Inauguration 2009: A D.C. Cinderella Story

My evening at the Illinois Inaugural Ball

Erin Fults | Special to Student Life

It was to be my Cinderella night. After months of salivating over even the idea of attending one of the many inaugural balls in Washington, D.C., I finally got my invitation. And, to top it all off, I was going to the Illinois State Society Inaugural Ball, so of course I expected that Obama would make an appearance.

I started mentally piecing together my outfit in a vain attempt to “compete” with the other women who would no doubt have much greater funds at their disposal for gala attire. And while no fairy godmother appeared to prepare me for the ball, it was pretty magical that my fiancée actually agreed to go to the mall with me.

I ended up wearing a floor-length, lace, champagne-colored gown that I had worn to a sorority formal three years prior (and had purchased on sale post-prom) and only had to purchase the shoes (also on sale at Macy’s). What a bargain this outfit was turning out to be! My horse-drawn carriage was the D.C. Metro, and I was whisked away to the ball on Monday night.

The ornate hotel lobby was an explosion of beads, bangles and bow ties. The room was festooned in red, white and blue, and inaugural eve excitement buzzed through the room. I immediately enjoyed press privileges as I was swept to the front of the long line and escorted downstairs to the festivities. On my way down I spied Abraham Lincoln posing for pictures, a long table full of Kraft products (their headquarters are in Northfield, Ill.) and a room packed with party goers.

Bling was definitely the thing at this ball. I saw everything from a short, silver-sequined dresses to a shiny red unitard (yes, a unitard, and unfortunately I spotted a second one later). I even saw a sequined tie on one gentleman, so there were, literally, lots of shiny, happy people. I was pleased to find that my dress was faring pretty well with this crowd, and even picking up some compliments.

My press privileges did not extend to the dinner portion of the schedule, but the post-dinner reception offered an array of tasty treats. There were various themed rooms, each one offering a different food selection, and often a different dance floor. I had a root beer float in the ’50s diner, classic Chicago-style pizza in the pizzeria, chips and pretzels in the Irish pub, cotton candy and corn dogs in the Illinois State Fair hallway, and protein bars in the saloon (okay, not quite themed, but corporate sponsors have to get in there somewhere).

There were “Yes We Can” cocktails (delicious) and volunteers passing out special edition inauguration trail mix by Planters, apparently one of Obama’s favorite treats on the campaign trail, so I was told.

Obama never did show, but the event was no less star-studded. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., recent headline-grabber Sen. Roland Burris, actor Bill Murray, funk star George Clinton and former Cubs player Ernie Banks were all in attendance.  Also mingling with the crowd were the costumed characters of Raggedy Ann, whose creator was from Arcola, Ill.; Popeye, whose maker hailed from Chester, Ill.; and Superman, whose  self-proclaimed home was in Metropolis, Ill.

All in all, I learned a lot about St. Louis’ very near neighbor. So, any readers from Illinois, I have to say, your state throws a great party.

As the clock struck midnight, my contacts were drying out and the double-stick tape holding my dress up was starting to give way. It had been a wonderful evening, but it was time to go home. I needed to rest up for the next big day—Inauguration Day—and the freezing temperatures and teeming crowds that I knew would be awaiting me in the National Mall, where I would have a (relatively) front row seat to history being made.

So, I threw my coat on over my ball gown and marched the several blocks back to the Metro, before it turned back into a pumpkin, or at least before it stopped running for the night.