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Mad Dash to Snag Swearing-In Tickets, Rooms Begins

By Michael Ruane, Nikita Stewart and Joe Heim
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tens of thousands of people across the country will be scrambling this week to prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Washington for the Jan. 20 swearing-in of President-elect Obama, which could draw the largest inaugural crowd ever.

With the election of the nation's first black president and the enormous interest in the young, charismatic leader and his family, officials said the crowd could surpass the 1.2 million who attended President Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration in 1965.

As Horace Mackey, of Stone Mountain, Ga., put it: "There's no way I'm missing that."

Obama's election set off an instant desire to see his inauguration -- just over 10 weeks away -- and then frenetic efforts last week to be present for what will be a milestone in American history.

Members of Congress, who will distribute tickets, were swamped with requests. The office of Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) was "deluged." The switchboard in the office of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was "overwhelmed." Staff workers for Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) logged more than 2,000 ticket requests in three days. The office of Del. Eleanor Homes Norton (D-D.C.) got so many calls that they had to stop taking requests.

Airline bookings jumped -- almost 200 percent for one carrier. Web sites organizing bus tours were inundated; one organizer in Georgia saw deposits on inauguration trips jump from $6,000 to $30,000 in 48 hours. And hotel rooms were fast selling out.

William Hanbury, president of Destination DC, the District's convention and tourism arm, said the area's 95,000 hotel rooms are filling up faster than for previous inaugurations. Marriott, for example, expects to sell out most of its Washington area hotels in about a week, he said.

"There are still a lot of rooms available, but people need to be doing transactions now if they are serious about coming," Hanbury said, adding that if hotels can make additional rooms available closer to Inauguration Day, the price will likely be much higher.

Hanbury said he expects the demand to be so great that there will be many "innovative accommodations."

"It is an extraordinarily historic event," he said. "The church group from Atlanta, the high school from Chicago -- they're all trying to find places to stay. You're going to have people sleeping in church basements and high school cafeterias."

Local residents are offering to rent rooms, apartments and even homes to those coming for the event.

On Craigslist, a seven-bedroom estate in Fairfax Station, billed as a "lovely place to relax or host a celebrity reception," was offered for $18,000 for the week.

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