News & Politics

Best and Worst of the Inauguration

Barack Obama's inauguration by the numbers.

Dancers energized the crowd at the California State Society inaugural fashion show. Photograph by Chris Leaman
Warwick didn’t win friends by showing up at the Purple Ball. Photograph by Kate Nerenberg

»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.

The Marriott Wardman Park plated 1,250 desserts for the Kentucky Ball. Photograph by Chris Leaman

»Most star-studded red carpet: At the Creative Coalition gala, Scarlett Johansson reportedly showed up to the ball but decided not to get out of the car because she was underdressed. Her publicist did not return a call for comment. Among those who did get out of their cars for the affair at Harman Center for the Arts: Susan Sarandon, Maura Tierney, Anne Hathaway, Samuel L. Jackson, Elvis Costello, Heather Graham, and Forest Whitaker.

»$1 million: Rumored cost of the Huffington Post party at the Newseum, widely regarded as the weekend’s best event.

»Most unlikely crowd: The Google Ball 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. Half the crowd nudged one another about spotting Craig Newmark of Craigslist, and the other half whispered about spotting newly minted Illinois junior senator Roland Burris. And there was actress Glenn Close hanging out in the game room—it’s probably the only time that an event at the regal Mellon Auditorium has ever had a game room.

Eight years after he had hoped to be hosting his inaugural, Al Gore was a hit at the Green Ball. Photograph courtesy of Green Ball organizers

»$385: Price tag of tickets for the Veterans Ball, which abruptly fell apart the day before. The St. Regis hotel canceled the event after the organizer failed to “meet financial obligations.”

»Most chaotic ball: The Youth Ball. Reporters were penned in like cattle, and a huge crowd made for long lines and flared tempers. Hundreds of ticket holders—some who had paid prices two and three times the face value on resale sites and Craigslist—were denied entry when the fire marshal declared the crowding dangerous. Melanie Roussell, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inauguration Committee, said afterward that the event was not oversold and that the ballroom never reached its capacity of 4,200.

»$179: Price for the replica of Aretha Franklin’s inaugural hat by designer Luke Song.

»Most in-your-face sponsor: Pepsi paid big to sponsor the Creative Coalition Ball, which included large wall logos and a “Pepsi-blue carpet.” The day after the party, the PR team sent three e-mails within 38 minutes to journalists, pleading that the event be referred to as “The Creative Coalition 2009 Inaugural Ball presented by Pepsi.”

This article first appeared in the March 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.

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