That Time We Visited the United States Capitol Building
In September 2016, my husband and I took a trip to Washington D.C. to visit my sister in law. Joe, my husband, lived in D.C. for the first year we were together so it was great to be back and say a hello to a city that I love so much and called my second home. We even considered making Washington D.C. our permanent home in late 2013, but alas here we are in New York City forever!
Fast forward to today. It's February 2017 and I am sitting at my laptop typing this up while I watch the news. I'm finally getting around to sharing these images that I took just a little over four months ago. It feels like it's been a year since then.
So much has changed in this country since the day I took these photographs. Not only between November and January, but specifically in the last two weeks. Tomorrow will be Day 14 of the new administration in the White House and every day feels like a chaotic tornado with no end in sight.
I am a progressive and I am politically active in my community. But I am also a business owner and I am struggling how to navigate. How do I balance my work, life, and opinions as a concerned citizen and as artist during such an important and scary time in our nation's history? "I can't keep quiet." It's early still in this new era of uncertainty, so for now I will continue to show up, take photographs, stand up for what I believe to be right, and tell the stories of the world around me.
Rewind to September 2016. It was scorchingly hot the weekend we traveled to Washington. I have always been a history buff and political junkie. Growing up wanting to perhaps be a political operative, but decided to go to school for acting so I could play one in the movies. Ended up doing neither. Always fascinated by the historic buildings of Washington D.C., I have had a few experiences on my bucket list. The United States Capitol Building, The Supreme Court, and The White House.
Luckily, I got to cross off two with thanks to Republican Senator Dean Heller and his wonderful staffers!
Our good friend Victoria works for Senator Heller and set up the tour of a lifetime for us. Ian the Intern took us on a personalized venture through United States Capitol Building, and even treated us to the infamous underground Senate Subway! Ian the Intern was a wealth of knowledge and I am so grateful to him for his time and patience. I still feel a little bad that I wore my Hillary Clinton campaign hat to the office, but I made sure to take it off as soon as I got there. Senator Heller was not supportive of the Republican Presidential candidate, so I felt it was safe to at least have it in my bag.
I wish I'd taken more notes, but alas the U.S. Capitol website has lots of great info to review that I will cite here!
Take a trip down memory lane to a time when the reality of the First Woman President of the United States seemed like it was just around the corner.
All images © Michelle Kinney / Minnie Kinney LLC
Our Visit to the U.S. Capitol Building
Capitol Subway System
Did you know the U.S. Capitol has a subway system? I had heard about it, but always figured it was an urban myth. Alas, it exists! According to Untapped Cities, "an original monorail car that operated from 1915 to 1961 is on display in the basement atrium of the Russell Senate Office Building, just before the entrance to the subway. Two of these monorail cars were built in the Washington Navy Yard, the first in 1915 and the second in 1920."
"The train that operates between the Senate and the Russell Senate Office Building is a quaint open air tram that runs along three catenary wires on the ceiling. There are four compartments for riders and a conductor cab in the center. Each compartment is furnished with padded red vinyl seating, and two compartments have seats facing each other. The United States Senate seal is emblazoned on the side of the car." Via Untapped Cities
Justice and History Sculpture
Next stop, Justice and History Sculpture, sculpted by Thomas Crawford. "Justice holds a book inscribed "Justice / Law / Order" in her left hand; her right hand rests on a pair of scales. History holds a scroll inscribed "History / July / 1776." Overall length of the sculpture is 11 feet 2 inches.
The sculpture arrived at the Capitol in early 1860 and was kept in the former Hall of the House of Representatives until the exterior of the U.S. Capitol's Senate extension was ready to receive it." Via aoc.gov
The Old Supreme Court Chamber
"The Old Supreme Court Chamber is the first room constructed for the use of the nation's highest judiciary body and was used by the Court from 1810 until 1860. Built by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, it was a significant architectural achievement, for the size and structure of its vaulted, semicircular ceiling were virtually unprecedented in the United States." via aoc.gov
The Small Senate Rotunda
Located in the North Wing of the Capitol, this was one of my favorite parts. This chandelier was absolutely stunning to stand underneath and admire. I think it would go great in my living room, no?
"The small rotunda in the old Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe as an ornamental air shaft. It was constructed after the fire of 1814 as a means of lighting the corridors and circulating air into rooms that open onto the space." Via aoc.gov
"The chandelier hanging in this rotunda was purchased for $1,500 from the ABC Wrecking Co., which had removed it from the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church on Seward Square in southeast Washington, D.C., before razing that building. The chandelier reputedly has 14,500 crystals and weighs nearly 2,000 pounds. It is suspended from an electrically driven winch on a steel cable, which allows it to be lowered for cleaning." Via aoc.gov
Cox Corridors and Bromidi Corridors
Here's where things get a little tricky for me to describe. I'm not sure which corridor is which exactly. We were walking pretty quickly and there were a lot of people around, but I tried to get as many shots as possible of these beautiful corridors.
