The United States Capitol

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East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC 20004

In Advise and Consent:

“This building,” one of the Capitol guides was telling the day’s first batch of tourists, listening attentively in the great rotunda, “stands on Capitol Hill 88 feet above the level of the Potomac River, on a site once occupied by a subtribe of the Algonquin Indians known as the Powhatans, whose council house was located at the foot of the hill. The building covers an area of 153,112 square feet, or approximately 3 1/2 acres. Its length from north to south is 751 feet, four inches; its width, including approaches, is 350 feet. It has a floor area of 14 acres, and 435 rooms are devoted to offices, committees, and storage. There are 679 windows and 554 doorways. The cornerstone of the Capitol was laid on September 18, 1793.”  Page 119

In Real Life:

When I first started tracking the locations in Advise and Consent, I imagined myself wandering around the cavernous halls of the United States Capitol – poking my head into the office of the Senior Senator from Michigan, a main – fictitious – character in the novel. Yes, I know Bob Munson wouldn’t have been there but it would be cool to see the office. Or maybe I would stick my head into the office of the Senior Senator of Utah to check out where THE BIG TURNING POINT in the novel went down.  Or – I thought – I could check in with the Press Corp. None of that happened. In fact, I found my role at the Capitol to be much like that of the tourists who come up every few chapters. Allen Drury weaves them into the fabric of the novel – painting a picture of their permanence on the capitol scene.

These days – the tourists are still ever present at the U.S. Capitol, but the experience they have has changed dramatically.  In 2008 an all-new Capitol Visitor Center opened. It allows the millions of people who visit each year to wait in line – in comfort – underground – surrounded by statues. And, security is a little tighter. Nobody wants anyone wandering around anywhere.  We went through a security check  – and then got in on passes from the office of U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, Dem., California.  Then we wandered around the visitor center with tourists from all over the world waiting for our tour to start. It began with a movie, Out of Many, One – which set the stage, if you will, about our democracy and what it set out to do. Then our tour guide handed us headsets, which he talked into quietly – like he was whispering in our ears – a solid move to cut down on the noise. Those are just a couple of upgrades since the days Drury was skulking around the Capitol

Our guide walked us through the Crypt where President George Washington was supposed to be buried – but he opted out – instead, he was buried at Mount Vernon. We zipped through the Rotunda – which was filled with artwork and statues – and one in particular that I loved – Alexander Hamilton. We examined paintings, especially the one that features Hamilton – again – the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull. My man Hamilton is 4th from the left. So that was cool. We took in some information about the dome.   I noticed our tour was not quite as detailed as the ones Drury dipped into every now and then in Advise and Consent.  But he could have been making all that detail up for the tour guides – to give his readers some solid information about the U.S. Capitol to save people from the embarrassing questions he had them ask – like, “Where does the President work?”  or  – “‘We’ve seen the Senate and the House, now can you tell us where we can see Congress?’”

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