Of all the valuable artwork visible during my tour of the U.S. Capitol, the statues of famous Americans were the most memorable to me. Sure, I looked up at “The Apotheosis of Washington,” which was discussed in Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol,” but the statues were my favorite thing to see. Each state has two statues. Our tour guide, an intern named Logan from Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr.’s office, pointed out that Tennessee technically has three famous sons represented: John Sevier, Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston, who was governor of Tennessee before becoming governor of Texas.
The two figures from California interested me. The states are allowed to replace their statues. The addition of Ronald Reagan sent some other guy into cold storage. The base of his statue in the Rotunda includes a visible ribbon of rubble from the Berlin Wall. Later, our tour guide was pointing out something else in Statuary Hall when he said, “it’s over by the guy with the cross.” My wife and I didn’t need to see the name on the base to recognize the iconic figure of Fr. Junipero Serra, who founded a string of Catholic missions along El Camino Real. Our kids had to each choose a mission and build a model of it in fourth grade at St. Finbar School.
A “portrait monument” honoring three women’s suffrage leaders, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, appears to be unfinished. Our tour guide said that the rumor around Capitol Hill is that the hunk of unhewn marble will someday be carved into the likeness of our first female president. He also told us that no living person can be represented by a statue in the Capitol.
Astronaut Jack Swigert died of cancer after being elected to Congress but before taking office. His colorful statue, one of the two from Colorado, is on display in the Capitol Visitor Center. He is best known as one of the three crewmen aboard Apollo 13. Kevin Bacon played him in the movie.
In the crypt under the Rotunda, we could stand in the exact center of Washington and simultaneously be in all four quadrants of the city. We were told that many lawmakers rub their foot on the spot for good luck before one of their bills is voted on. Nearby is a model of the Capitol grounds, which we were studying when I looked up to see freshman Congressman Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee’s 4th district. I knew that his incumbent opponent had waged a brutal and misleading mudslinging campaign, which obviously failed. I congratulated the congressman on “fighting the good fight” with a fist-bump on his shoulder. In hindsight, I felt stupid about touching a congressman, even if I had momentarily thought of him as a regular guy from Tennessee.