And yet, below them, they heard the clomping of thousands of convention-goers' feet on the brick lobby floor. As they peered downstairs to watch the crowd of revelers, the 501st appeared, escorting Darth Vader and Boba Fett actors David Prowse and Jeremy Bullock to a panel.
The crowd went nuts and parted "like the Red Sea," Henry recalled.
"Sherry and I look, and we shake our heads, and we say, 'we can't quit,' " he said. "It was really moving."
But then in October 2000, Kramer was arrested and charged with four counts of child molestation involving two teen brothers in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Henry's unhesitating reaction was to support him. Henry never observed such unsettling behavior in his friend, he said. Henry had two young daughters whom Kramer seemed to care about. Kramer was a counselor for troubled children.
"He would have been one of the six guys to carry me to my grave in a box," Henry said with a pained look on his face. "But I was sucked in, and I believed him, for a long time."
So did others in the gaming and convention circuit. In the immediate aftermath, Kramer resigned as CEO, and Henry agreed to take over as chairman, but only if he received a paycheck -- the first time anyone managing the event would get paid, Henry said.
The salary was the least of the group's worries. They had just signed aggressive deals with large downtown hotels to fill rooms for future Dragon Cons.
Dragon Con was stigmatized after Kramer's indictments, despite Kramer's protestations of innocence. Henry did his best to keep Dragon Con safe by staying silent toward the press and reassuring the convention's business associates.
As years passed and Kramer did not go to trial, Henry began to lose faith that his old friend was innocent. As soon as he entered Gwinnett County Jail, Kramer began filing grievance after grievance again his jailers and motions to delay his trial, citing medical conditions.
"I started thinking, you know, he sure isn't trying very hard to get tried," he said of Henry's requests to delay the trial.
Regardless, Kramer's legal troubles effectively sidelined him from being actively involved in future Dragon Cons.
The nerds strut their stuff
In 2002, amid steadily growing attendance, a new event sprang up on a sunny Saturday morning that was destined to become a mainstay of the convention and an Atlanta tradition: the Dragon Con parade.
Conceived by Henry and friend Rob Pauley, the parade was supposed to drive traffic to Dragon Con's vendor halls, which had just been moved to a new hotel. Already gaining traction as a costuming destination, Dragon Con put its best-dressed out in Centennial Olympic Park. Led by bagpipers, the parade ended in the Marriott Marquis, at the bottom of the escalators at entrance of the exhibit halls.
It worked like a charm, Henry said, and the parade route was lengthened the next year.
Parading costumers create quite a spectacle, and before long the number of onlookers crowded on Peachtree Street's sidewalks began to rival the convention's ticket sales. In 2012, the Atlanta Police Department estimated parade crowds at 80,000 people. Dragon Con registration counted 52,000 tickets sold that year.
The parade also contributed to Dragon Con's reputation as a premier venue for professional cosplayers, or master costume-makers who spend hundreds of hours employing skilled trades such as wig-sculpting, metallurgy and special-effects makeup techniques on their creations. Usually, they compete in contests worldwide or appear as paid models or entertainers, but at Dragon Con, they could show off their handiwork for sheer enjoyment.
"I feel a freedom at Dragon Con that I don't feel anywhere else," said professional cosplayer Yaya Han, whose passion is manga and anime. "I felt like I could dress up in any kind of costume that I wanted from any kind of genre."
The convention has a reputation for spectacles of all kinds, including the amorous sort. There are even speed dating events for singles who can tell the difference between a set of Spock ears and an elf costume.