Wednesday, July 15, 2015

a capitol vacation

Besides Presidential Libraries, my trip to the outer midwest included four state capitols within a week. With such close proximity, I can rate them, from most enjoyable to most, um, memorable.

1. Iowa. This is a nifty building that's bright and shiny without being gaudy. It's got a big dome and four subsidiary minion domes, possibly minarets, for no other reason than that the designers liked this idea. They look like this:
Inside is the even more fabulous Iowa State Law Library, a room so beautiful it makes you want to sit down with a cozy volume of the Federal Reporter. It looks like this:
Iowa is proud of its open access government. We were told you can enter any office in the building where there isn't a meeting going on. We milled around the governor's reception area as a phalanx of Sharply-Dressed Young Persons got up from the reception couch on which they were seated and trooped into the inner office for a meeting with the governor.

2. Kansas. A pretty basic standard model capitol building from the outside, with sunflowers planted around it, its glories are on the inside, with the tall and impressive dome which you can climb inside on precarious stairs all the way up.
Also impressive, at least to us, was the large county outline map of the state engraved on the floor in the lobby.
But most impressive was the long historical mural on one wall. It's by an at-the-time controversial 1930s Kansan nationalistic artist named John Steuart Curry. The most famous part of it depicts John Brown in Bleeding Kansas days and looks like this:
You know what was the most controversial part of it? The tornado and prairie fire in the background. People didn't want it getting out that Kansas had those. Must never have read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Kansas gets honorable mention for having the best tour guide. Young, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, he not only gave a lively and intelligent presentation but also offered to take us up the dome even though that wasn't supposed to be part of our tour. Like Iowa but unlike the others, Kansas has metal detector security; like Iowa's but unlike an airport's, the guards were friendly and reasonable.

3. Missouri. An even bigger standard model capitol building, it bears the additional intimidation of being situated atop a hill, meaning you're already tired by the time you get inside. Inside it's darker and more intimidating than the previous two, except for one legislative reception room that's not dark but sure is intimidating, as three walls are completely covered by a riotously colorful and action-filled historical mural by Thomas Hart Benton, which looks like this:
That's Huck and Jim on the upper left, over the door, with various 19th century-style economic and political scenes occupying the rest of the visible area, less than half of the whole, which goes all the way up to Pendergast. The guide's hand is extended near the part that made this mural controversial, a baby's bare bottom being diapered.

4. Nebraska. What the hey? Designed and mostly built during the 1920s futurist era, this looks both outside and inside like an escapee from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (with about as much color sense, too). The outside is something of a cross between Hoover Tower, only much uglier, and the Dark Tower from C.S. Lewis. It looks like this:
The inside corridors were dark, gloomy, oppressive and depressing, and reminded my brother of something out of a Tim Burton movie.
Our tour guide was so deadly dull we abandoned the tour after ten minutes. Apparently, from the sound of it, a fully paid-up member of the Slow Talkers of America, he spoke with the weird emphases of an insincere TV news anchor, and took us down the corridor in minute increments to explain the symbolism of each floor mosaic in greater and more numbing detail than the last.

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