To tour the United States Capitol, you will need to get an appointment via your Representative or Senator. You must have photo I.D. and your reservation number with you, and you should arrive fifteen minutes early for your tour. You may have a purse and camera with you, but prepare to be searched. Something to note: You can also visit the House of Representatives and Senate chambers, but these require passes which are separate from your Capitol tour appointment. Be sure to secure these passes from your Representative or Senator once you arrive in D.C., or have them mailed to you before you leave home. You can go straight to the House and Senate galleries after your Capitol tour. There are strict rules about what you can take into the chambers, but they do offer a place to check prohibited items, so that’s a great help. No one under the age of six is allowed into the Senate gallery, so if you have young children, prepare to leave them with someone else or just don’t go to the Senate. The House is more relaxed about this, but they are very strict about noise. If you talk or if your infant cries, you will be escorted out by an usher.
We were able to see both galleries, but on a different day from our scheduled tour, because we didn’t know that separate passes were required. We went to our Representative’s office in D.C. and picked up the passes. Then, an intern had to escort us back to the Capitol and get new Capitol Visitor’s passes issued to us so that we had permission to be there. After that, we were free to stay as long as we wished. It was a blessing that we had such a long stay planned in D.C. so that we could fit in this extra trip.
We really enjoyed our tour of the Capitol. If we ever go back, we plan to also go up into the dome (only available through a Senator’s or Representative’s office). It’s an 18 story climb, but I think the view both inside and outside the dome would be worth it. Here are some photos of our visit:
Our approach! It’s a beautiful building. The dome was just refurbished in 2016.
Once you get all checked in, you stand in a line to see a short film about the history of the Capitol and the type of work that goes on inside these walls. Next, you file out and get in a line where you are handed a set of headphones with a volume control. Whoever decided to do this was a genius. Voices echo like crazy in these massive, marble halls so this is a huge benefit of the tour. You can hear your tour guide’s voice perfectly. Like I said, genius.
The first stop is the crypt, the place where Washington’s body was supposed to be buried. Notice I said “supposed to be”, because it never happened. The Capitol took thirty years to complete. By the time they were ready to place Washington’s remains here, Martha, who had agreed to have his body moved here when the Capitol was finished, had died, too. The family fought the government for they did not want his body moved here. It went back and forth for a while. Eventually, the state of Virginia stepped in and made a law saying that Washington’s remains were to never be moved. Ever. End of story. We now have an empty crypt at the Capitol. The roped-off area designates the center of the District of Columbia. The designers planned the entire city with the Capitol in the center. This spot determines whether you are in NW, SW, NE, or SE Washington, D.C.
The Rotunda is a lovely place. Here you will find great works of art depicting various scenes from our nation’s history. This is a painting of a very special moment in history: General George Washington Resigning His Commission, painted by John Trumbull. Washington could have kept his powerful position and even become a sovereign, had he so desired. By God’s grace, Washington was not a selfish or power-hungry man, and he freely gave back to the people the power they had granted him.
Here is another great moment in history, the signing of The Declaration of Independence, also painted by Trumbull. The Rotunda is extremely crowded, so getting clear photos was difficult. I apologize if some are blurry or, like this one, crowded with strangers. One exciting event was catching a glimpse of Vice President Mike Pence. I tried to snap a photo of him but didn’t get a good one. I did see him though, so that was a thrill. He is there often in order to break ties in the Senate, a problem that I wish we didn’t have.
The painting at the top of the dome is called The Apotheosis of George Washington. He is ascending into heaven and being made a god or an angel. This image merges several myths with American history. It was interesting to hear our tour guide tell us what all of it symbolized. As much as I love history, it was a little disturbing to see how god-like Washington is made to appear in D.C. If Washington was a Christian, he most certainly wouldn’t want this type of attention; he would want God to get the glory. While I love our nation, I love God more and I look to Him as our nation’s hope.
Around the rim of the dome is this spectacular piece of art, depicting 19 scenes from our history. It is called a “frieze”. You can read more about it HERE.
All through our tour of the Capitol from the crypt, to the Rotunda, to Statuary Hall, there were lovely statues placed all around. Our tour was very fast moving, so I didn’t get to take nearly the number of photos I would have liked to take, but I got a few. Here is one of Jefferson.
