On The Capitol Building: Yeah, I Know It’s Not On Topic

I know this is way off topic.  Explained below is the reason.  But, indulge me.  It took me two hours to put this together.  I’m not saying I had much else to do with the time.  But still.  It’s history shtuff, so avoid it if that sort of thing bores you.
 
While my aunt and uncle were here, they along with my sister and parents took a tour of the Capitol Building.  While I hear great things about the new visitors complex that has recently opened, I find the tours given via this route are distinctly lacking in expanse.  As a part of my pseudo-Quantum Leap experiment on my own life, I took an internship in Senator Bill Nelson’s office.  Without saying anything bad about any of the people working in said office, my most rewarding task was providing tours of the Capitol Complex to visiting Floridians.  Without timelimit, as I interpreted the rules, and distinctly more expansive a tour than that which you can line up for at the Capitol Building, I had occassion to learn a bit and share a bit.
 
I know it’s way off the topic of the blog, but I’d like to take a bit of space and share some of that with you folks.  The pictures provided are mine, as taken with the digital camera I scrounged on my last day.  Having spent several months wandering freely about the Capitol, it genuinely slipped my mind to think to bring my camera.  That said, the graininess adds some realism to being there.  Of course, you can find better with a modicum of googling.
 
 

Alright, so above you can see a screen capture from Google Earth (free software available through Google – just search for Google Earth).  The Capitol Building is in the center.  From left to right, starting at the bottom (where the little yellow pins are somewhat visible): The Rayburn House Office Building, Longworth House Office Building, Cannon House Office Building, (parking lot south of that) the exit for the Capitol South Metro Stop.  Moving along from the right, bottom to top you can see: Library of Congress Building, another Library of Congress Building, The Supreme Court.  At the top, left to right you can see: The Russell Senate Office Building, The Hart Senate Office Building.

I make a point of listing these out fo two reasons.  First, my walk from Capitol South to the Hart Senate office building gave me a great view on the way to work every morning.  It’s a magnificent place to walk around.  And, generally, I got to see protestors and demonstrators out in front of the Supreme Court every time a significant case was being heard.  Second, all these buildings are connected underground.

Let me say that again, in its own paragraph.  All these building are connected via underground walkways and a tram system to the Capitol Building.  The amazin thing about the Capitol Complex is that one need not ever go on foot in the weather anywhere.  And, for that matter, to get anything that might be needed by your office.  Office supplies, gyms, a cafeteria, copies of bills or amendments (proposed or previously voted on), anything you can think of.  It’s quite the self-contained complex.

Because these are crowd pleasers, some examples of the trams:

This is one that they ran until the 1950s or so.  It’s on display under the rotunda in the Russell Senate Office Building.  This is the main location for visitors to take a tram over to the Capitol from the Senate side.  Also, Senator’s use these.  I once almost bumped into Hillary Clinton while she was walking back from the tram.  My gaggle of tourists were star-struck.  Which is kind of cool, in the sense that they were as excited about the political operatives of our country as they would be to catch a glimpse of [insert the celebrity you’d go all fan boy/girl over].

Above is what the trams from this building look like.

And these are the super cool bullet models that only Senators and staffers can use, from the Hart Office side.  There are benches at either end that hold about three smallish people comfortably and standing room for several people.

Now, some brief statements about the Senate side office buildings.

This is the hallway that leads over to the entrance to the trams on the Russell side, from the Hart side.  It looks drab, I know.  But, in point of fact, the Russell building above is one of the most sought after locations for office space for Senators.  Offices are determined by seniority, and in the case of one former first lady a polite request that was honored in deference to her previous position and the needs of her security detail.  Which can be intimidating by the way.  Also, when you see Senators giving interviews on the television from a rotunda, it is, in fact, the Russell building’s rotunda.  It’s wierd to be there in person when this is going on.  There is only a camera operator and some lights.  And, then waiting.  And then, suddenly, the Senator appears to be talking to himself.  There were no monitors when I was there.  Also, Senators keep their own personal ear pieces for these interviews, which kind of makes sense when you think about it.

Above are some photographs of snowball fights, of all things, and the mold use to create the statue on top of the Capitol Building.  And, yes, Dan Brown is right in his latest thriller.  There is an old law that says no buildings can be higher than the top of the statue on the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.  Okay, more photos now.

Alright, first things.  Constantino Brumidi is the master artisan behind pretty much every painting you can find in the Capitol Building.  There’s a lot to say about this man that I don’t know.  But, two things come to mind.  First, he knew enough, and was probably instructed to do so, to leave space for future accomplishments to be painted onto the building.  Second, after failing and hanging upsidedown for several hours from his scaffolding in the Rotunda he quit in a huff.  But still, the building looks great.  Thoughtfully, the Architect of the Capitol has thought to commemorate this by keeping his bust in the northside entrance that vistors from the senate side tram take up to the main floor of the Capitol Building.

