All the President’s Motel Rooms . . .
Washington, where you can see the flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a rock brought back from the moon, the Declaration that ignited Independence and the theater box where Lincoln was shot, has a new historic site for visitors.
Not only can you see it, you can sleep in it.
For $129 a night, modest by Washington standards, you can bed down in the newly designated “Watergate Room,” the very place where in 1972 Alfred C. Baldwin III listened to the electronic bugs that Republican operatives had placed in the nearby headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.
Just after midnight, you can look across Virginia Avenue into the darkened windows on the sixth floor of the Watergate Office Building and relive the panic Baldwin must have felt when he saw two plainclothes cops creeping up on five Watergate burglars.
The new owners of what used to be the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge have refurbished the place, calling it The Premier Howard Johnson Hotel, and turned Room 723 into a memorial. For the opening last month, a velvet rope was placed across the doorway--just like the one in front of the Oval Office when the president is out of town.
“The Watergate Room,” says a brass plaque. Previously, it was just Room 723, and many guests probably didn’t know that history was made here. On June 17, 1972, the rent was $19 a night.
From that botched burglary a connection was made to Richard Nixon’s reelection committee. Then the White House sought to cover up that involvement. The fallout from that, two years later, caused Nixon to resign--the only American president to do so.
Inside the room are the trappings of the strange spy world G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt created, when these Republican hirelings set out to spy on the Democrats. It is supposed to be reminiscent of the way it looked when Baldwin used the room.
The pizza on the bed is last night’s, the newspapers are from 1996, and the half-full paper cup held a soft drink that was still fizzing. On the wall was a sign, “No-Smoking Room,” which surely the 1972 Room 723 was not.
Framed on the wall are reproductions of newspaper pages, the most prominent headline saying, “Nixon Resigns.” The occupants will have videotapes telling about Watergate and a shelf of books for historical reading, including a child’s book called “What Happened in Watergate.”
Liddy and Hunt had installed Baldwin in the room to eavesdrop and to take down what he heard on a typewriter. That night they supervised from a room in the Watergate Hotel next to the office building, awaiting word of what the burglars were doing. Baldwin was giving a blow-by-blow description from across the street.
“Just after 2 a.m. there was a transmission over the radio: ‘There’s flashlights on the eighth floor,’ ” Liddy recalled in his autobiography. A little later, Baldwin radioed that the flashlight carriers were on the seventh floor.
“Hey,” said Baldwin. “Any of our guys wearing hippie clothes?”
“It was only then that Hunt and I realized that something was very wrong,” Liddy wrote.
A moment later: “They’re on the sixth floor now. Four or five guys. One’s got on a cowboy hat; one’s got on a sweatshirt. It looks like--guns! It’s trouble!”
And the rest is history.
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