- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Sarah Crone promised herself six years ago that she would attend the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan, no matter where it was or when it happened.

The 20-year-old Republican will follow through on that promise this week, when she joins her boyfriend, Marc Zumhagen, and some friends on a nine-hour car trip from Fort Wayne, Ind., to the nation’s capital.

“I really did adore the man,” said Miss Crone, a political-science student at Northern Kentucky University who has read 14 biographies of the 40th president. “I regret that I don’t really remember his presidency.”

Miss Crone and her friends are part of an expected flood of visitors heading to Washington in the next few days to get a glimpse of the casket of Mr. Reagan, which will rest in the Capitol Rotunda for more than 30 hours beginning tonight. A funeral at the National Cathedral is scheduled for Friday.

Fans of Mr. Reagan will mesh with hundreds of company executives, diplomats, politicians and current and former world leaders. About 150,000 people are expected to attend the memorial events.

Finding places to stay could prove tricky for some visitors who decide to come at the last minute.

Miss Crone and her friends are staying at a friend’s house after they couldn’t find a hotel in the suburbs.

Downtown hotels reported a rush for last-minute reservations by those coming to Washington to pay their respects.

The Best Western Downtown-Capitol Hill is sold out two of the next three nights. Some travelers are staying for three nights in the 58-room hotel on Third Street NW.

The Red Roof Inn in Chinatown is sold out through Saturday. Before Mr. Reagan’s death, the 195-room hotel had about 70 percent occupancy, general manager Dawn Hughes said.

Space already was tight at area hotels this week with business travelers, an 8,000-person convention and foreign embassy officials passing through Washington for the Group of Eight Summit in Sea Island, Ga. Many foreign dignitaries are expected to return to Washington from the G-8 gathering, which ends tomorrow.

The Ritz-Carlton on 22nd and M streets NW, which took many reservations over the weekend, is sold out. The hotel is hosting a companywide meeting of Ritz-Carlton officials this week and has participants doubling up in rooms to make space for new guests, said Paul Westbrook, vice president and area general manager.

The 300-room hotel is honoring Mr. Reagan with a red, white and blue flower arrangement in the lobby. The turndown service in the rooms tonight and tomorrow night will include red, white and blue jelly beans and a note in memory of Mr. Reagan.

In addition, the hotel will have a leatherbound book at the front desk so guests can record their memories of Mr. Reagan and his administration. The book will be donated to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown was fully booked before Mr. Reagan’s death but managed to find rooms for some dignitaries after groups canceled their business meetings.

“An event like this affects a lot of people,” said Four Seasons spokeswoman Tricia Messerschmitt.

The Marriott and Renaissance hotels downtown have picked up business from news and embassy officials who have extended their stays, spokeswoman Lisa Colburn Stewart said.

Many embassies said yesterday that they had not finalized the lists of which dignitaries would be coming to the services, and area airports have not seen an expected pick-up in bookings for private or corporate jets.

Bus company Greyhound said it was not clear whether ridership into the District tomorrow and Friday would spike, because most travelers buy tickets the day of their trip. But a spokeswoman said the company would be able to add buses, particularly between New York and Washington, the company’s busiest route.

Some hotels have had cancellations because the government will be closed Friday.

“If anything the holiday is going to hurt us because [people] can’t come to Washington to do business,” said Dixie Eng, general manager of the Best Western Capitol Skyline, about five blocks from the Capitol in Southwest. “And sometimes things like this turn away tourism.”

Holiday Inn Capitol in Southwest has lost 10 to 15 reservations.

“It’s minimal,” said Dean Wilhelm, general manager of the 529-room hotel. “We’re seeing people wrapping up their business on Thursday instead of Friday.”

Difficulty in finding lodging did not appear to deter fans of Mr. Reagan who were determined to come.

“We always knew that when Reagan died we would all get together and go on a road trip,” Mr. Zumhagen said. “The road trip is going to be a lot of fun by itself, but there’s definitely a lot more than that. For us, it’s about paying our final respects.”

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