Attain Inaugural Bliss Without Busting the Bank

Don't worry if you don't have a ticket, inaugurations are public events

If you’re planning to be in Washington, D.C. to take part in the hoopla surrounding the January 20th inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, you’ll have lots of company. Turnout is expected to be huge.

“Based on the number of phone calls, e-mails and Web traffic we’ve received, we expect this inauguration to be tremendously popular,” said Bill Hanbury of Destination DC. “People want to come here to tap into the energy and excitement this election has generated and be a part of this historical moment.”

So be prepared for crowds, tight security, really cold weather (January temperatures often dip into the 20s), traffic tie-ups, packed buses and Metro subway cars, and plenty of opportunities to just wait around.

Details about the official and many of the unofficial inaugural events are being rolled out daily. You can follow along on the Official Inaugural Web site, on the District of Columbia’s 2009 Presidential Inauguration site and at Destination DC. But if you're not one of the lucky 240,000 or so that gets a free ticket handed to you by a U.S. senator or representative, don't fret. And don’t worry if your marching band doesn’t get that invitation to participate in the Inaugural Day parade. You won’t need a ticket to stand along the parade route and there are plenty of free or low-cost ways to bask in the inaugural day bliss already taking hold of the town.

For example, at the National Portrait Gallery you can gaze upon images of the presidents of the United States, including Gilbert Stuart’s famous “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington and a new exhibition featuring a wide variety of portraits of Abraham Lincoln. At the newly renovated National Museum of American History (it reopens on Nov. 21) a permanent exhibition, “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” displays more than 900 objects relating to all things presidential. Look for President Clinton’s saxophone, President Cleveland's fishing flies and George Washington’s general officer’s uniform. A temporary exhibition opening January 16th will feature more than 60 artifacts relating to Abraham Lincoln and will include the top hat he wore the night he was shot at Ford’s Theater. Admission is free.

At Madame Tussauds Washington D.C. wax museum you can whisper your goodbyes to President George W. Bush, greet President-elect Barack Obama, and give your regards to Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and many other realistic looking former presidents and first ladies. The museum also has an exact replica of the Oval Office, so you’ll have an opportunity to get your picture taken seated behind the president’s desk. Admission is $10 for adults; $6 kids. Family discounts are also available.

The elegant and historic Willard InterContinental Hotel — where Abraham Lincoln stayed on the eve of his inauguration, where Ulysses S. Grant coined the term Lobbyist and which has hosted nearly every president since the mid-1850s — is pretty much sold out. The hotel does, however, have a museum-like gallery tucked away on the first floor that includes historical information, photographs and artifacts relating to presidents who have spent time at the hotel. Admission to the Willard’s history gallery is free.

The Loews Madison Hotel is also sold out, but to join in with the many other dining venues around town that will be offering inauguration-themed meals and cocktails, the hotel’s Palette restaurant will be offering a special Presidential Inauguration menu. Palette’s three-course prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus will be available January 10-25, and will include items served at official inauguration luncheons from every President from Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957 to George W. Bush in 2005. (Note: Neither Jimmy Carter nor President Ford had luncheons). Menu choices will include cream of tomato soup with popcorn (John F. Kennedy, 1961), Maine lobster Newberg (Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957), and toffee pudding with caramel sauce (George W. Bush, 2001). The Loews Madison will also have a replica of the White House press briefing area in the lobby and guests will be invited to take a photo behind a podium with the Presidential Seal. Reservations and price information is available at (202) 587-2700.

If you have a strong stomach, head on over to the National Museum of Health and Medicine to see some of the medical oddities linked to past presidents. The museum collection includes a segment of John Wilkes Booth's vertebrae, a molar and some gallstones removed from President Eisenhower, microscope slides of tumors of Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland, and the brain, spleen and partial skeleton of President Garfield's assassin. The museum also houses the bullet that killed President Abraham Lincoln, the probe that was used to locate the bullet and bone fragments and hair from Lincoln's skull. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

The swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Barack Obama, the Inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the gala balls and expensive dress-up parties, and the many other festivities that will take place to celebrate the new United States President will be excruciatingly well-covered by the media. So consider staying home and having your own inauguration party with your friends and family in front of the big-screen TV you’ll be able to afford if you don’t fly to the Capitol and pay the outrageously inflated hotel rates being charged during inauguration week. President Barack Obama will be making waves in Washington, D.C. for at least four years and the lines at all the attractions listed here — and dozens of others — will be much shorter.

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