Got to be there?

Here's your guide to the inauguration of Barack Obama

December 07, 2008|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,Special to The Baltimore Sun

For weeks leading up to the November election, Alison Velez Lane spent evenings and weekends volunteering for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, even traveling across state lines to help sway voters.

"[It] gave me great hope. It showed that Dr. King's dream for me to live in a world where I am not judged by the color of my skin but the 'content of my character' is alive," said the Baltimore attorney. Lane, 46, also felt a personal connection to the candidate. "President-elect [Obama] is eight months older than me," she said. "Our educational backgrounds mirror; our professions are identical."

So it's no surprise that Lane hopes to witness the inauguration of the country's first African-American president up close.

She is not alone: Here in Maryland, all across the nation and around the world, the inaugural ceremony has drawn huge interest, and it has the potential to break attendance records.

While President Bill Clinton's first inauguration drew about 800,000 attendees, the Obama inauguration on Jan. 20, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, could draw millions to the nation's capital.

"There will be 240,000 people with tickets for the swearing-in ceremony, but in past years, the overflow has spilled onto the National Mall," said Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Commission on Inaugural Ceremonies. "We're not doing crowd estimations, but certainly there is space on the Mall to account for large numbers of people."

Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will take the oath of office on a stage above the West Terrace of the Capitol building. Biden will be sworn in first, at about 11:45 a.m., and shortly before noon, Obama will be sworn in as the 44th U.S. president.

"The Constitution mandates that the president has to be sworn in by noon," says Florman. "There can't be gap."

Afterward, there will be speeches, a departure ceremony for President George W. Bush and a luncheon for about 200 people, hosted by the joint commission. The new president will then join the inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The theme for this year's inauguration is "A New Birth of Freedom," which commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The words of the theme come from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and express Lincoln's hope that the sacrifice of those who died to preserve the nation would lead to "a new birth of freedom" for the nation.

For Marylanders eager to participate in the festivities, there's still a small window of time in which to plan for the big day. You'll want to make a to-do list and check off everything from snagging accommodations to arranging transportation and grabbing a bite to eat that day.

First, you have to get there. Bus lines and Amtrak are preparing for brisk business.

"We have an infinite number of tickets," said Abby Wambaugh, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based Greyhound bus company. "We'll add buses as necessary to our schedule. We have the capacity to be flexible."

Wambaugh said the company has already received "a large influx of calls" for chartered buses, but has not seen a huge spike in ticket sales yet. "The majority of our customers purchase their tickets two hours before the trip," she said.

Karina Romero, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, said the train company plans for now to maintain a normal schedule, but is "closely monitoring" activity to see if additional trains will be needed."

"We have seen an increase from Virginia and the Carolinas coming to D.C., and some trains have sold out," she said.

For those who want to stay overnight in the nation's capital, there's still the option of snagging accommodations, say hoteliers, though time is of the essence, and it helps to have a budget that can handle these tough economic times.

"We're sold out of standard rooms, but we still have suites available, as well as our Presidential Suite packages," says Satinder Palta, general manager of the Mayflower Hotel, four blocks from the White House, on Connecticut Avenue, and dubbed the "second-best address," in Washington by President Harry S. Truman.

The historic hotel has welcomed many U.S. presidents and luminaries for inaugural fetes. Obama also has been a frequent guest.

"He started coming here about a year ago, and stayed about 10 times during the campaign," said Palta. "Mrs. Obama has visited us, too. And we are hoping they will return."

Indeed, the hotel has rolled out an inaugural package fit for a commander-in-chief.

A three-night stay in the hotel's luxurious Presidential or Mayflower suites includes limo service; his-and-her signature inaugural jewelry and fashions from Burberry; Dom Perignon champagne with Baccarat toasting flutes from Tiffany & Co.; an in-room massage for two and 24-hour butler service. The cost? A cool $51,000.

Palta adds, however, that the hotel has options for those seeking a little less fanfare, but who still want a top-notch stay. For them, there are rooms priced at $1,500 per night, with a minimum three-night stay.

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