Scandal Room: Sleeping at the scene of the Watergate crime

Washington, Jun 20 (EFE).- Fifty years after the notorious June 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and Office Complex, a scandal that led two years later to then-US President Richard Nixon’s resignation, guests willing to pay a hefty price can place themselves at one of the major crime scenes of American politics.

Now known as the “Scandal Room,” everything inside the Watergate Hotel’s former Room 214 evokes the failed spying operation planned and carried out by Nixon’s re-election campaign.

At a price of around $1,500 per night, the redesigned Scandal Room, first opened in 2017, “offers a unique experience for those who want to see with their own eyes where the Watergate” break-in was coordinated, the managing director of the hotel, Spain’s Manuel Martinez, told Efe.

“Customers are drawn to the scandal that began here,” he said while offering a tour of the space that was immortalized in films such as “All the President’s Men” and “Forrest Gump” and the TV series “Gaslit.”

Watergate, now universally associated with Nixon’s political downfall in 1974, is really the name of a complex of buildings that was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s in Washington DC on the banks of the Potomac River and included luxury apartments, offices and a hotel.

“From the balcony of that room you can see, just in front, where the Democratic Party’s headquarters was” in the Watergate Office Building, Martinez said.

That made it the perfect listening post for an operation in which E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy oversaw a group of five burglars – Virgilio Gonzalez, Bernard Barker, James McCord, Eugenio Martinez and Frank Sturgis – tasked with replacing a faulty wiretap (that had been placed in an earlier burglary) inside the DNC’s office.

But mistakes caused the plan to backfire badly.

“Two police officers arrived when they were called by someone who had observed suspicious activity in the wee hours of the night,” leading to the arrest of the five burglars, the managing director recalled.

A half-century later, an array of objects carefully selected five years ago by prestigious British designer Lyn Paolo – a typewriter, an old safe and a red leather sofa – serve to create the atmosphere of an early 1970s hotel room.

Nixon, a Republican president who won re-election in a landslide in November 1972 and died in 1994 at the age of 81, would have had a difficult time sleeping in the room because every object would have reminded him of the demise of his political career, including a copy of the letter of resignation he signed on Aug. 9, 1974, to avoid impeachment.

He was later pardoned on Sept. 8, 1974, by his predecessor for any crimes he may have committed against the US as president.

Nearly a dozen newspaper front pages dot the walls of the room, including one of The Washington Post with a “Nixon Resigns” headline in giant font and others of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Life and Newsweek.

The media, of course, played a key role in tracing the scandal to the highest levels.

Two Post reporters – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – were particularly instrumental, obtaining information from a source known at the time only as Deep Throat (later revealed decades later to be former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt) and unearthing the cover-up attempts by the White House in a series of ground-breaking articles.

A British man whom Martinez describes as a “fan of contemporary US history” stayed in the room last Thursday – the 50th anniversary of the night of the break-in at the DNC headquarters occurred.

Despite its air of intrigue, the privacy of the Scandal Room’s guests is guaranteed, the hotel’s managing director told Efe, adding that the only microphone inside was the one being used for the interview. EFE


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