In the past week, the Capitol of the United States has been in the news. A lot! Like many of you, I spent hours watching television as people breached Capitol security and an attempted insurrection transpired. Although I was shaken by this event, I went digging through my photo archives for images of this grand building, the seat of our democracy.
The first time I visited Washington, DC was in the spring of 1986 when I chaperoned five teenagers attending a National 4-H Conference. You might think I’m nuts for taking on this duty but let me assure you these were good kids who were representing their state. They gave me no trouble, and besides I knew their parents!
One of our activities that week was to meet with our Members of Congress and tour the Capitol. For all of us, it was our first time to be inside the seat of our government. One of the few things I remember about our tour was sitting in the Senate gallery watching them debate a bill. What struck me was how few Senators were actually in the chamber listening to the discussion. We learned this is quite common unless the bill under consideration is controversial or of significant importance. I remember seeing Senators that I recognized from television, some of them respected political figures.
On our tour, we passed through the National Statuary Hall where sculptures of prominent Americans stand. Early in the history of the Capitol, this hall served as the meeting room for the House of Representatives and where several presidents were inaugurated. Next on our tour was the Capitol Rotunda that spans 96 feet in diameter and is 48 feet tall. This room hosts ceremonial events and the lying of state of those of national importance who have died. Both these rooms are magnificent and awe inspiring.
Above the Rotunda stands the Capitol Dome. It rises 288 feet and has the same width as the Rotunda, 96 feet. It’s interesting to note that the Dome is made of cast iron made to look like stone. The Dome is crowned with the bronze Statue of Freedom. It’s nearly 20 feet tall and depicts a woman wearing a military style helmet, she carries a sword and a shield, and faces east towards the rising sun. In recent years, both the Dome and Statue have undergone repair and restoration.
Directly below the Rotunda is the Capitol Crypt, also known as Washington’s Tomb. When the Capitol was designed, the intent was to entomb the body of the first President of the United States, George Washington. He died before the Capitol was completed so his body was kept in a tomb at his home in nearby Mount Vernon. After construction was completed, attempts to move his body to the Capitol were never carried out after disputes about cost and design. Washington remains are still at Mount Vernon so the Capitol Tomb lies empty.
When we visited the offices of our Senators, we were ushered into their offices, first for photos and then the Senator asked questions of the 4-Hers. The teens were very articulate and impressive. One of the Senators even took the 4-Hers thru the tunnel on the tram that connects the Senate office building to the Capitol. They felt important for this small privilege. I hope those teens are now telling their children and grandchildren about their experiences at the Capitol.
Back then entering the Capitol, the Senate and House office buildings was relatively quick and easy. Over the years, security has become tighter and tighter. Since 9/11, access to any of the important buildings in Washington, DC requires airport type screening measures except taking off one’s shoes. So a word of caution when visiting Washington, allow plenty of time to stand in line and process through security. It can take from a few minutes to an hour of standing in line to finally make it into the building. This includes the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, both across the street from the Capitol building.
The Capitol Visitor Center was built underground on the east side of the building in the 2000s to provide a more orderly and secure entrance. This is the only “legal” way for visitors to enter the Capitol complex. The rules of what can be brought into the Capitol are quite strict; no liquids, no food, no large bags, no knives or sharp objects, and no guns. They certainly don’t allow flags and flag poles, placards, and other objects the rioters were carrying.
Tours of the Capitol are available by ticket only. Timed tour tickets are free and should be reserved ahead of time. There may be a few remaining tickets available for walkup if you want to take your chances. No tickets? Visitors can still view the excellent exhibits on how Congress works. Plus there is a gift shop and a decent cafeteria. However, one still has to go through security to enter this part of the building.
Below is a photo of visitors standing line for tickets and tours.
I had the good fortune to visit Washington in 2017 and 2019 to attend a conference for a volunteer organization to which I belong. On neither trip did I tour the Capitol interior but did take a lot of photos of the exterior. I should mention there were security barriers and officers that prevented visitors from walking up the steps on the east and west sides
From the West Side of the Capitol, the two-mile -long National Mall passes the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Several Smithsonian museums, memorials, and federal agencies are adjacent to the Mall. Lots to see and do.
The following photos are looking towards the Capitol from the National Mall.
The photo below was taken from the balcony of the Newseum (now permanently closed) looking down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol. The crowd (rioters) on January 6, 2021 marched down this street from the White House to the Capitol.
Here are a few more photos of the Capitol from different angles and lighting conditions. The top photo is taken from the northeast side after a snow fall. The second and third photos are of the west side of the building.
The Capitol really stands out as the sun begins to set in the west. The lights begin to come on in the Dome and other parts of the building.
The flag of the United States is the most recognized symbol of the United States. In the photo below, the flag flies over the Capitol, another of our symbols. One act that really bothered me during January 6 insurrection was the presence of the flag of confederacy being paraded through the Capitol. This symbol of white supremacy and enslavement has no place in our country much less in the Capitol, the seat of our government.
The Capitol too is an enduring symbol of the American people and our representative government. That’s why the security breach last week was so heartbreaking to so many. The trespassing, the vandalism, the discretion of historical artifacts, the thefts of property, the graffiti, the injuries and deaths of police were appalling. Of particular concern were the threats to lawmakers who were performing their constitutional duties. And woe to those who promoted and encouraged this behavior. This violation must be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.
Until next week, happy virtual travels!