 

 

 

 

This ante room is where the tour really starts.  And there’s a lot to say about this area.  Outside of the well known Senate and House floors of Congress, there are a plethora of meeting rooms available for the various committees.  The line the hallways.  And sometimes, when you’re walking along to the Capitol pharmacist (yeah, they’ve got one of those) to fill a very important prescription for your very important Senator you will suddenly come across a plethora of Secret Service agents with guns, earpieces and glares only to later find that the President had ducked over for a meeting.

The other thing to note about the entire Capitol Building is that it was designed entirely to impress.  It isn’t conceit.  And it was and is very definitely a message to the world.  You are meant to stand in awe in this building.  And democracy and our accomplishments as a nation are woven into every piece of art in this building.  Because, remember, when we built it we were the only democracy.  We had something to prove.  We were trying to prove that we were as decadently wealthy and as accomplished as the best that Rome ever had to offer.  Whatever your political leanings, this building should be respected as a beautiful representation of all things great in the United States.

As such, you’ll see a lot of our more famous personas adorning some of the pieces of art.  Above, you can see a picture of Ben Franklin and of Stephen Fuller, inventor of the steam boat (or more accurately inventor of the version that was commercially successfully and reliable enough to be popular).  Fuller’s steamboat seems small now, but it completely revolutionized water transport in the world.  And Franklin, you know he was one of the first international celebreties?  That’s no small feat in a world without internet, phones, television, even morse code and transatlantic cables.  Read his autobiography.

As an aside, some things haven’t changed all that much.  We talk a lot about government relationships with private enterprises these days.  Well, Franklin was originally a printer.  Whenever he moved to a new location, he made a point of befriending the governor.  And, when come up as it may, the topic of printing money or ther government contracts Franklin was always at the ready to offer a learned opinion and then capatalize the crap out of it.  Government, ours in particular, has always had an interesting personal relationship with enterprising business leaders.  Or conniving.  Whatever you prefer, this issue is older than our country.

 

Evidence of dark art prognostication?  Probably.  But, also an example of spaces left open for future accomplishments.  You know Bill Nelson was supposed to go up in the Challenger?  He is the Senator to go to for your NASA issues. He loves space.  I hope he wasn’t dissappointed with the show yesterday morning when we bombed the moon in the sake of science (a project I support).

Some preserved original mosaic tiling in between the above pictures.  You know they used to carpet these hallways?  Yeah, that went out in the fullness of time after they found they were spending a ton of cash on carpet repair and replacement.  They hired an artisan to come in and tile the floor.  Very expensive.

Democracy and appropriations.  In the really expensive public statement building.  Delightfully ironic and patriotic all at the same time.

 

The chandalier of the fake rotunda on the northside of the real rotunda.  Below this is access to the Old Supreme Court and further to the north are the old Senate Chambers.  Very Roman.  Crappy jokes that other interns told here (they gave us a packet to prepare for the tour.  It contained jokes and crap information about the Building.  I ignored it and did some research.  I had that much time on my hands.  I also gave the best tours.): You know they used to make interns hand polish those, hah hah!  And, Here we are at the Rotunda, hah hah I fooled you.  Now you feel dumb.  Scripted crowd pleasing mindless automatons.  The art in this Rotunda is profound and symbolic.  I don’t have pictures, so I won’t go into it here.  But seriously, a little history and google go a long way for this area.

Some shots of the Old Senate Chamber.  It isn’t always open to the public.  And it is very Roman.  Today, they use it for caucasing purposes when selecting new leaders and such at the start of the new terms.  And other various things. 

Onto the Crypt.  Yeah, it’s really called that.  Dead bodies and everything.  Okay, not exactly.  Hah hah.  I tricked you.  Now we’re all friends.  I have serious unresolved issues at the quality of scripting we were provided for these tours.  Not to mention some serious disappointment with my counterparts’ mindless regurgitation of such drivel.

Stairs up to the Rotunda proper.  Accessible from just outside the crypt.

The original very heavy and very expensive doors to the Capitol Building.  Taken down to preserve for posterity almost immediately the same time they got the bill.  Not visible are finely detailed carvings covering every square inch of the door.

Busts of Lincoln and Washington.  I really liked them because they are very worn and old.  Behind me in this picture, and sorry not pictured, is a portrait of Lincoln as a younger man prior to the office of the Presidency.  I like the busts because they are symbolic of just how heavy a weight it is to be President.  In all our ex-presidents take a look at the before and afters.  They age way more than their four or eight or forty in the case of FDR should allow for.

