POLITICS: PennAve

Capitol's Statuary Hall celebrates nation's evolving history

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Washington loves its statues. In parks, outside public buildings and even at Nationals Park, stone and metal likenesses of historical figures are everywhere. And nowhere is this more true than at the Capitol, which this week celebrates the 150th anniversary of the National Statuary Hall, the former House chamber turned into a de facto museum.

Each state has donated two statues to honor residents notable in their history. Initially all the statues were housed in Statuary Hall, a two-story chamber ringed with marble columns and topped with a half-dome roof. But as the nation expanded so did the collection, and by 1933 the hall held 65 statues, which, in some cases, stood three deep. So display space was found in the nearby Rotunda and elsewhere in the Capitol. Currently, 38 of the 100 state statues are in Statuary Hall.

In the beginning the marble or bronze figures represented almost exclusively white men -- early presidents, statesmen, military heroes or pioneers, including George Washington (Virginia), Sam Adams (Massachusetts), Sam Houston (Texas) and Brigham Young (Utah).

But as newer states joined the union, the diversity of the individuals represented increased to include women and American Indians. And in recent years some states have replaced statues of long forgotten early residents with ones depicting people deemed more appropriate or contemporary, including former presidents Ronald Reagan (California) and Gerald Ford (Michigan), Helen Keller (Alabama), and 17th Century Indian ruler Po'pay (New Mexico).

Arizona state lawmakers recently approved sending a statue of former Sen. Barry Goldwater, a 1964 Republican presidential candidate, to the collection. It will replace a statute of John Campbell Greenway, a military hero and businessman who died in 1926.

After being shut out of the collection for almost a century-and-a-half, Congress in 2012 approved one statue for the District of Columbia. In June 2013, a bronze likeness of noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass donated by the District was unveiled in the Capitol Visitor Center.

“Our rich history fills these halls, and these statues tell the story,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “I'm honored to walk among the pride and joy of the states, and I encourage all Americans to visit National Statuary Hall.”

Here are some of the more noteworthy and unique statues in the collection (statue location and year it joined the collection is in parenthesis):



1. King Kamehameha I, Hawaii (1969, Capitol Visitor Center)

Shown wearing a golden cape and holding a spear, the bronze figure with solid granite base is perhaps the most visually stunning statue in the collection — and at more than six tons, it’s the heaviest. Under his rule, he unified all of the Hawaiian islands and established the Kingdom of Hawaii by 1810.

2. Esther Hobart Morris, Wyoming (1960, Hall of Columns)

When appointed justice of the peace for the Wyoming Territory’s South Pass District in 1870, she became the first woman to hold judicial office in the modern world.



3. John L. "Jack" Swigert Jr., Colorado (1997, Capitol Visitors Center)

Swigert was one of three astronauts aboard the Apollo 13 moon mission in 1970, which was aborted after an oxygen tank ruptured on the spacecraft's service module. The crew returned safely to earth. Swigert was portrayed by Kevin Bacon in Ron Howard's 1995 film "Apollo 13."

4. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Kansas (2003, Rotunda)

The statue of the president replaced that of 19th-century Kansas Gov. George W. Glick and marked the first time that a state had replaced one of its statues.



5. Chief Washakie, Wyoming (2000, Capitol Visitor Center)

One of the most respected leaders in Native American history, he spoke English, French and several Native American languages and befriended many white frontiersmen, including Kit Carson. Upon his death in 1900, he became the only known Native American to be given a full military funeral.

6. Robert E. Lee, Virginia (1909, Statuary Hall)

Lee served as a commander in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.



7. Father Damien, Hawaii (1969, Hall of Columns)

Born in 1840 in Belgium of well-to-do parents, this Catholic missionary priest devoted his life to ministry for people with leprosy.

8. John Gorrie, Florida (1914, Statuary Hall)

A physician, scientist, inventor and humanitarian, Gorrie is considered the father of refrigeration and air conditioning.



9. Rosa Parks (2013, Statuary Hall)

While not part of the states collection, this congressionally commissioned statue of the late civil rights activist attracts some of the largest crowds visiting Statuary Hall.

10. Marcus Whitman, Washington (1953, Statuary Hall)

A 19th century physician and missionary, he helped lead the first large party of wagon trains to the Oregon Territory, know as the "Great Emigration," that helped establish the Oregon Trail.

Images courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol. Information from the Architect of the Capitol was used for this article. For more information about the National Statuary Hall's collection go to this link.

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