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What's hiding in National Statuary Hall?

AOC employee working on touching up columns in Statuary Hall
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Next time you’re in Statuary Hall on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol near the House Chamber, look closely at the windows behind the statues of Jefferson Davis and Uriah Milton Rose on the east side of the room. They may look like windows, but they’re not.

In the late 1990s, when the demand for electricity outgrew the method for supplying it to Statuary Hall, the AOC came up with a creative solution for solving the problem without intruding on the room’s historic look and feel. The fake windows — there are four of them in Statuary Hall — are actually cubbyholes for electrical equipment used by the media and others during special events in Statuary Hall (see inset photos).

A window being renovated in the US Capitol

On either side of Statuary Hall are what appear to be tall, square sandstone columns — but they’re actually speakers for when amplification is needed in the room during special programs.

“You don’t want 10-foot-tall black speakers detracting from the architecture of the room or the statues,” said Matthew McDonald, Painter/Decorator, who has been with the AOC for nearly 12 years. “We were asked to paint them to look like the walls.”

The AOC also came up with creative solutions for hiding wires leading to the lamps on the columns in Statuary Hall, which used to be oil-burning. They are now wired for electricity, but you will probably never see the wires. The flat cable assembly is hidden by expertpainting that makes it blend into the columns.

The Architect of the Capitol’s Historic Preservation Officer, Mary Oerhlein, offers a simple explanation for why historic preservation matters.

“As the most important building in the country and the symbol of our democratic nation, the U.S. Capitol needs to be here 500 years from now,” said Oerhlein. “We need to be conscious of what we do every day that could impact the life of the building.”

Workers renovating a window in the Capitol

According to Oerhlein, historic preservation on one level is understanding and appreciating history and what it teaches us about ourselves. However, preservation also means taking action.

“It’s the process of maintaining and preserving our heritage assets, which at the U.S. Capitol include the buildings, grounds, memorials, monuments, statuary, artwork, furniture, chandeliers, mirrors, and even historic plant species at the Botanic Garden,” said Oerhlein.

Visitors learn a lot about historic preservation at the Capitol Visitor Center's (CVC) Exhibition Hall. The six history alcoves on the west side of Exhibition Hall hold scale models of the U.S. Capitol and grounds that show their expansion and architectural history.

The touchable scale model of the U.S. Capitol Dome, which is appealing to children and adults of all ages, provides a great way for visitors to get close to the structural details of the Dome.

A posted explanation near the touchable objects along the east wall of Exhibition Hall reminds visitors that touching historic objects can cause damage. Visitors are encouraged to touch these models and look for the real things when they tour the U.S. Capitol. For example, visitors can touch a replica of the snake door pulls for the House Chamber or a facsimile of a bronze bird’s nest from one of the ornate railings on the north and south staircases in the House and Senate wings.

“Historic preservation doesn’t mean that you stop time,” Oehrlein concluded. “It simply means that we continue to use the buildings without damaging or destroying those parts that are architecturally or historically significant.

More Photos

This story was first published in AOC Foundations and Perspectives.

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