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Visiting the U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

With family in town from the Midwest, we are always eager to show them around. With most of the popular locations long visited, like Gettysburg and the Smithsonian Museums of D.C., we looked for interesting things that lie under the radar.

United State Capitol Building
Jeannette Marxen

Any visit to the center of Washington, D.C. will offer countless views of the U.S. Capitol. The massive domed building rises above the Mall, thanks in part to the slight hill that it resides on. Despite the prominence of the Capitol, most people have probably not ventured into the halls and galleries of the legislative seat. The guided tours are free to the public but to venture past the Visitor Center, you will need to book timed tickets online. The Visitor Center is located underneath the large plaza in the back of the Capitol. After a quick move through security, you are free to wander through the main section, looking at statues donated from states around the country, often portraying their own famous children, like Helen Keller from Alabama and King Kamehameha from Hawaii.

After watching a short movie about the history of the Capitol you meet with your tour guide and are on the move. Along the tour you visit the gallery where Washington was originally supposed to be entombed. The hallways are full of statues from around the country and the tour guides are able to easily tell you where your state statues are located. Along the way you stop by the old Supreme Court, old Senate Chamber and old House Chamber which all look as if they belonged in a royal palace in Europe. In the old House Chamber you get to experience the ’whispering spot.’ The story goes that John Adams used to pretend to be asleep at his desk but in fact he was listening to conversations across the room, thanks to the chambers acoustics. Even with the murmured noise from other tour groups, you will be able to hear as your tour guide tries it out.

The Rotunda is one of the highlights of the tour. The impressive gallery is filled with massive paintings, murals chronicling America’s history and a massive dome with an ornate painting above. As you crane your neck to take it all in, it doesn’t seem too surprising that the Statue of Liberty (once taken off her podium) would still come up short of touching the top of the dome.

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