After a rather tumultuous year of news in Washington, D.C., Jamie Dupree is off this week. But he left behind one of his favorite blogs.
One of the great things about working in the U.S. Capitol is that it is part office and part museum, with all sorts of history around every corner. This week, the curtain was pulled back just a little on a small window into the Capitol’s past – and I hope that window might stay open for the future.
My first job on Capitol Hill was in the summer of 1980, so I’ve been walking the halls of Congress for some time, keeping an eye out for history.
As I was wandering around the halls of Congress earlier this week (checking the traps, as I like to say), I noticed some type of work was being done on a window that used to be on the outside wall of the Capitol, but is now inside on the Senate side of the building.
This old photo of the Capitol from the 1840’s shows the building without the big dome, and without the wings for the House and Senate; the orange arrow that I drew shows you the window that I’m talking about on the third floor of the Capitol, which was the outside wall until the east side of the Capitol was extended out by about 30 feet in the 1950’s.
For as long as I can remember, those last three windows – now on the inside of the building – have been clouded over, sort of like smoked glass, with some shutters right behind it, as staffers, tourists, reporters, Senators and others pass by.
I always wondered what was behind the windows, but never was sure. I really thought it was a ‘hideaway’ office for a Senator.
But this week, one of the window panes was clear, so I rushed over to take a look.
What was back there?
I honestly thought it might lead to some long forgotten area of office space on the Senate side of the Capitol – but instead, it was something more interesting.
Much more interesting.
Through the wooden shutters on the inside, that window looks down into the Old Senate Chamber.
This was where the Senate met from 1819-1859. Think of the debates in that room. The Missouri Compromise. The Compromise of 1850. The caning of Sen. Charles Sumner happened down there. All sorts of United States history, good and bad.
If you are visiting the Capitol as a tourist, you can go into the Old Senate Chamber – to me, it is one of the highlights of any visit. But the third floor view is one that wasn’t available.
And for years, reporters, tourists, lawmakers and staff have walked by that window on the third floor, unable to peek from above into one of the most historic rooms in the entire Capitol.
From the floor of the Old Senate Chamber, you can see up to the window that was usually covered up:
I know, I’m a geek for the U.S. Capitol. But it was really cool to be able to see into this room, a view that I had no idea even existed from the third floor. Like I said – I go by there every day.
In one sense, it’s a window into the history of the Capitol and this country.
So, I wrote a note to the Architect of the Capitol, asking for the window to stay open. Who knows if anyone will listen.
But I would hate to go another 35 years without being able to look through it again.
Unfortunately, the view through the window did not last long. As I went to grab some lunch on Wednesday, there were workers putting the regular smoked glass window pane back in place.
Good thing I wasn’t on vacation this week. I would have missed a great view.