Purple Tunnel of Doom

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Purple Tunnel of Doom, 2009
Pedestrians entering Third Street tunnel
DateJanuary 20, 2009 (2009-01-20)
LocationI-395 3rd Street Tunnel
Washington, D.C.
CoordinatesCoordinates: 38°53′23″N 77°00′52″W / 38.8897468°N 77.0143747°W / 38.8897468; -77.0143747

Purple Tunnel of Doom was the name ascribed to the I-395 Third Street tunnel in downtown Washington, D.C., where thousands of holders of purple tickets lined up to witness the first inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. Ticket colors corresponded to assigned viewing areas. Many were not admitted, despite having stood in line for hours.


People were directed into the Third Street tunnel by police, but were not allowed to exit.[1]

Among those who missed the ceremony were Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels,[2] San Mateo County Chief Election Officer Warren Slocum,[3] daughters of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the chief legislative counsel for Lamar Alexander,[citation needed], staffers for John Barrasso.,[4] and foreign policy advisers[5] and many field staff from the Obama campaign.[6]

News reports put the total number of purple-ticket-holders who were denied entrance to the inauguration at between 1,000 and 4,000.[7] Pictures show a lack of law enforcement or event personnel, and an overall bleak situation without basic amenities such as wayfinding or facilities.[6]

Similarly affected were blue-ticket-holders on the south side of the Capitol. Thousands of ticket-holders waiting outside the Blue Gate – in and around the triangular area bordered by C Street, 2nd Street, and Washington Avenue SW – were denied entrance as a result of a massive gate management failure.[8][9]

U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer reported that bulky coats and unruly guests were the reason for the breakdown.[7]

The experience in the tunnel has been chronicled in numerous videos posted on YouTube, and in detailed accounts by The Huffington Post.[10]

They knew exactly how many ticket holders there were. They knew people would show up early in massive numbers. They had months to prepare ... And their planning was clearly woefully inadequate and put thousands of people at risk of injury.[11]

On January 22, 2009, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said that blue-, silver-, and purple-ticket-holders who were not admitted would receive copies of the swearing-in invitation and program, photos of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and a color print of the ceremony.[12]

Lessons learned[edit]

A multi-agency study was led by the Secret Service.[13][14]

There were conflicting plans regarding the use of the Third Street crossover. The [Secret Service] map conflicted with the site specific map utilized by the U.S. Capitol Subcommittee. The [Secret Service] map indicated that Third Street would be utilized as a pedestrian crossover and parade route access point, while the U.S. Capitol Subcommittee map indicated it would be closed.[15]

For Obama's second inauguration, the tunnel was closed.[16]


  1. ^ "Surviving the Purple Tunnel of Doom". NBC 4. January 21, 2009. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  2. ^ Klein, Stephanie (January 21, 2009). "Mayor Nickels didn't get into Inauguration". mynorthwest.com. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  3. ^ Slocum, Warren (January 21, 2009). "I Watched The Inauguration on TV Just Like You". warrenslocum.blogspot.com. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  4. ^ Bruzzese, Sarah (January 21, 2009). "Inaugural woes have members ticked". Politico. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  5. ^ Lynch, Marc (January 20, 2009). "The purple tunnel of doom". lynch.foreignpolicy.com. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Cursed Purple Tickets (or, how I worked for two years to get Obama elected and then couldn't view the Inauguration)". Barackoblogger.com. January 9, 2009. Retrieved June 19, 2010.
  7. ^ a b Sheridan, Mary (January 20, 2009). "Officials: Too Many Tickets for Blue, Purple Areas". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  8. ^ h"Purple, Silver, Blue Ticket Holders Turned Away". The Washington Post. January 20, 2009. Retrieved May 11, 2013.l
  9. ^ Brown, Dan (January 20, 2009). "Thousands -- Including Me -- Shut Out of the Inauguration: Heartbreak at the Blue, Silver, and Purple Lines". The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  10. ^ Linkins, Jason (February 23, 2009). "Purple Ticket Turmoil Explained: What Happened On Inauguration Day". The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  11. ^ Rozen, Laura (January 21, 2009). "Purple tunnel of doom after-action report: "survivors" offer lessons learned". Foreign Policy. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  12. ^ Stabley, Matthew (January 28, 2009). "No Consolation: Parting gifts for blocked ticket holders". WRC–TV (Washington, D.C.). Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  13. ^ Christopher, Tommy (2009). "'Purple Tunnel of Doom' Report Released". Politics Daily. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  14. ^ Yager, Jordy (December 19, 2012). "Inauguration planners seek to avoid repeat of 'purple tunnel of doom'". The Hill (newspaper). Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  15. ^ Ambinder, Marc (June 21, 2010). "Lessons Learned From the Purple Ticket Turmoil". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  16. ^ Gowen, Annie (December 19, 2012). "Inauguration committee takes steps to avoid 'Purple Tunnel of Doom' ticket fiasco". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2013.

External links[edit]