The Made in America Award brought me the privilege of a private tour of the U.S. Capitol, conducted by Annette Lantos, the widow of former Congressman Tom Lantos.
Her husband emigrated from Hungary in 1946 , and by 1981 was elected to Congress to represent part of the San Francisco area. After 27 years of faithful leadership, he died in 2008, having been the only Holocaust survivor to have served in the U.S. Congress. Annette and their two daughters continue the family tradition of activism for human rights for us as well as for the improvement of the government of the United States. Just being in Mrs. Lantos’ presence was a humbling experience. Shown here in the Capitol’s Rotunda are Annette Lantos, Jim Delorbe of Made in America, and my colleague Martha Riviere.
Annette let us watch a session of the U.S. House of Representatives, in which Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina pleaded with his colleagues for an end to the war and spending in Afghanistan, noting that the people and the money could be put to really good use here at home. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting member from the District of Columbia, urged members to cease putting unusual and undue burdens on citizens living in the nation’s capital. Then Annette led us to the Senate Chamber, but unfortunately for me, the Senate was not in session. Unfortunately for all of us, no photos are allowed in many significant areas and even hallways and elevator doorways, but I was still thrilled to watch a part of our government at its daily work. Finally Annette hosted us to a delicious lunch in the Senate Dining Room.
The Capitol building itself channels Greco-Roman architecture and design. It’s easy to tell that our Founders took inspiration from the ideals and built environment of classical civilization. Julius Caesar himself would feel right at home here, and the highly vigilant security guards might have saved him from Brutus’ knife. In the central Rotunda, we looked up 180 feet to the painting The Apotheosis of George Washington, to see how all the heavens welcomed him as a god into their midst. Caesar would also have related to that deification process.
Under the Apotheosis and a band of arched windows is a balcony. Look under it at the fresco, The Frieze of American History, showing 400 years of our history. In the center of this photo, look slightly to the left at the Wright Brothers and their airplane at Kitty Hawk. Look to the center right for the arrival of Europeans in the New World. This amazing fresco measures 300 feet in circumference and was painted in a grisaille monotone of white and brown paints. I have over-exposed my photo to better show its details.
Underneath all that beauty, many tour groups swirled around us in the Rotunda.
Leaving the rotunda, Annette took us through the Capitol’s organized rabbit warren of parallel and criss-crossing alleés, broken occasionally with rotundas of varying sizes that let natural light into the building. A glance to the left or right exposed such wonders as the Office of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Or the original two-room suite of the Library of Congress, now housed in three building and growing. (Full disclosure: I once held a library position in Building 3.)
Or a lovely but minor rotunda.
Glance down to the floor in the original Senate Chamber, and you’re standing where a famous Congressman once had his desk.
For a longer vista, look out a window up the Mall to the Washington Monument.
Look in the other direction for the original building of the Library of Congress, which was inspired by the architecture and design of the Paris Opera House.
After Annette concluded our tour, I looked back for one final view of the Capitol over which the statue of Freedom stands tall.
What a wonderful experience. Thank you Annette Lantos!
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