Wish Upon A Dish: Our Tour of America's Capitol Building

January 6, 2014

Our Tour of America's Capitol Building

Spending our Christmas Holiday in DC turned out to be a great idea. The hotel was a 1/3rd the regular season price, the restaurants that normally require a reservation almost six months in advance, was more than happy to see us and the museums and monuments were practically empty, allowing us to move at a slow pace, see and read everything and even take a break for a few minutes and sit down.

DC federal buildings shut down the week of Christmas thru New Year's Day but all the monuments, memorials and the museums were all open. We sent a request through our Representative for three tours, the White House, a tour of the Department of Printing and Engraving and one of the Capitol.
The Capitol was the only one open that week.

One out of three ain't bad and we found out there are really several ways to book a tour of the Capitol.
U.S. residents can go directly through the offices of their Representative or Senators (which we did). Many Congressional offices offer their own staff-led tours to constituent groups of up to 15 people, and most can assist you in booking a general tour. There is a line for walk-ins but they can not guarantee a time or even a tour during the busy times, but you can also get them on-line. If you want to see the Chambers, you need a special pass for that.

I contacted my Representative and everything was finalized in two weeks. During the summer, they may ask for 3-6 months to process your passes. I asked our tour guide how many the local politicians are allowed to dispense and was informed as many as they want, so be persistent.

The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (above) is the newest addition to this historic complex. At nearly 580,000 square feet, the Visitor Center is the largest project in the Capitol's more than two-century history and is approximately three quarters the size of the Capitol itself. The entire facility is located underground on the east side of the Capitol so as not to detract from the appearance of the Capitol and the grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1874.

The bronze Statue of Freedom by Thomas Crawford is the crowning feature of the Dome of the United States Capitol. The bronze statue stands 19 feet 6 inches tall and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds

He then sculpted a graceful figure in a classical dress wearing a liberty cap encircled with stars, holding a shield, wreath, and sword, which he said represented Armed Liberty. It was sent to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who was in charge of the overall construction at the Capitol. Davis objected to the liberty cap, the symbol of freed slaves, because “its history renders it inappropriate to a people who were born free and should not be enslaved.” Davis suggested a helmet with a circle of stars. In response, Crawford designed a crested version of a Roman helmet, “the crest of which is composed of an eagle’s head and a bold arrangement of feathers, suggested by the costume of our Indian tribes.” This third design was approved by Jefferson Davis in April 1856.

The plaster model of the statue, which had been in storage for 25 years, was reassembled and restored in the basement rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, where it was returned to public display in January 1993. In late 2008 the model was relocated to the new Capitol Visitor Center, where it is now a focal point of Emancipation Hall (above).

There is a law in DC that states nothing should stand taller than FREEDOM and is still on the law books, but like with most things nowadays, a movement has begun to amend this and allow buildings to expand upwards. Seems they have run out of viable building space and when they do find a building that can be demolished, the bids are fierce and costly.
The city will lose the views and they are not happy about that.

Why can't people just leave things alone?. Not everything should move into the 21st century.

This is the magnificent Rotunda. Painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi, the Apotheosis of Washington in the eye of the U.S. Capitol Building's Rotunda depicts George Washington rising to the heavens in glory, flanked by female figures representing Liberty and Victory/Fame and surrounded by six groups of figures. The fresco is suspended 180 feet above the Rotunda floor and covers an area of 4,664 square feet.

The Apotheosis of Washington, his most ambitious work at the Capitol Building, was painted in 11 months at the end of the Civil War, soon after the new dome was completed, for $40,000. In the central group of the fresco, Brumidi depicted George Washington rising to the heavens in glory, flanked by female figures representing Liberty and Victory/Fame. A rainbow arches at his feet, and thirteen maidens symbolizing the original states flank the three central figures.

If I remember correctly, four of the maidens have their backs to us, symbolizing the four original states that seceded the Union.

The Frieze of American History in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol contains a painted panorama depicting significant events in American history. The frieze’s 19 scenes is the work of three artists: Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Constaggini and Allyn Cox. The frieze is painted in grisaille, a monochrome of whites and browns that resembles sculpture. It measures 8 feet 4 inches in height and approximately 300 feet in circumference. It starts 58 feet above the floor.
The sequence of 19 scenes begins over the west door and moves clockwise around the Rotunda (above pic).
  1. "America and History"
  2. "Landing of Columbus" (1492)
  3. "Cortez and Montezuma at Mexican Temple" (1520)
  4. "Pizarro Going to Peru" (1533)
  5. "Burial of DeSoto" (1542)
  6. "Captain Smith and Pocahontas" (1607)
  7. "Landing of the Pilgrims" (1620)
  8. "William Penn and the Indians" (1682)
  9. "Colonization of New England"
  10. "Oglethorpe and the Indians" (1732)
  11. "Battle of Lexington" (1775)
  12. "Declaration of Independence" (1776)
  13. "Surrender of Cornwallis" (1781)
  14. "Death of Tecumseh" (1813)
  15. "American Army Entering the City of Mexico" (1847)
  16. "Discovery of Gold in California" (1848)
  17. "Peace at the End of the Civil War" (1865)
  18. "Naval Gun Crew in the Spanish-American War" (1898)
  19. "The Birth of Aviation" (1903)
At ground level are the eight historic portraits. View slideshow of all eight here.
See how empty the rotunda was?

The United States Capitol Building is home to sculpture of both well-known and lesser known figures in American and world history. The AOC is responsible for serving Congress as curator and steward of many of these famous figures. Featured here are sculptures from the National Statuary Hall Collection featuring two statues from every U.S. state along with the busts and other sculptures located throughout the U.S. Capitol.

There is a part of Ronald Regan's statue that not many people know it is there.If you look under the statues platform, there are what looks like a row of marble pieces. That is actually broken chunks of the Berlin Wall, set into the base! Neat, huh?

After the tour of the Rotunda you can get a ticket to see the Senate and House Chambers where the laws are debated and voted on. We wanted to see the Library of Congress, so we found the underground walkway that takes you right into the middle of the Library (below).

If you stand outside, on one of the balconies located in the front of the Library of Congress.......

....and take a picture of the back of the Capitol (see the top of the Washington Monument on the left?

The highlight of our tour of the Library was a current traveling museum exhibit of the Civil War, including two original drafts, written in Lincoln's hand, of the Gettysburg Address. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed and after visiting the archives, I can understand why.

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