The Great Rotunda is the first room visitors see when they visit the Capitol. In the center of the floor, a colored tile marks where great leaders, for example, Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln, have lain in state. The catafalque upon which the slain president's coffin lay can be seen in the basement below the Great Rotunda.
The dome mural, "The Apotheosis of Washington," was done by the Italian immigrant and Capitol Hill resident Constantino Brumidi. Brumidi was also responsible for the fresco that wraps around the room. His artwork ultimately proved fatal for the gifted painter. A fall from the scaffolding beneath the fresco lead to his death.
Eight giant oil paintings are also hung around the room. Half of them, those which depict George Washington, were created by Washington's aide, John Trumbull. His most famous painting depicts the signing of the Declaration of Independence. During the Civil War, when Union soldiers camped in the Rotunda, the paintings were covered up to protect them from any damage.
These chambers, where the House and Senate conduct their business, have been the site of many great American historical moments. Hundreds of debates, over prohibition, slavery, universal suffrage, and civil rights, have taken place on the stages of the House and Senate Chambers.
It was in these chambers that Andrew Johnson became the only president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. Johnson was nearly ousted by the Senate. The Senate needed a two-thirds majority to achieve that goal, but missed it by only one vote.
The Old House of Representatives Chambers, known as Statuary Hall, was where the House met until 1857. It was also known as the Whispering Hall because of an acoustical effect which allowed those standing in certain parts of the hall to hear the whispers of those across the room. The hall is encircled with statues representing various great Americans. A gold star also marks the spot John Quincy Adams fell to the floor after suffering a fatal stroke in 1848. He died shortly in an adjoining room.
The Old Senate Chambers, which has been transformed into a historical exhibit along with Statuary Hall, was the site of another, this time near, death incident. On May 22, 1856, Charles Sumner, a senator from Massachusetts, concluded a speech in which was in favor of admitting Kansas, a non-slave state, into the Union. During this speech, Sumner made various attacks on the legislators from South Carolina. After his speech, Sumner stayed in the Senate Chamber to work. Preston S. Brooks, a Representative from South Carolina, approached Sumner and started caning the sitting Senator. Brooks was later censured and forced to resign. He was quickly re-elected back, only to die the same month from a violent throat infection. Sumner never fully recovered from the incident and died in office in 1874.
Another particularly violent incident occurred on March 1, 1954, when four Puerto Rican Nationalists entered the House of Representative's House Gallery 11 and started firing. Five congressmen were wounded but fortunately no one was killed. Since that time, security at the Capital as been increased substantially.
Up until 1860, the Supreme Court was held in this little basement room. It then moved over to the Old Senate Chamber, before receiving its own building in 1934. The Court was given so little respect, during the first hundred years, that it was stuffed into the Capitol basement. Another reason for the lack of a separate courthouse may have been the enmity between planner Pierre L'Enfant and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It has been suggested that this animosity was the reason why L'Enfant deliberately left out the letter 'J' on the alphabetized city streets. For a long time, there was no such thing as a 'J Street'.
The basement was also the site of an historical event in the field of telecommunications. On May 24, 1844, after more than a year spent building a telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore, Samuel F. B. Morse sent the Biblical message, "What hath God wrought!" to Baltimore. Almost instantly the message was received and the line was now open for future communications between the two cities.
The crypt in which George Washington was to be held, before his family decided that his remains stay at Mount Vernon, is located here. The catafalque upon which Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy laid in state is also on view here. Also in this basement are the Brumidi Hallways. Dome artist Constantino Brumidi painted a series of historic events in these vaulted hallways, and left a number of spaces blank for future artists. One in particular portrays the crew of the Challenger Space Shuttle which exploded over Florida in January of 1986.
During the 1870s, Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York's Central Park, was hired to beautify the grounds of the Capitol. He was able to turn the grounds into one of the best formal landscapes in Washington. The Capitol grounds, with its rounded patterns of walkways and greenery, also feature a number of monumental landmarks, including the Grant Memorial, added in 1937, and the Capitol Reflecting Pool.
A number of landmarks which once were once located on the Capital Grounds, have been moved. The Bulfinch Gatehouses are now located on the Ellipse. The "Tripoli" statue has also been moved to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Finally, a rather famous statue of George Washington, which featured him wearing a toga, has been transferred to the Museum of American History.
House and Senate Offices
The U.S. Capitol