An Inside Look at the Capitol

Photo Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Written by Katherine Davis

It is 12:57pm on a Monday afternoon. I place my purse on the conveyor belt, whip out my neon green staff identification badge, waltz through the metal detector without delay, and proceed through the brick-lined basement of the Russell Senate Office Building. I walk past the Senate barbershop full of old men in suits tending to what hair they have left, continue past the coffee shop filled with young staffers and proceed into the elevator. I step off on the third floor and walk down the hallway of seemingly endless tall, dark wooden doors. I turn and enter the last door on the right, the Office of Senator Jeff Sessions.

A cohort of tweens and their chaperone are already waiting for me in the front office. I drop my things behind my baby-sized desk, only befitting for the office intern, and turn to face my tour group. I offer them free peanuts, the prized product of the state of Alabama and proceed to begin my tour of the Capitol.

We take a sharp right out of the office and are immediately faced with the Russell Rotunda where most news broadcasts take place. Here I take the time to explain a bit of history. The Russell Senate Building, currently the oldest U.S. Senate building, was the first office space built to alleviate overcrowding in the Capitol. Following the construction of Russell, the Dirksen and Hart buildings were also introduced.

After explaining the preliminary history of the Russell Building, I take the group down to the basement for my favorite part of the tour: the Senate subway car. The system connects the three Senate office buildings to the main capitol. The journey feels reminiscent of a ride at Disney, but instead of little kids, the cars are filled with men in suits. Rumor has it that the glass windshields were added after complaints that the Senators’ hair kept getting messed up -which leads me to believe the barbershop should be under the Capitol rather than Russell.

We hop off at the Capitol Visitor’s Center which is swarming with “red coats”, the CVC employees. I find that calling them the “red coats” feels a bit ironic, given that the British Army tried to burn down the Capitol in 1814. We proceed to the Capitol Rotunda, where like the “artistic liberties” taken by John Trumbull in his depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I regurgitate what I can remember about each of the eight historical paintings that line the walls, likely adding in extra characters and mixing up dates.

I set the Alabamians free at the exit of the CVC, concluding the tour with another offer of free Alabama peanuts (we have more in the office than we know what to do with). Having successfully made it through another tour, I reward myself by setting off to find the hidden Dunkin Donuts in the Library of Congress, but that is a story for another day.

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