When it became clear that I would not be able to attend the 69th U.S. Presidential Inauguration in-person, I did the next best thing: watch it from the historic Willard hotel right down the street.
Why I Watched The Inauguration From The Willard Hotel
I’ve shared about my love of the Willard Hotel before, but as the hotel celebrates its bicenential anniversary, a quick review is in order.
- Author Nathaniel Hawthorne stated, “the Willard Hotel more justly could be called the center of Washington than either the Capitol or the White House or the State Department.”
- A 34-state Peace Congress met at the Willard in 1861 in an effort to avoid civil war.
- Julie Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to the Battle Hymn of the Republic while staying at the Willard in 1861.
- Due to assassination threats, Abraham Lincoln was “smuggled” into the Willard in February 1861 where he lived, protected by guards, until he moved into the White House on March 4, 1861.
- The hotel’s Round Robin Bar served as a watering hole for Union leaders during the Civil War.
- General (and later President) Ulysses S. Grant enjoyed cigars and brandy in the hotel lobby. There, men would come up to him try to sell him on something. Grant detested this, derisively referring to these people as “lobbyists”. Hence, a new word in the American political lexicon.
- This fact is debated and the term likely originated in the House of Commons in London.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his I Have A Dream speech from the Willard hotel in 1963, where he stayed before the historic March on Washington.
- Robert Kennedy ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to tap King’s room, where he was caught having an extramarital affair.
The historical links to the U.S. Civil War were particularly poignant. Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln being snuck into this hotel a month before he assumed office due to threats on his life? Or the fact that the Willard served as the de facto Union headquarters in the District of Columbia during the Civil War? Or the fact that the Battle Hymn of the Republic, one of America’s most sacred hymns, was written in the this hotel?
When insurrectionists breached the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, it brought back memories of the Civil War. And for me, it brought back memories of the Willard and its function during that critical period.
Although I tried many different avenues (both literal and figurative) to attend the inauguration in-person this week, when it became clear I was not one of the chosen, I knew the Willard would serve as a suitable back-up.
I had to pass through three checkpoints to enter the hotel along with a careful patdown and questioning. Inside, the hotel was swarming with Secret Service agents, as is usually the case whenever there is an historic event going on. After all, the hotel is only a couple blocks from the White House.
As I stepped inside the hotel and walked through Peacock Alley, I smiled. Piano music was softly playing and the scent of fresh cut flowers filled the air.
Sitting down in the main lobby, I looked up at the ceiling, where all 50 state seals are on display.
I was all alone. I did not see any other guests. A hotel associate stood behind the front desk while a Secret Service agent stood guard at the front entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Pulling out my phone, I sat down in a plush chair and tuned into the inauguration ceremony. I’m not ordinarily a a Lady Gaga fan, but thought she did a wonderful job on the National Anthem. And Amanda Gorman? What a remarkable young woman.
I was so comfortable that I truly hated to leave, but did not want to overstay my welcome.
I cannot think of another hotel more steeped in American history. While I would have preferred to attend in-person, watching the 69th Presidential Inauguration from the lobby of the Willard Hotel was the next best thing.