If you traveled to President Obama's first inauguration by way of Virginia and arrived by car, police took down your license plate and held onto it for a while. That's the subject of a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch stating that in January 2009, Virginia State Police dispatched an automated license plate reader at the entrance to the Pentagon to record images of cars arriving for the inaugural festivities. The surveillance was conducted on behalf of the U.S. Secret Service, which months earlier also requested similar surveillance of cars headed for campaign rallies featuring then-Senator Barack Obama and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Virginia authorities started using the readers in 2006 as a tool to hunt down stolen license plates and fugitives. But state police held on to the images, and by 2010 had a backlog of millions of license plates, the Times-Dispatch reports:
»128: Number of balls, galas, and receptions that The Washingtonian tracked during inaugural weekend.
»Worst consolation gift: For the thousands of inaugural ticket holders who didn’t make it through security gates or got trapped in the Purple Tunnel of Doom, as one Facebook group labeled it, the congressional inaugural committee offered copies of the swearing-in invitation and program plus photos of the President and Vice President.
»1,544,721: Number of trips taken on Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess on January 20—the biggest day in Metro’s history. It beat the previous high, 866,681, set on January 19.
»Saddest job: Staff at the Marriott Wardman Park had to stand outside the hotel on inauguration night and tell arriving black-tie guests that Dionne Warwick’s American Music Inaugural Ball had been canceled due to unimpressive ticket sales. Meanwhile Warwick was across town at the star-studded Purple Ball.
»86: Degrees in the kitchen of the Marriott Wardman Park as staffers plated the 1,250 meals required for the Kentucky Ball. The heat is one reason that, under their union contract, chefs are allowed three beers a day.
January 20 was a memorable night for the 3,500 campaign volunteers and supporters who made it inside the Hilton Washington’s ballroom for the official Youth Inaugural Ball. They were mere feet away from the newly inaugurated President of the United States, who personally thanked the roomful of twentysomethings for believing in his campaign and delivering him to the White House.
>> See our original coverage of the ball here
But not everyone had the same experience.
Kimberly Misher arrived at the Hilton at 7:30, just 30 minutes after the doors opened. The ball didn’t even begin until 9 and the line was already around the block, but Misher had hope—it was moving fast. A few days earlier, she had bought a ball ticket off Craigslist for $400—more than five times the original $75. It was expensive, but she wanted to be a part of history. After navigating through a maze of tents, passing the security check, and checking her coat, she was finally in. Or so she thought.
“A police officer called it a holding area,” says Misher. “That’s how I learned that we were just in the antechamber. The main ballroom was across the hall.” There was one door leading to the main ballroom, and people were lined up 100 people across and 100 people deep, she says. “There was a lot of pushing, and it was hot.”
When the door finally opened, she ran smack into another line—at the entrance to the ballroom. Earlier in the day, Misher had been denied access to the inaugural parade. She had a ticket but was told to go to the wrong gate and wound up at the end of an insurmountable line. But again, she had hope.
Throughout much of the year, black tie in Washington is a burden—generally some sort of work event you have to attend at the end of a long weekday to hobnob with clients, sources, or vendors in uncomfortable formalwear that they slipped on in the office bathroom before hopping into a cab.
The inauguration is the one clear exception—and for the crowd at the Lincoln 2.0 Inaugural Ball, it was the night of a lifetime. Held in the stunning courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, the ball—sponsored by the tourism group Destination DC—paid homage to the second inaugural ball of Abraham Lincoln, held in the same building in March 1865. The women who had their hair done and the men who donned tuxes for the first time since a wedding lent an air of a grownup prom to the event rather than a typically suffocating Washington black-tie gala.
What happens when you mix Hollywood, Washington, and Silicon Valley? You end up with something approximating the incredibly strange scenes at Tuesday night’s Google inaugural ball. It included scenes such as Google CEO Eric Schmidt jostling for space in the VIP corner with senator John Kerry and actor brothers Ben and Casey Affleck. You get half the crowd nudging one another about spotting Craig Newmark of Craigslist and the other half whispering about spotting newly minted and controversial Illinois junior senator Roland Burriss. And don’t forget actress Glenn Close hanging out in the game room—probably the only time that an event at the swanky and regal Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue has ever seen a game room.
The real way to tell that you were at an inaugural ball was the lengthy line for the coat check that made senator Chuck Schumer guffaw when asked if he wanted to wait and check his coat.
Long before there was President Obama, there was Icon Obama. There has never been a president or presidential candidate who has inspired art in the way that Obama has since his candidacy began.
