Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Our Capitol and Our Library

It's another day in the D. C. neighborhood. Today we chose to take in the U. S. Capitol. It was a nice morning for a walk , but by the time we walked from our Union Station parking, we were glad to have directions from a friendly guard that saved us walking up the gargantuan front steps of the Capitol. So we descended underground to the Capitol Visitors Center, a new section of the complex that welcomes we citizens. Perhaps it wasn't part of the plan for the Capitol when President John Adams moved the seat of our federal government from Philadelphia in 1800, but it is a very nice addition. After clearing the metal detectors which we had prepared for before leaving home (no sharp objects and so on), we joined our tour group. To save a little time we prescheduled a tour over the Internet and found ourselves quickly moving along. Our guide was friendly and informative. He did a good job of describing the historical rooms, paintings, statues and architecture. And he had a few amusing stories to tell, too.

Among the historical spots we visited were the Old Senate Chamber (1810-1859) and the Old Supreme Court Chamber (1810-1860). The Supreme Court was especially surprising since it is so small and dinghy. But it suited its purposes for a while until a separate building was erected. Over 50% of the furnishings in the chamber are original, such as justices' desks and tables and chairs. The photo here is of the attorney tables facing the justices.

The old Senate location is where many famous eloquent speakers expounded on important issues to the country. The desks in the Old Senate Chamber are copies since the original desks are actually located in the present Senate chamber. The cabinetmaker who supplied them in 1819 made them for $34 each. Can you believe they are still being used???

(To enter the current Senate and House chambers you must contact your representatives and make an appointment well in advance. Which we didn't choose to do.)

It was nice having the guided tour since we could be sure not to miss the key pieces of history and interesting facts. For instance, it took 70 years of building before completion of the Capitol, with one of the last features being the replacement of the wooden dome by the current metal dome in 1865 during Lincoln's presidency. He felt it was important to continue the project during the Civil War to show confidence in the Union.

As we were enjoying the Capitol tour we noticed one of the directional signs that read: Tunnel to the Library of Congress. Neither one of us was aware there was an underground connection between these two locations. So that, of course, was our next destination. It is quite a tunnel, stretching about 1/4 mile, it seemed.

Well, as soon as we arrived in the lobby we could see this is one amazing place! The ceilings are covered with elaborate paintings honoring American painters, poets, engineers, scientists, musicians, etc. The grand staircases display symbolic marble sculptures and quotes of distinctive philosophers accentuate the porticoes. The inlayed floors and stained glass windows bring your eyes completely in circles. When you walk inside the Great Hall, it takes your breath away. This photo gives just a glimpse.

And then, of course, there's the reason for the Library. It began as a reference library for Congress in 1800 and became the great national library in 1815 when Congress accepted Thomas Jefferson's offer of his personal collection he had accumulated over 50 years. And the Library has grown ever since the copyright law of 1870 when all copyright applicants were required to send the Library two copies of their work. Add to that the vast collections of knowledge from around the world. You can make arrangements to use a reading room for reference work.

The exhibits sprinkled over the three floors are impressive. We visited the display of maps that includes the only copy of a 1507 map that is the first to include "America," after Columbus and Vespucci's early explorations. One of the most popular displays is of one of only three copies of the Gutenberg bible in existence, the first book printed with movable metal type in Western Europe in 1455, a piece of the history of human communication. It is sealed in glass but there is an interactive computerized display that takes you through all the features. Cool!

It's a place that sparks your curiosity and answers questions about the past.
So if you do have a chance, put it on your list to see. But if you can't go in person, you can visit via the Internet at myLOC.gov. There you can take a virtual tour. Or you can look inside some of the books from Jefferson's library and see close-up the items in the Early Americas exhibit. It all belongs to you.

This was another interesting day of history in our national capitol. There's much to see and contemplate, even as you walk and drive the streets. But that's for other conversations.

On our walk back to the parking garage at Union Station a friendly Washingtonian offered to take our photo in front of the Supreme Court.

"Why not," we said. So here we are, at the new Supreme Court.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for taking us on your D.C. tour with you. We really want to go there sometime and we've sure enjoyed reading your blog. Hus, C&J


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