Capitol Quirks

Yesterday was Capitol tour day with Senator Lugar’s office. Senator Lugar is Indiana’s senator and the tour was a lot of fun. Funnily enough, one of the larger photographs in Lugar’s office was a close up of the Lugar, Bush and prime minister Manmohan Singh!

The Capitol building is beautiful especially the Capital Rotunda which is Constatino Brumidi’s claim to fame. It was (I was informed, by a cheerful intern at Lugar’s office) originally designed to be a presidential crypt. After Washington died earlier than his wife burial pans were altered. This left the Senate with too much space so they decided to throw in a couple of statues.

Like several Mughal buildings the Rotunda has excellent natural acoustics including a famous ‘whispering spot’, which didn’t work despite our many attempts. The cement floor is famous for ‘cat paws’, evidence of a famous tabby cat that crossed the senate floor in total contempt of authority when the floor cement was still wet!

I also found the  train which travels between the three senate buildings- Heart, Russell and Dirksen- rather amusing because it was toy-like. The chamber where one enters the train is also rather representative of federal affairs! There are large trash-can like containers placed strategically under falling bits of ceiling with a hand-tacked sign saying “these bins are NOT for trash!” 😀

The Apotheosis of Washington is probably the one thing that caught my eye more than anything else at the Rotunda.  It is Brumidi’s fresco that decorates the underside of the dome. I still find the foundations of liberty, in the American tradition astounding – and this was doubly so when our guide deciphered the fresco for us.

The fresco apparently depicts the ‘becoming of a god’ which is roughly what the ‘apotheosis’ means. The fresco has George Washington surrounded by paintings of classical roman mythology including the goddess of victory and interestingly the goddess of liberty to his immediate left and right. Washington also has thirteen women (why women?!) in a circle who apparently represent the thirteen original colonies.

The Rotunda is full of beautifully carved statues and the walls have what is called the ‘Frieze of American History’. The Frieze is nineteen colourful panels which depict scenes from American history and include an entertaining anecdote of how Brumidi was suspended upside down for a whole fifteen minutes while he fell off the scaffolding one fine day. The panels cover a whole range of historical milestones, except the first which includes the goddess of liberty again- I found Columbus,  William Penn and the Wright brothers on the fresco.

The Rotunda also has eight huge paintings and several other sculptures including some presidents. The paintings have what you would expect- the declaration of independence, the arrival of Columbus, Mississippi and the Pocahontas – all breathtakingly beautiful.

Possibly of the two quirkiest parts of the Rotunda is the permanently stationed George Washington Statue, which lacks a left ear! Brumidi apparently forgot the ear- and while our guide told us the ear was missing, I heard several other guides claiming that Washington’s hair covered the missing ear-lobe!

The second interesting and quirky statue depicts the women’s suffrage movement which led to the 19th amendment and consists of portraits of the leaders of the women accompanied by an un-carved marble section at the back of the sculpture.

I am told, the un-carved section is reserved for America’s first woman president- that would be Hillary if she wins or another eight years of empty marble which is more likely.

The start to the Capitol tour too was rather fascinating. It consists of being confronted by a rather bizarre statute by Alexander Calder. The structure is supposed to be representative of  ‘Mountains and Clouds’, and was followed by Calder killing himself by jumping off a building.

The atrium of the Hart building also includes four miniatures representing the original designs of the capital building including the first design which was essentially a re-make of the Pantheon!

Now all I need to figure out is why the average person from Indiana is called a Hoosier. Senator Lugar’s office had a large board that swung from side-to-side saying welcome ‘Hoosiers’. All my friends of Indiana, however, don’t have the slightest idea why they are all called ‘Hoosiers’…. hmmmm.

Possibly, the funniest anecdote I can relate is about the large and beautiful chandelier which stands at entrance of the Rotunda. Our guide asked us to guess how much it cost the senate to buy the chandelier. After a bunch of wrong guesses, he told us it was bought off the local church for a mere 1500 dollars and was probably the only fiscally responsible the Senate had ever done!


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