The Brumidi Corridors, part of the new wing, are "vaulted, ornately decorated corridors on the first floor of the Senate wing in the U.S. Capitol Building. The are called the Bromide Corridors in honor of Constantino Bromide, the Italian artist who designed the murals and the major elements." Read more on aoc.gov!
Hall of Columns
"The Hall of Columns is a dramatic, high-ceilinged corridor over 100 feet long. It runs along the North-South axis of the first floor of the House wing in the U.S. Capitol, directly beneath the Hall of the House of Representatives. The hall takes its name from the 28 fluted, white marble columns that line the corridor." Via aoc.gov
This was a really fascinating part of the tour. I was so enthralled by my surroundings that I failed to take more than a couple snapshots. The Crypt is likely recognizable as it is the place where you would see the next President of the United States waiting to be escorted outside on Inauguration Day.
According to aoc.gov, "the large circular area on the first floor of the U.S. Capitol Building is called the Crypt. The 40 Doric columns of brown stone surmounted by groined sandstone arches support the floor of the Rotunda.
This center section of the building was completed in 1827 under the direction of the third Architect of the Capitol, Charles Bulfinch. The star in the center of the floor denotes the point from which the streets in Washington are laid out and numbered. Located in the Crypt are 13 statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection, representing the 13 original colonies, and the Magna Carta replica and display." Read more here on aoc.gov.
This was so obviously my favorite part of the entire building. The Capitol Rotunda had been under construction for quite some time, so we were very fortunate to see it so soon after the restoration project was completed. It quite literally took my breath away and I may have gotten a little misty eyed. There's a lot of information here about the structure and artwork, so hang tight.
"The U.S. Capitol Rotunda is a large, domed, circular room 96 feet in diameter and 180 feet in height located in the center of the United States Capitol on the second floor. The Rotunda is used for important ceremonial events as authorized by concurrent resolution, such as the lying in state of eminent citizens and the dedication of works of art. The Rotunda canopy features the painting entitled The Apotheosis of Washington, and the walls of the Rotunda hold historic paintings and a frescoed band, or "frieze," depicting significant events in American history." Via aoc.gov
"The Apotheosis of Washington is the fresco painted by Greek-Italian artist Constantino Bromide in 1865 and visible through the oculus of the dome in the rotunda of the United States Capitol Building.
The Apotheosis of Washington depicts George Washington sitting amongst the heavens in an exalted manner, or in literal terms, ascending and becoming a god (apotheosis). Washington, the first U.S. president and commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is allegorically represented, surrounded by figures from classical mythology. Washington is draped in purple, a royal color, with a rainbow arch at his feet, flanked by the goddess Victoria (draped in green, using a horn) to his left and the Goddess of Liberty to his right. Liberty wears a red Phrygian cap, symbolizing emancipation, from a Roman tradition where sons leaving the home and/or slaves being emancipated would be given a red cap. She holds a fasces in her right hand and an open book in the other.
Forming a circle between Liberty and Victory are 13 maidens, each with a star above her head, representing the original 13 colonies. Several of the maidens have their backs turned to Washington, said to represent the colonies that had seceded from the Union at the time of painting. Upside down above Washington is the banner E Pluribus Unum meaning "out of many, one".
Surrounding Washington, the two goddesses and the 13 maidens are six scenes lining the perimeter, each representing a national concept allegorically: from directly below Washington in the center and moving clockwise, "War," "Science," "Marine," "Commerce," "Mechanics," and "Agriculture". The perimeter scenes are not fully visible from the floor of the Capitol."
And there you have it.
"The frescoed frieze in the belt just below the 36 windows was painted to give the illusion of a sculpted relief. The scenes designed by Brumidi trace America's history from its discovery by Columbus to the discovery of gold in California, with emphasis on Spanish explorers and the Revolutionary War. Brumidi prepared a sketch for the frieze in 1859, but he was not authorized to begin work until 1877. After Brumidi's death in 1880, Filippo Costaggini was commissioned to complete the eight remaining scenes following Brumidi's sketches. However, when the frieze was finished in 1889, a gap of over 31 feet remained. The frieze was finally completed by Allyn Cox in 1953 with scenes of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the Birth of Aviation." Via aoc.gov
The Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony by artist Adelaide Johnson "was presented to the U.S. Capitol as a gift from the women of the United States by the National Woman's Party and was accepted on behalf of Congress by the Joint Committee on the Library on February 10, 1921.
