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Illinois Gala Marks Inaugural Eve

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Illinois Gala Marks Inaugural Eve

A message for the troops at the Illinois Inaugural Gala. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)

Thousands of party goers reveled at the Illinois State Society Inaugural Gala last night in Washington, D.C. The participants came from all over the country, many from President elect Barack Obama’s home state. They all endured long waits to get in to the black-tie event for a taste of the Prairie State.

The gala started at 8:30 p.m. but at 9:30 the line at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington was still about an hour wait. Then there was a long line for coat check. And then another to get down the escalator. None of this dampened the mood for Michele Hardman. REPORTER: Do you mind standing in this long line?
HARDMAN: A little bit only because I was stupid and wore the high heels. I should’ve worn sneakers, to be honest. But I wanted to look good for our future president. You gotta look good one night of the year.

The effusive Hardman is in town from Lake Zurich, Ill. to see Barack Obama sworn in as president and his wife Michelle become First Lady.

HARDMAN: And I’m the Michele that’s been volunteering for Barack. He doesn’t know me yet but I’m the other “Michelle” in his life.

The Illinois gala spanned two floors with exhibits from the state fair to Chicago’s skyline. Professional photographers took pictures of couples with a mock Capitol backdrop.

The ball was more like a series of mini-balls with various rooms reflecting the breadth of the Land of Lincoln. From a honky tonk piano player to a replica of the Marshall Field’s clock to an Irish pub.

And there was a theater that played clips from movies based in or about Illinois. Like John Hughes’ angsty teen 1980s classic - “The Breakfast Club.” In the corner of the room, former strangers were becoming friends over candy and movies. Patrick Hughes, of Evanston, joked that the sweets were a highlight.

HUGHES: Maybe this Tootsie Roll I’m eating…no, no, no the root beer float was really good. Yeah, I don’t drink so that was my excitement for the night.

But he seemed moved by just being part of the crowd.

HUGHES: Every walk of life is in this party right now…probably the way Illinois should be represented.

Standing next to him was Jeania Davis, of Lincoln Square.

DAVIS: The crowd is so electric and it’s been so much fun. I’ve gone to inaugurals before and I think everybody ought to do it for a candidate they believe in.

Back downstairs Kim Hastings, of Orland Hills, posed in front of a Caterpillar tractor. She’s found a lot of things to enjoy.

HASTINGS: The atmosphere, the music, the food, good old Chicago food, the pizza. Pizza of course. A couple of fine wineries.

By 11 p.m. the line for taxis outside the hotel was long. But as one woman quipped, not as long as the line to get into the party.

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