Washington DC - The Majestic Capitol
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
ON the brow of a hill which rises ninety feet above the Potomac River is the majestic Capitol, one of the grandest structures in the world. It covers an area of six hundred and fifty-two feet more than three and one-half acres, and the grounds around it comprise forty-six acres. Its total length is seven hundred and fifty-one feet four inches, and its greatest breadth, including the porticoes and the steps, is three hundred and twenty-four feet. It has a principal story, and an attic story, which rest upon a rustic basement. The basement supports an ordonnance of pilasters rising to the top of the two stories above, on which is the entablature, and a marble balustrade surmounts the whole. The basement story is devoted to committee-rooms of Congress, the Law Library, the document and folding rooms, the House post-office, the Senate and House restaurants, and offices. The principal story contains the Rotunda, the National Statuary Hall, the Supreme Court Chamber, the National Library or Library of Congress, and the halls of the Houses of Congress, with various rooms for the members and the officials. The attic story contains committee-rooms.
The main building, or original Capitol, is three hundred and fifty-two feet four inches long, and one hundred and twenty-one feet six inches deep. On the eastern facade is a portico one hundred and sixty feet wide (the grand central portico); and on the western facade is a projection of eighty-three feet, which forms a recessed portico of ten coupled columns. The extensions, or north and south wings, occupied by Congress, are connected with the centre building by corridors, each forty-four feet long, and fifty-six feet wide. Each wing is one hundred and forty-two feet eight inches in length, and two hundred and thirty-eight feet ten inches in width. The wings have porticoes of twenty-two columns on their eastern facades, and porticoes of ten columns on their ends and western facades. The north wing is occupied by the Senate, and the south wing by the House of Representatives.
On the tympanum of the grand central portico, at the main entrance to the Capitol, is a colossal allegorical group representing the Genius of America," which was designed by John Quincy Adams, when Secretary of State, after he had rejected various designs submitted in competition for a premium. It comprises three figures, the Goddess of Liberty, with Justice and Hope, executed in sandstone by Persico, an Italian sculptor, at a cost of $1,500. At the sides of the entrance doors are niches in which are huge statues of Carrara marble, representing War and Peace, also executed by Persico. They cost $12,000. War is portrayed by the figure of Mars, attired as a Roman soldier, with sword and shield; and Peace by the figure of Ceres, in flowing robes, holding fruits and an olive-branch in her hands. Above the door is a bust of Washington, laurel-crowned, cut in stone by Capellano.
On the top of the broad stone steps of the portico are two huge groups in marble, designated as " The Discovery of America," and Civilization." The first group is the work of Persico, and represents Columbus holding the globe aloft " in the hollow of his hand," while an Indian maiden crouches in alarm and amazement at his side. This sculpture is said to give a faithful copy of the armor worn by Columbus when he discovered America. The other group was executed by Horatio Greenough. It represents a desperate encounter between an American pioneer and an Indian. On one side is the wife of the pioneer, holding her babe pressed to her bosom, shrinking from the contestants, fearful of the result. These groups cost $48,000.
The twenty-four massive monolithic columns of sandstone, each thirty feet high, which constitute the portico, were placed in position in 1825. They were quarried on an island in Acquia Creek, and transported to Washington in flat-boats, which were brought to the foot of Capitol Hill by means of the Tiber Creek. Ropes were then attached to the columns, and they were dragged up the hill by long lines of men, and every clay many congressmen were to be seen pulling at the ropes, laughing and shouting like school-boys.
On the steps of this grand portico the oath of office has been ad-ministered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to all the Presidents of the United States, from Andrew Jackson in 1829 to Grover Cleveland in 1885. Before the portico, in the eastern park, 100,000 people can witness the inauguration ceremony. When the President has taken the oath, the guns of the Arsenal, the Navy Yard, and the forts around Washington fire the Presidential salute.
The famous Rogers bronze door is placed in the main entrance to the Capitol. On it are designs in high relief representing events in the life of Columbus, and the discovery of the American continent. The door is nineteen feet high, and nine feet wide, and is folding or double. It is within a bronze casing, on which are emblematic figures of conquest and navigation in the four quarters of the globe. It is constructed of solid bronze, and weighs 20,000 pounds. There are nine panels, in which the scenes are arranged in regular order, beginning with the examination of Columbus before the Council of Salamanca, and following with his departure from the Convent of La Rabida to visit the Spanish court. Then are shown the " Audience at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella"; the " Starting of Columbus from Palos on his first voyage"; the First landing of the Spaniards at San Salvador"; the " First encounter of the discoverers with the Indians"; the " Triumphal entry of Columbus into Barcelona"; "Columbus in chains," and his Death scene." Each scene is very clearly and effectively delineated. Between the panels, and on the sides and the top of the door are sixteen small statues of the eminent contemporaries of Columbus, together with ten projecting heads of the historians of his voyages; and on the transom arch is a bust of the great navigator, beneath which the American eagle spreads its wings. The door was modeled by Randolph Rogers in Rome, in 1858, and cast in Munich in 1860, by F. von Muller. Its cost was $30,000.
Broad flights of marble steps lead to the eastern porticoes of the Senate and House extensions. On the tympanum of the Senate portico is a group of figures in marble, executed by Thomas Craw-ford, illustrating " American Civilization and the Decadence of the Indian races." Fifty thousand dollars were paid for this work. America is the central figure; on the left are figures representing War, Commerce, Education, and the Mechanical Arts; on the right are pioneers, Indians, and an Indian grave. Above the Senate door is a marble group representing History and Justice.
A bronze door, modeled by Thomas Crawford, and cast in Chico-pee. Mass., by James T. Ames, was placed at the entrance to the Senate extension in 1868. It was executed at an expense of nearly $57,000, and is a notable specimen of American art. It portrays events in the Revolutionary War, and in the early history of the Republic. The panels contain representations of the " Battle of Bunker Hill and death of General Warren"; the Battle of Monmouth and rebuke of Gen. Charles Lee, the traitor, 1778"; "Yorktown —the gallantry of Hamilton, 1781 "; a " Hessian soldier in death struggle with an American"; an allegory of the " Blessings of Peace"; the Ovation to Washington at Trenton, 1789"; the " First Inauguration of President Washington, 1789"; and the Laying of the Corner-stone of the United States Capitol." The door is the finest example of bronze-work ever cast in the United States, and compares favorably with the Rogers door in design and execution.
It is proposed to place a bronze door at the main entrance to the House extension, and also to adorn the portico with marble groups. Designs for a door were made some years ago, but as yet Congress has taken no action in the matter.