The unveiling ceremony was held in the Capitol Rotunda on February 15, 1921, the 101st anniversary of the birth of Susan B. Anthony, and was attended by representatives of over 70 women's organizations. The Committee authorized the installation of the monument in the Crypt, where it remained on continuous display. In accordance with House Concurrent Resolution 216, which was passed by the Congress in September 1996, the sculpture was relocated to the Rotunda in May 1997." Via aoc.gov
The government's polite explanation sounds sounds pretty sterilized. Luckily, I did a lot of research about this sculpture before the election and I'm going to tell you what really happened. Long story short, all the men in charge of Congress were still pissed off about Women's Suffrage so they defiantly stuck the sculpture in the basement for a little over 50 years. Time and time again someone would try and have it moved upstairs, and it would get voted down. Finally in 1996, it found a new home in the Rotunda. IT TOOK AN ACT OF CONGRESS. By all means, tell me again that misogyny is a thing of the past.
"Four revolutionary period scenes were commissioned by Congress from John Trumbull in 1817: Declaration of Independence, Surrender of General Burgoyne, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, and General George Washington Resigning his Commission. They were placed between 1819 and 1824. Four scenes of early exploration were added between 1840 and 1855: Landing of Columbus by John Vanderlyn, Discovery of the Mississippi by William Powell, Baptism of Pocahontas by John Chapman, and Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir." Via aoc.gov
National Statuary Hall
"National Statuary Hall, also known as the Old Hall of the House, is the large, two-story, semicircular room south of the Capitol Rotunda. This historic space now serves as the main exhibition space for the National Statuary Hall Collection.
Many important events took place in this Chamber while it served as the Hall of the House. It was in this room in 1824 that the Marquis de Lafayette became the first foreign citizen to address Congress. Presidents James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Millard Fillmore were inaugurated here. John Quincy Adams, in particular, has long been associated with the Chamber. It was here in 1824 that he was elected President by the House of Representatives, none of the candidates having secured a majority of electoral votes. Following his presidency, Adams served as a Member in the Hall for 17 years. He collapsed at his desk from a stroke on February 21, 1848, and died 2 days later in an adjoining room." Via aoc.gov
"The statue of Rosa Parks authorized by the Congress in 2005 is historically significant as being the first full-length statue of an African American person in the U.S. Capitol. It is also the first statue commissioned by the Congress since 1873. It follows the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., also commissioned by the Congress, that was unveiled in 1986 and the bust of Sojourner Truth placed in 2009.
The statue depicts Rosa Parks wearing the same clothes she wore on the day she was arrested. Based on photographic research into what she was wearing the day on the bus, she is shown wearing a round brimless hat, glasses, a cloth coat over her dress, laced shoes and she holds the handle of her purse. She is seated on a rock-like formation of which she seems almost a part, symbolizing her famous refusal to give up her bus seat. Her upper body is slightly turned to the right. Her head is erect, her back is straight and both her hands and her ankles are crossed; this posture, along with the expression on her face, suggests inner strength, dignity, resolve and determination, all characteristic of her long-time commitment to working for civil rights." Via aoc.gov
Old Senate Chamber
Another one of those rooms that "looks a lot bigger on television." You may have seen this room in the news lately when Vice President Joe Biden swore in several Senators this past month.
"Located north of the Capitol Rotunda is the richly decorated Old Senate Chamber. Designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, this room was home to the U.S. Senate from 1819 until 1859 and later to the U.S. Supreme Court from 1860-1935. Today the restored Chamber is used primarily as a museum, recreating the scene of many significant moments in the evolution of the United States Senate and the legislative history of the nation.
The Senate met in this room from 1819 until its new chamber was ready in 1859. The next year the Supreme Court took over and remained here until moving across the street in 1935. For the next 40 years the room was used as a meeting or entertainment room. It was restored in 1976 to commemorate the history of the Senate. " Via aoc.gov
If you have a minute, check out the history of the Old Senate Chamber!
United States House of Representatives
We DID get to go visit the gallery at the U.S. House of Representatives -- which was amazing! Sadly we couldn't bring the camera, our phones, or even our small bags. The highest security of anything I've ever been to. Two security checkpoints if I remember correctly. There was nothing happening that was too exciting. But it was pretty amazing to sit and take it all in, imagining what it would be like during The State of the Union Address. Another room that is much smaller in person than how it looks on television and in photographs.
Thank you again to Ian the Intern, Victoria, and Senator Dean Heller for a day we will never ever forget. Your generosity and hospitality will always be greatly appreciated.