What has over a dozen statues, Thomas Jefferson’s donated, personal library and is full of murals? The answer is not singularly the Capitol Building or the Library of Congress, but rather both, the US Capitol and Library of Congress, connected by an underground tunnel. Which one should keep in mind, as it cuts down extremely on the time between going back and forth; it also means less security check points (which means less hassle with belts, jewelry, money and everything else that we have to remove).
Arriving at the Capitol Building, you are struck by two things. One, that it is air-conditioned; blessed, wonderful air conditioning. The second, is that there is a ridiculously long line for the capital tour; it is extremely recommended that you book a tour beforehand, to skip the lines and general chaos.
If your tour isn’t for another hour or so (like ours) upon arrival, you can always check out the museum. In this quiet, dimly lit room there is all manner of history concerning the Capitol Building and Washington D.C. in general. For instance, you will find out about the time the Capitol was nearly burned to the ground, and the rate of expansion during the various time periods in D.C., among other things. If you read all the signs and plaques before your tour (an impressive feat, I assure you), there’s a step-by-step presentation showing the process of how a bill becomes a law, though I find the video by School House Rock to be more comprehensive and easier to understand, personally.
Okay, so you’ve finished the museum, and it’s time for your tour; the interesting part has finally come! That is, if you didn’t find architectural and government factoids entertaining (who doesn’t?!). You will be lead around by an employee who speaks into a microphone that is directly connected to devices that you hang around your neck with headphones plugged in. Which is a handy way of reducing the amount of shouting matches that occur between tour guides; this also sadly reduces the amount of tour guide brawls that occur, but their job isn’t to be that entertaining.
You may notice occasionally that you just won’t be able to hear your tour guide; that’s fine, you’re just in a dead zone. What’s that you may ask? Oh, it’s just one of those spots where the devices around your neck don’t function properly and don’t receive the signals from the guide’s microphone; that’s okay though, because you can just remove your headphones and listen to him without until you move on. While I won’t cover the entire tour in detail (that is their job after all), I will mention a few things.
First off, when in the crypt, when you see those old columns, do not lean on them. They hold up basically the entire building, and they haven’t been replaced. Just…just don’t touch them, okay? Second, while the crypt looks cool and has many statues in them (at some point so many the floor was sagging underneath the weight), it does not contain what it was originally built for; to contain the body of George Washington. The reason being the crypt was not finished until decades after Washington’s death, and when the government went to Washington’s family, asking for his body, they refused to give it up. The government persisted and the Washington family sued Congress; the end result was a law being passed that ol’ George’s body can’t leave Virginia soil.
Of course, the Capitol Building is only half of the journey. The Library of Congress has many features of it’s own, though two stand out to me the most. The first is the ceiling; I don’t know what it is with the government and elaborately designed ceilings, but there is most certainly an infatuation with them. Intricate murals and carved stone in the ceiling and borders will take your breath away and are quite picture worthy. To me, though, that wasn’t the main attraction. Oh no, that was to come.
You may notice a line of people (those sure are common in D.C. huh?) standing at the foot of a staircase. You might even wonder why they’re standing there; well, they’re waiting to see Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. It’s okay if you just squealed like a small child, I do it every time; there’s no shame.
Why is Jefferson’s library there? Well, you see, in the war of 1812, English soldiers marched down and burnt our capitol after we attacked them. This resulted in a tragic loss of books that (probably) left many in ridiculous levels of tears and depression, as it would any sane person. How does Jefferson come into play? Oh, he just did this little thing where he donated his personal library to Congress to help rebuild their library. They thanked him by dedicated a room to his library, putting them all in a circle of glass cases and proudly displaying them to all bookworms who have an interest.
When you walk in to a circle of hundreds of books, anything can happen to you; I personally salivated a little. And really, really wanted to touch them; you can’t, but that wouldn’t stop me from trying. I didn’t try, in case you’re interested…but I wanted to. See books that belonged to a president in droves is an experience that impacted me greatly.
Because of that, the rest of the Library of Congress is a vague blur. I faintly remember seeing the actual Library of Congress, which also has hundreds or thousands of books that line all walls within sight. You can’t get in without a card (which I, unfortunately, do not have), but you can press your nose against the glass and fog it up with your breath. Not that I would know from experience; vague blur remember?
So what can you take away from this? The first, and most important, thing to take away from this is don’t touch the columns in the crypt of the Capitol Building. Don’t. Touch. Them. Secondly, the federal government has a thing for elaborate ceiling murals and frescoes. Lastly, seeing a room of books that are hundreds of years old will produce unexpected reactions which you may not be prepared for. Make sure to remember that there’s a tunnel connecting the two buildings, that is, thankfully, air conditioned. Oh, and, actually, don’t press your nose up against their glass and fog it up. They, um, they actually don’t like that.