky enough to get one of the 65,000 tickets were directed to Butler Field where they watched the events unfold on jumbotron screens. In total, approximately 240,000 people were gathered in Grant Park for election night.

The unseasonably warm weather added to the overwhelmingly positive mood of the crowd as they watched CNN’s election coverage on the giant TV screens set up around the park.

Shortly after guests entered Hutchinson Field, Denise Byrd, a 25-year-old Chicagoan who came out to see “history in the making,” said she was feeling great and enjoying the temperate weather. She said she and her friends lined up around 7 p.m. and got into the park by 7:30 p.m.

Cheers erupted from the crowd each time it was announced that Obama had won a state’s electoral vote. When CNN announced states that had gone for McCain, onlookers booed but didn’t seem too worried. Even before the electoral results of crucial states like Pennsylvania were announced, supporters in attendance were feeling hopeful about the night’s outcome.

Early on in the night, at about 8 p.m., Tracy Kramer, 31, of Chicago, said she was confident that Obama was going to win the election. She said the excitement among those in attendance was steadily building.

“There is an energy here I haven’t really ever seen with people my age and I sort of never thought that I would see it,” Kramer said. “So it’s pretty amazing to be here and to feel a sort of oneness with the crowd.”

When it was announced Obama was the projected winner, a loud roar of cheers engulfed the South Loop as American flags waved wildly throughout the massive crowd as they celebrated the news.

“I’m losing my voice right now because I’m so excited,” said Pauline Redd of Waukegan, Ill. “I just never thought I would live to see something like this. We were coming in and just screaming so loud and hugging people we didn’t even know. It’s just exciting; it’s a beautiful thing.”

When asked why she was so excited, Redd said it was more than just because Obama is the nation’s first black president.

“It’s not just because of the color of [his] skin, it’s because of what he stands for. I think he can really change things for everyone. Not just for people like [me] but for everybody, and that’s why he got the majority of the votes,” Redd, who is black, said. “He’s a true American, yes he is.”

Chicagoans Jules Conway, 30, and Akinjobi Davis, 27, were visibly moved after hearing that Obama had won the election.

“It might not ever happen again like this,” Conway said. “This is a one of a kind historic moment, and I’m glad I’m here to witness it-I’m speechless.”

Conway said it was an overwhelming feeling and that he was proud of his country and that he saw Obama’s victory as a new beginning and a fresh start for America.

“I’m in euphoria,” Davis said. “It feels great to be an American altogether.”

At about 11 p.m. the newly minted president-elect took the stage with his wife, Michelle, and daughters, Sasha and Malia, as the overjoyed crowd chanted “Obama! Obama!”

Then Obama took the podium on the flag-lined stage and delivered a speech that kept the crowd crying, cheering and hanging on his every word.

“At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise, that American promise, and in the words of scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America,” Obama said as he closed his first speech as president-elect of the United States.

Excitement and emotion remained after Obama left the stage. As music played over the loud speakers and the crowd began to leave the field, there was still dancing and celebrating.

The fact that 13-year-old Jordan Norwood of Chicago’s South Side was too young to vote in the election didn’t quell his enthusiasm toward the new president-elect. Sporting an Obama baseball hat and T-shirt, he was all smiles after hearing Obama’s victory speech.

“I feel great because I got to see Barack Obama,” Norwood said.

Valerie Gilliam, 50, of Des Plaines, Ill., said she was feeling hopeful and optimistic after hearing Obama’s acceptance speech and is looking forward to a change in this country.

“I hope [Obama] will just bring us all together, and I hope we can get jobs back, that the housing crisis can be handled so people can stay in their homes,” Gilliam said. “I hope he can heal the nation. That’s a lot to ask but you know what-it’s good to dream and to have hope.”

Gilliam, who was laid off from her job as an IT engineer last year and has not found work since, said she has been directly affected by the economic downturn.

“There are going to be a lot of challenges, and no one can do it all overnight,” Gilliam said. “But you can always have hope.”

As the crowd began clearing out of Hutchinson Field and the police tried to move people out, there was still a feeling of euphoria among the stragglers on the field. Many stopped to pose for a quick snapshot in front of the stage where Obama delivered a speech that will surely be remembered for generations to come.

William Dicks, 31, a Chicago resident who volunteered with Obama’s campaign before the election, said he was feeling overwhelmed and was still in “shock.”

Volunteering for Obama was the first political campaign that he had been heavily involved in. Dicks said he spent the weekend before the election working for the Obama campaign in Indiana and had gone to Wisconsin and Michigan on other weekends leading up to Election Day.

“I just kind of knew in my heart there was something swelling in the community,” Dicks said. “Like something was changing … like there was a whole new outlook on where this country could go, and it just culminated in this moment on stage, in this amazing city.”