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Advertising mogul David Ogilvy was on to something when he said, “You pay for the advertising, the press should be free.” This maxim obviously informed the thinking of marketing mites at the Carlton, who’ve been running an ad in the New York Times Travel section for several months, offering “An Invitation to Experience the Holocaust Museum.”
It’s “A Time to Remember,” we’re assured. Then, in smaller copy: “Visiting the Holocaust Museum is profoundly moving and enlightening. At the Carlton hotel we can also make it comfortable and convenient.”
Admission to the Holocaust Museum is free to the first 1,500 at the door each morning, but the Carlton’s weekend museum package is no bargain: It’s priced at $185 per night, and as the small print on the ad points out, “Taxes, gratuities and parking not included….Two night minimum stay required.”
Two nights may be one too many for Holocausting, but what a concept! Imagine tourism entrepreneurs selling souvenir suicide shivs next to the tram at Masada, or for goyish analogism, a gambling junket to Golgotha where you can shoot craps on regulation Caesars-style tables at the foot of the cross—roll an 11, and you take the robe back in your carry-on.
Perhaps this ad campaign was inspired by its architects’ poring over selections from Benetton’s anthologized portfolio of feculence—like the ones that use IRA car bombings or an AIDS-ridden Jesus to sell their save-the-world-Skittle-glo-lambswool, Blackwellian no-no’s, and piss-petal eau de toilette.
But content aside, the time is ripe. Since the $168-million museum’s inception, the place has been packing them in by the busload—from the bowels of Eastern Europe to the Island of Long, from Miami to Cocoa Beach to Sarasota and every other geriatric kosher enclave in the blue-hair state. Gentiles, too. They come to remember, or to see for the first time the annihilation of an entire European demographic. Some come withered and weathered and broken in Aunt Sadie glasses with oversize frames and sandalwood-tinted lenses, the kind bought at the Walgreen’s whirl-o-rack next to the sliding-door auto-exit mats and the handheld express baskets.
Their husbands amble alongside them, sometimes in catatonic horror, sometimes in yarmulkes or in dated gray-felted faux Borsalinos, the kind sold in a Buffalo Kuppenheimer, wearing Bingo-ready get-ups: double-vented jackets with too much white space between the dirty choco-tan Dacron houndsteeth, and sponge-soled ortho-lace- ups meant for balance while shuffleboarding or fox trotting at senior-center classes.
That’s where the Carlton comes in, easing the way by providing much-needed shelter during the out-of-towners’ excursion through this historical chamber of horrors. While some may deem the Carlton ads tasteless, the hotel’s press release provides an even higher degree of ribaldry. “The Carlton Hotel Presents a Weekend Holocaust Museum Package,” its headline announces. In addition to the deluxe accommodations, the marble bathrooms, the morning coffee and afternoon tea, the complimentary newspapers, shoeshine and terry cloth bathrobes, the hotel also offers “a lavish Sunday brunch” which includes a “sumptuous buffet of appetizers, a series of entree choices and an array of delectable desserts.”
If, before learning more about the genocide of the 6 million, you’d rather pass on the Grilled Lamb Chops in Currant Cabernet Jus or the Belgian Waffle with Amaretto Whipped Cream & Fresh Berries, the Carlton consoles, “Our chef will gladly prepare any item you do not find on this menu.”
The Carlton, part of the ITT Sheraton chain, is indeed la casa grande. Originally designed to resemble an Italian Renaissance palazzo with additional French and English strains, the 16th and K Streets NW hotel has recently completed a $27-million renovation. Thus, from its Louis XVIish chandeliers down to its wood-frame Trouvailles armchairs and customized Empire-style furniture with decorative inlays, it is once again the jewel of the capital city. And the perfect comfort way-station en route to your horrific history tour.
Based on the Washington success story, shepherding people through the turnstiles at the crassroads of tragedy and commerce is an idea that the Sheraton people might want to take global. How about similar hotel outposts for Phnom Penh and Armenia?