The sainted Kathryn knows her way around a travel itinerary. The most brilliant of her many ideas: arranging a private tour of the U.S. Capitol building with the office of Orrin Hatch. (Why Orrin Hatch? As Kathryn put it, “there’s no way I want to be in debt to Mike Lee for a favor.”) A lovely intern named Stephanie showed us around — just us, no big group of 50+ people. And we got to see a lot of extra places that the usual tour groups don’t go. Like, for instance, the tunnel and mini-subway that connects the senate office buildings with the Capitol.
Yes, I felt like a big cheesy tourist taking photos of everything, Stephanie admitted that she did the exact same thing when she first arrived in D.C. She even pointed out this cool skylight as a neat photo opportunity:
Both the visitor’s center and the Capitol proper have these giant statues tucked into odd corners. Apparently each state was asked to contribute two statues of a hero or well-known figure from that state. Such as King Kamehamehah from Hawai’i (“Hawaiians say that this is a life-sized statue,” said Stephanie):
The kids loved Helen Keller. I really need to watch The Miracle Worker with them:
And while I have no strong feelings about Ronald Reagan, I will say it’s pretty awesome that the pillar his statue rests on includes a layer of stonework from the Berlin Wall.
This white star on the floor represents the “crypt” of the building. Apparently they originally planned to entomb George Washington here, but Washington wouldn’t hear of it. Who can blame him? No matter how much I love my job, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be buried there.
I did love the dome above the crypt. (You will notice a lot of photos of architectural details in these travel posts. I love me some decorated ceiling.)
Thomas Jefferson recommended that a lot of the pillars in the Capitol be topped with symbols representing the U.S.A.’s agricultural values. Hence, the “corncob capitals” and “tobacco capitals.”
The stone floors of the crypt also have interesting footprints on them, and nobody really knows why. There are even these cat’s paw-prints. Stephanie told us that there’s a story about a ghost cat who wanders the halls of the Capitol. My kids weren’t buying it.
Rooms That Are Famous for What They Used to Be
Such as . . .the Old Supreme Court chamber, where the Dred Scott case was decided. The clock on the wall is famously set 5 minutes fast because one of the old-timey justices liked it that way to try and hurry people along with their business. Time management was still in its infancy back then, you know.
It’s lovely, but unfortunately the vaulted ceilings made for a strong echo effect that made congressional debate impossible.
You hear stories about 19th-century congressmen beating each other up with canes on the House floor, I can’t help but imagine that the frustrating echoy air somehow contributed. I’ll readily admit that it would drive me nuts.
YES YES MORE DOME PICTURES. I love domes! Heaven help me if I ever to go to Italy . . .
Amazing, right? These frescoes were painted by an Italian immigrant named Constantino Brumidi, and they are all over the place. It was Brumidi’s idea to paint them (he took a tour and was found the blank walls irresistible). I had no idea the hallways of the U.S. Capitol were so ornate, and I couldn’t get enough of ’em.
Obviously, not all of the frescoes were done by Brumidi, such as this one of the first moon landing . . .
. . . and this one of the Challenger astronauts.
The floors were covered with mosaic tile. The temptation to sock-skate was high.
I loved this tiny shield detail.
(You will note that Jeffrey is right at the side of Stephanie the Intern in the photo below. He is asking her a constant barrage of questions about the building. That’s how he was for the entire tour. I tell you, give that boy a tour guide and he’s happy for life.)
Brumidi painted most of this, too, including the famous “Apotheosis of George Washington,” in the tip-top center of the dome. Considering how anti-monarchial Washington was, I wonder what he’d think of that. Geez Louise, 19th-century Americans! What is it with you guys and the almost literal Washington-worship?
Washington is seated at about 7:00, with a pink robe in his lap. It gets chilly up there in that dome.
A long mural circles the dome, chronicling U.S. history. Brumidi wasn’t able to finish the mural before he died in the 1880s — actually, Brumidi gave up on it after falling off of some scaffolding — which is why the mural continues on up to the Wright Brothers’ plane at Kitty Hawk, when a 20th-century artist was hired to finish the job. The maiden with the shield in the middle of this photo represents History. Just to the right is Christopher Columbus.
What We Couldn’t Photograph
This will be a recurring theme on this trip — too often, the most interesting things we saw were in places that prohibited photography. In the case of the Capitol, that included our brief sit-ins in galleries of the House and Senate. There was nothing of interest happening in the House — although we were pleased to discover that the seals of all 50 states are inscribed on the House ceiling. Cameos of famous lawmakers throughout history are pictured on the walls. (Like Hammurabi. Can’t beat a good Hammurabi reference.)
However, we were able to be present in the Senate for the opening of the afternoon session. Did you know they start with a prayer? And the Pledge of Allegiance? After the opening, we were pleased to see Harry Reid take the floor and give a passionate albeit soft-spoken speech about the damaging effects of sequestration. There were only two other senators there to hear it, but senate records are public, and we were tickled to read quotes from Reid’s speech in the Washington Post the next morning. Oooooo, civic pride!
Tomorrow: Walls Are More Fun With Quotes