At the center of the Capitol Building, and the center of the Crypt (with the Rotunda above) is the heart of D.C.  They did used to keep a fire down here.  I don’t know about an opening above to the Rotunda.  But, Dan Brown usually does his homework on these things.  Also, that piece of marble is supposed to give you good luck if you rub your foot on it.  It’s kitschy, but I like it.  Also, it’s worn in the center with a very obvious depression from all the luck providing over the years.  Very cool.

That’s where they keep the State Funeral bearer for the, well, for the distinguished political dead folks.

Some neat access pictures under the stairwell down from the Rotunda and out of the Capitol.

This is the view out the exit of nearest the crypt.  Very intimidating to bumpkins from cheap dictatorships.  Seriously, it’s amazing.  But, back up to the real Rotunda.  No fooling.  Hah Hah.  We’re bonding again.

And wow.  That is the Apotheosis of Washington.  It is painted at the top of the Capitol Building’s rotunda.  And yes, you could put the Statue of Liberty in this room without busting the ceiling.  No fooling.  Those figures in the painting are something like 15 feet tall each.  In the center, you can see washington, covered in a purple blanket, ascending up to heaven whilst flanked by thirteen beautiful women.  Representing the, anyone, anyone, thirteen colonies.  Around the edges are various famous figures of the time being inspired by their suitable Roman gods.  Men given divine wisdom to harness the elements and fire the engine of our country’s mighty economy.  In a painting depicting god inspired inventions, the focus is on our founding father, our history, and our finest scientific achievements to date.  You can see the transatlantic cable being laid in one.  Look, whatever you think about cell phones and the interwebs and tubes right now, the transatlantic cable had ten times the impact on society.  The average transport time for a message was months across the ocean by ship.  Narrowed down to minutes.  Minutes to send a message across the sea.  Our country and our scientific advances have changed the world in more ways than the popularizing of federalized republican democracy.  And this enormous building and its democratic mix of Roman artwork is designed to show everyone how important we are.  This is the whole new language of international relations (popularized during the Cuban Missile Crisis) old school style.  Also, we may have a had a chip on our shoulder about the newness of our country.  Kids are insecure.

Below are paintings around the Rotunda.  Eight in total depicting various seminal moments in our history.

The signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Also depicted on the back of the two dollar bill.  Interesting fact, there is some foot stepping going on between Jefferson and Madison here.  Politics were alive and well in the arts in those days too.  These two gentlemen, whilst having enormous personal respect for one another were engaged in some of the most hard core political battles in our country’s history.  You can see that the painter took a side.  Although, when they put it on the two dollar bill, they politically corrected it by removing the foot stomping.  These guys both died on the same day, July 4, within hours of each other.  Their rumored last words: "at least [other person] survives me."  Now, that’s politics and friendship.

A depiction of Washington’s famous renouncing his military commission before becoming president.  Very important distinction made for our country.  This is why the President is the civilian Commander In Chief.  Big deal.  Also, in reality, there wasn’t a balcony in the room where this occurred.  The artist felt some people should have been in attendence who weren’t actually there and so painted in the balcony to fill this need.  Artists.

Busts of famous female personas in American history.  You’ll note the unfinished one.  On account of the unfinished status in the quest for equal rights for women.  It was rumored that they would add the first female president’s bust to this statue.  We shall see.  I like the unfinished motiff.  Think the suspended capstone over the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill.  Always more to strive for.

Andrew Jackson.  You know, one time an assassin tried to shoot this guy in the hallway here?  Yeah, the assassin missed.  And Jackson, elderly Jackson, proceeded to pummel his attacker into the ground.  And then some.  And then went onto his business on the Hill.  Not a man to be trifled with.  Even with a cane.

The hallway to the National Statuary Hall, also previously the House floor.  I don’t have very good pictures of this one.  But, one neat little tidbit.  When they added the new house floor, this amazing aweinspiring work of modern Roman architecture was turned into a food gallery.  Seriously, think peanut guys at ball games.  I am not joking.  Oh, also.  I forget why this following detail was relevant.  I think the guy is a Floridian and he is one of our statues in the hall.  Or was.  Not sure.  So forget that.  But, here’s this bit: You know the guy that invented the use of CFCs in aersol spray?  Yeah, he’s the same dude that came up with lead in gasoline.  Whoops.

I’m tired now.  This took me a couple hours.  There is more to show and more to tell.  But, I’ll finish it with this view.  I’m no fan of House Minority Leader Boehner.  But, I’ll say this.  He’s a nice guy with a nice staff.  The Majority leader has an office down the hall from the National Statuary Hall.  Very nice.  Outside this office is a porch where people can loiter their free time away.  Staffers and Congressional representatives that is.  So, here’s a super sweet view gifted to me by the very polite office staff he had.

If you’ve read this far, thanks very much.  I know it’s off topic, but my family had questions.  And, unfortunately, Claire chose those two hours to become mired in painful enduring gas bubbles.  Meaning, screaming.  So, there you go.  That’s family life.

 

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