Saturday morning, at the beginning of the four-day inaugural whirlwind that swept Washington, a well-heeled gaggle of art lovers poured into the atrium of the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery to celebrate the image that came to epitomize Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. “Four days of history beginning to unfold, and we’re part of it,” explained Martin Sullivan, the Portrait Gallery director.
Shephard Fairey, the Los Angeles-based street artist who earlier made it big with his “Obey” Andre the Giant posters and then crafted the now-iconic Obama “Hope” and “Progress” posters, was on hand to witness a rare personal triumph: his image becoming part of the museum’s permanent collection. Washington power couple Heather and Tony Podesta bought the original and donated it to the museum to honor Mary K. Podesta, Tony’s mother.
What: The Mid-Atlantic Ball, one of the ten official inaugural balls the Obamas and Bidens attended.
Where: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Hall A.
When: January 20, 8 to midnight.
Ticket price: $150, but it crept up to $1,000 on Stubhub.
Who: Well, Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe and Jill Biden for starters. There were six balls packed into the Convention Center and the four made their way through each one. Whispers about what time each couple would show rippled through the hall all night. The word for the Obamas was 12:20, although the pair showed up an hour before that (by 11:24, they’d moved on to the next shindig). The 7,000-strong bash lacked the star wattage of the Neighborhood Ball—there was no Stevie Wonder or J.Lo wandering around. Instead, the boldface names in the crowd were more Hill than Hollywood: New York governor David Paterson, New York senator Chuck Schumer, Virginia governer Tim Kaine, and hoping-to-be Virginia governer and longtime Clintonite Terry McAuliffe.
What: 2009 Youth Ball.
Where: Hilton Washington.
When: January 20, 2009.
Who: Kid Rock, Kanye West, and Fall Out Boy each played sets at the ball, but the real stars were the newly inaugurated President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama. They sent the crowd of almost 2,000 twentysomethings into an immediate and sustained hysteria during their 15-minute visit. On the other side of the ballroom, Sway of MTV News interviewed celebrity guests Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Tobey Maguire, and Usher.
Scene: At times, it seemed as though the lines would never end, and for some they didn’t. Doors opened at 7 PM, but by 6:30 a line already stretched from the hotel’s entrance on Connecticut Avenue down to Florida Avenue. At 9, the fire marshal was forced to start turning away ticket holders, many of whom were election staffers.
For those who made it through the freezing cold, the maze of never-ending security tents, and the equally terrible lines for coat check, drink tickets, and food, the night proved to be well worth the wait. The ballroom, which opened at 9, housed a huge stage, a projection screen with an Obama-themed slide show, and a slew of scream-inducing MTV cameras.
What: 2009 Green Inaugural Ball.
Where: National Portrait Gallery.
When: January 19, 7 PM to midnight.
Who: Former vice president Al Gore served as the event’s honorary chair and was joined by more than 75 environmental, conservation, labor, civil-justice, youth, and business groups. Musical performances included Will.i.am., Melissa Etheridge, Maroon 5, John Legend, and Michael Franti. Other VIP guests included Blair Underwood, journalist Lisa Ling, comedian Paul Reiser, actors Melissa Fitzgerald and John Cusack, and singers Paulina Rubio, and Jon Bon Jovi. Other heavyweights included speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and environmental leaders Robert Kennedy Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance; Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation; Denise Bode, CEO of American Wind Energy Association; Van Jones, founding president of Green for All; and Rhone Resch, President and CEO of Solar Energy Industries Association.
Scene: All energy focused on the stage, where celebrity performances got ballgoers dancing early in the evening. The courtyard where the event was held was lit in green and purple but later transformed into blue with white stars. Songs were interspersed with a few words from Gore, Pelosi, Ling, Reiser, and others. Many celebrities escaped to a VIP room on the third floor and remained unseen by the majority of attendees. Surrounding a large stage, guests mingled at the open bars or buffet tables, which featured all-organic centerpieces made of wheat grass, green and orange orchids, and orange roses. And oh, yes—the floral arrangements will all be donated or reused.
What: The Hawaii State Society Inaugural Ball.
Where: The Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
When: Tuesday, January 20, 7 PM to 1 AM.
Ticket price: $200.
Who: Folks from the lovely state of Hawaii (including several of President Obama’s former high school classmates) and just about anybody who purchased a ticket before they sold out right after Obama’s win. General Eric Shinseki was slated to attend as well, though we didn’t catch sight of him. Some folks hoped that the President himself would show up, but as the ball wasn’t designated as one of the 10 official ones, expectations waned by the time the ball got warmed up.