Our much-anticipated tour of The Capitol turned out to be a rather disappointing walk through the Crypt and the Rotunda. There was more time spent negotiating security and queuing than actually seeing stuff.
The interesting fact we learnt was that at the exact centre of the building is an empty grave. It was designed to house George Washington’s body but they built it without asking his heirs if the body could be moved. It couldn’t, so there’s a cold, empty room at the heart of the Congress. In what may have been symbolic revenge the centre-piece artwork in the rotunda shows Washington ascending to sainthood – a concept he’d have detested by all accounts.
Our overall tour experience was redeemed when the tour guide told us we could get in to see House of Reps sitting. This was a little strange because locals could only get in with a pass from their Representative; we just needed to flash our passports to get handed a set of Willy-Wonka-esque golden tickets. Sadly we missed seeing the Reps actually sit, but we did get to see the Chamber. One striking contrast with Australia, was that there was no glass partition separating the audience from the politicians.
We then, purely by chance, found a family tour of the Museum. There was us and a family of homeschoolers from Oklahoma with seven kids. The tour explained in a very engaging fashion how the city of Washington had grown up. We also found the hint of scandal regarding George Washington that we’d been searching for since visiting the hagiographic museum at Mount Vernon. It appears that Washington campaigned for the site of the capital to include land he owned, and Congress actually legislated to prevent that happening.
The most poignant facts we learnt today, though, was about the statue of liberty that sits atop the Capitol building. In what may be an ultimate irony, the statue of liberty was crafted by a slave…