Statuary Hall is home to many statues which are donated from all fifty states. Each state may donate two statues, and there are only two rules: the person must be deceased, and the statue must be made of either bronze or marble. Congress can also commission statues to be made. They have done this many times. The tour guide said he estimated that there are around 500 statues in the Capitol!
Years ago, the representatives had their offices in Statuary Hall. As the nation grew, and more representatives were needed, they outgrew this space and the Capitol was enlarged. This is the spot where Lincoln’s desk once stood when he served one term as a U.S. Representative.
Here is the spot where John Quincy Adams’ desk once stood. In this spot, the acoustics are perfect to overhear someone speaking across the room. The curved ceiling bounces sound right back to this spot. Our tour guide demonstrated this by walking quite a distance away from us and whispering. He asked us to raise our hands if we could hear him.Despite the noise around us, we could all hear him whisper. Adams used to pretend to take naps at his desk when really he wanted to eavesdrop on his opponents.
Here is a statue from Indiana of Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur.
One of Oklahoma’s statues: Sequoya, the creator of the Cherokee alphabet.
Left to right: Lew Wallace (IN), Serra, Father Junipero (CA), Joseph Wheeler (AL), Sam Houston (TX), and Huey Pierce Long, (LA). To find out more about these statues, visit the Architect of the Capitol’s website HERE. You can see which statues are from your state and read about that person’s place in our nation’s history. It would make a nice addition to a state history study, also!
A partially blurry photo of Eisenhower’s statue.
Security was high while the V.P. was there, but it didn’t stop us from getting some photos outside, in two groups, of course. Here is take one.
And take two! Or maybe it was the other way around…anyway, you get the idea.
In order to get our Senate and House gallery passes, we had to visit another building, the Sam Rayburn Building. This is where many U.S. Representatives have offices. Our Representative, Tom Cole, has an office here. While we got our passes issued, we snapped a few photos:
We couldn’t resist getting a photo with “the King” outside of the Las Vegas Representative’s office, which is just across the hall from our congressman.
One of Congressman Cole’s interns took us through a special tunnel to get back to the Capitol so we could get new passes issued. This tunnel features art from highschoolers in every state.
Here is some Oklahoma artwork.
It was in this tunnel that Terry saw, and spoke to, South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy! He kindly returned our greeting. I only wish I had asked him for a photo. He looked busy, though, and we hated to disturb him. The kids said I went all “fangirl” over a Congressman. I guess they didn’t understand the depths of my nerdiness till now. (Sorry, kids.)
Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in either the House or Senate chambers, so I encourage you to plan a visit so you can see these beautiful and historic places. We were blessed to be able to see the House called into session and hear a few congressmen and women give short speeches. In the Senate, we heard three Senators speak. We hoped to witness a vote, which was imminent, but the kids were very tired so we couldn’t wait. It would have been exciting to see all the Senators present and see how a vote was taken. We heard Bernie Sanders speak, which was pretty cool. Matthew (age 6) was so worn out from all the walking, that he leaned his head on my shoulder and fell asleep while we sat in the Senate. An usher came over and told me to wake him up.
The Senate did offer each visitor a brochure with great information about the history and significance of various items. It pointed out famous desks (like Daniel Webster’s) and listed the jobs of the people at the front.
Here are some various photos we took after our gallery visits:
Lauren loves all things space-related (as you can see from her shirt) so she wanted to get a photo beside the statue of one of the Apollo XIII astronauts, Jack Swigert. If you’ve seen the movie, Apollo 13, then this man was portrayed by Kevin Bacon.
We also got better photos with the Capitol in the background. I like these better than the previous ones:
He probably will never see this, but I would like to thank Thomas Schneider from Congressman Tom Cole’s office for his help in getting our appointments and passes.
We stopped by the gift shop and picked up a few souvenirs, but the best souvenirs are the memories we made together as a family. As we prepare for Lauren’s graduation, I am reminded that each day is a gift. Each trip we take together is unique; it will never come again. I am savoring these moments, storing them safely in my heart.
Due to Lauren’s graduation and the events surrounding it, I will not be sharing a travel post for the next two weeks. I will be back soon, however, to share our visit to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I hope you can join me. To be sure that you don’t miss a single post, please consider subscribing by email or following me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google +.
Thanks for touring with me.