I have to be honest with you folks here. My intent in this post is more to gloat, rather than to offer any helpful hints. So please excuse me as I rub it in a bit, but I got to partake of one of the most exciting opportunities in Washington, DC last weekend; a visit to the top of the Capitol Dome.
A bit of background here. The Capitol is not the product of any one architect, nor of any specific period of time. From it's groundbreaking in 1793, until the present day, the Capitol has grown from it's original plan to the behemoth you see today. In fact, the most recent addition, the Capitol Visitor's Center, only opened a few months ago. So the original dome, a copper clad masonry and wood structure, proved to be too small aesthetically when the Capitol was extended to accommodate the growth of the nation and, hence, Congress. Congress, taking time off from their busy schedule of not dealing with slavery, approved funding for the new dome in 1855, and construction continued through the Civil War.
Structurally, the Dome is entirely made of cast iron. That's right, that famous iconic picture of the Capitol is not topped with marble or any other stone. It's the world's largest cast iron dome and it's simply painted white. A close look at the schematic will show that the Dome is actually two domes, an inner and outer structure, with a mutually supporting network of bracing between them. Hence our ability to climb to the top.
I owe it all to a friend of mine, fellow guide Lauren Kahn, who managed to talk her neighbor, Congressman Ruben Hinojosa and his wife, into taking us up. Herein lies the rub; in order to go to the top of the Dome, you need to be personally escorted to the top by a Congressman, and they may only take small groups. If any of my readers are from the Texas 15th, let me take this opportunity to share how lucky you are to have him here in Washington to serve you. Living in DC, you get to see quite the spread of humanity you folks send to us, and may I commend you on your choice. Rep. Hinojosa was quite the gentleman, especially considering his busy schedule, to escort all of us to the top and I personally would like to thank him. Congressman always like to help out their own constituents; it's a true test of class when you take the time for those who can't vote for you.
To make a long story short, it's a good climb to the top, but the trip is fascinating and you get to see the bones of the Capitol from the inside out. Needless to say, the view is unparalleled and beyond words. As fellow guide Mike Showalter's pictures are far better mine, I've taken the liberty of simply posting his. He has several good shots of the walk up, illustrating nicely the structure of the interlocked domes as well as the stunning artwork in the Apotheosis of Washington, the fresco that you can clearly see from rotunda. And I'd like to note in passing, that Congressman Crowley and I were not so much "heckling" the tourists as seeking to enlighten them from afar. Rep. Crowley was also taking some visitors up, and if he ever wishes to dramatically reduce his pay and influence, he would make an excellent tour guide. It's almost a shame he's so valuable where he is.
So, I'm afraid most of you folks are going to have just take the guided tour and look upon with envy the top of the Dome. Don't worry about any guilt you might have about your petty feelings of jealousy; those of us who have had the rare privilege of looking at Washington, DC from the top of the Capitol Building are above such things.