U.S. Capitol

The Congressional Bathtubs

“A Senate bathtub, as it appears today. Six tubs were installed in a basement room in the Senate wing of the Capitol in 1859 to provide bathing facilities for senators” (Photo Credit: Senate Historical Office) https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/image/Senate_Bathtubs.htm

Deep in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building, used to stand six bathtubs, hand-carved from Italian Carrara marble. These tubs were installed intially as a practical bathing option for Congressmen living in D.C. boarding houses with primitive bathing facilities. Although mostly forgotten by the 1890's once the new Washington Aqueduct provided running water to most homes in the area, these exquisite tubs were once a popular attraction for Congressmen and their visitors alike.

Before the Bonus Marchers There was Coxey’s Army

Jacob Coxey (Source: Library of Congress via Encycolopeia Britannica Kids)

Many are familiar with the story of the Bonus Marchers of 1932, the large group of World War I veterans who gathered from around the country in Washington, D.C., demanding their long promised benefits. For many veterans, the bonus money for military service was the difference between keeping a roof over their families’ heads or keeping the bank from repossessing their property. But this was not the first time disgruntled citizens descended on Washington seeking economic redress.

In the midst of an economic crisis that shook the nation in the mid 1890s, Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey, and his eccentric colleague Carl Browne organized a collection of unemployed men and women to march to Washington to present their plan. They left Massillon, Ohio on March 25, arriving in Washington, D.C. at the end of April. Along the way, they were joined by dozens of similarly affected men and women eager to find a solution to their economic plight.

The welcome they received was far from warm.

Henry Shrady: The Man Who Gave His Life for U.S. Grant’s Memorial

U.S. Grant Memorial Equestrian Statue

When sculptor Henry Merwin Shrady, along with architect Edward Pearce Casey, won the commission to design the Capitol's Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in 1902, neither man was quite aware of the scope of the project with which they were getting involved. The monument had first been proposed in 1895 by the Society of the Army of the Tennessee, which wanted a grand way to honor the general who led the Union Army to victory during the Civil War. Shrady threw himself into the project that would consume his life -- literally -- over the next 20 years.

Constantino Brumidi (Photo source: Architect of the Capitol)

The Michelangelo of the Capitol

In the U.S. Senate's sculpture collection, there are plenty of busts of instantly recognizable historical figures such as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. But enshrined alongside them, there's also the lushly-bearded, bowtie-wearing likeness of an obscure 19th Century Italian-American artist. While Brumidi, who signed his work "C. Brumidi Artist Citizen of the U.S.," isn't a famous name, he left a lasting mark on the U.S. Capitol, by creating striking frescoes and murals that add charm and grace to the building's interior.

Brumidi's work, which can be found throughout the Capitol, includes the fresco The Apotheosis of Washington in the Rotunda canopy. But his masterwork is the hallways on the first floor of the Senate wing, an assortment of frescoes and murals known as the Brumidi Corridors. Inspired by Raphael's Loggia in the Vatican, Brumidi's art is distinguished by his blending of classical imagery with patriotic American themes. The Washington Post once described Brumidi as "the genius of the Capitol," and noted that "so many of its stateliest rooms bear the touch of this tireless brush that he shall always be associated with it." Art historian Francis V. O'Connor has called him "the first really accomplished American muralist." A journalist of his time went even further, labeling him "the Michelangelo of the U.S. Capitol."

First Statue Representing D.C. Unveiled in U.S. Capitol

It was a long wait for sculptors and local politicians.

Since 2008, a seven-foot tall, 1,700 pound bronze statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass stood in the lobby of a building called One Judiciary Square. It remained there for five years while Washington officials fought to move it to another building less than a mile down the road: the U.S. Capitol. 

 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of Douglass’ statue in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall. The ceremony was the culmination of a fight spanning over a decade. 

Impressions of Washington: Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1862

Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, visited Washington, D.C. in 1862, as the Capital was gearing up for war against the Confederacy. If you remember Hawthorne at all from school, you won’t be surprised to find he had a lot to say.

He was particularly taken by the artist Emmanuel Leutze's painting "Westward the Course of the Empire Takes Its Way" in the U.S. Capitol and lamented what might happen to the work and the nation should the Union lose the war.

Bomb Rocks U.S. Capitol

Washington Post cartoon March 1, 1971.

In the wee hours of the morning on March 1, 1971, a disturbing phone call came in to the Senate telephone switchboard. A man “with a hard low voice” told the operator that the U.S. Capitol would blow up in 30 minutes.

In the past, operators had fielded similar threatening calls from time to time, but all of them had turned out to be false alarms or pranks. This one, however, would be different.

Impressions of Washington: "The head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva"

When Charles Dickens visited Washington in 1842, he had a lot to say. But, perhaps nothing caught his eye -- and ire -- as much as Washingtonians' obvious love of chewing tobacco.

As Washington may be called the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva, the time is come when I must confess, without any disguise, that the prevalence of those two odious practices of chewing and expectorating began about this time to be anything but agreeable, and soon became most offensive and sickening.