Look Inside the U.S. Capitol Dome Reveals a Desperately Needed Repair Job
Just as the last remnants of scaffolding covering the Washington Monument are coming down, workers are preparing to obscure another of the gems on the National Monument -- the Dome atop the U.S. Capitol building.
Just as the last remnants of scaffolding covering the Washington Monument are coming down, workers are preparing to obscure another of the gems on the National Monument — the Dome atop the U.S. Capitol building.
The Capitol was last renovated in 1960 and is badly in need of new repairs, as weather and water damage have broken several of the ornaments along the exterior of the dome and stained many of the fixtures within the rotunda.
The restoration process, which will soon get underway, is expected to last two years — covering the exterior of the dome in scaffolding that will be lit at night and temporarily closing parts of the inner rotunda.
There are 394 steps from the ground floor of the Capitol Building to the top of the Dome. Pictured: An interior view of the Capitol Dome. At right is the sandstone wall of the original Dome, designed by Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1824.
In 1855, Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter began work on the modern Dome, a 14.1 million pound cast-iron marvel that reaches 288 feet into the air. But after decades of wear-and-tear, the Dome is in serious need of renovations which are set to take at least two years.
The Dome, which was completed in 1865, leaks. Here, above, is one of dozens of drainage mechanisms set up throughout the interior of the Dome to prevent leakage into the Capitol Rotunda.
Some of the water damage is visible on these columns in the upper levels of the rotunda.
To repair the internal damage, workers will put up a "donut" canopy of netting to prevent anything from falling onto the rotunda floor during construction, while allowing visitors to see the Apotheosis of Washington fresco at the peak of the Dome.
During the early and final weeks of the restoration, workers will also construct a temporary walkway for visitors, members of Congress and staff to navigate through the rotunda. During that time, none of the statues or paintings in the area will be accessible.
The "donut," pictured, was originally constructed for an earlier renovation project in 1999, when workers removed approximately 180,000 pounds of lead-based paint from the space between the inner and outer Domes.
The mechanism from which the "donut" will hang is already in place at the top of the Dome, just below the Apotheosis of Washington. The canopy will be stable enough for workers to walk on, in order to retrieve fallen items as they work.
Several windows in the upper reaches of the Dome are cracked. They are all, however, original to the building so rather than replacing them, workers will melt and add epoxy to fill in the cracks, much as a mechanic would repair a broken car windshield.
The Architect of the Capitol's Head of Architecture, Kevin Hildebrand, demonstrates that one of the hatches — the rust-colored octagons visible from the interior of the rotunda — still opens. When the Dome was first constructed, workers would climb through the hatch to replace the light bulbs lining the interior of the rotunda. The handrail for those replacing the bulbs and outlets for those lights are still barely visible from the rotunda.
Some of the "hatches" as visible from the interior of the rotunda. Notice the paint peeling on one of the octagonal pieces on the bottom left.
Hildebrand points to a rusting bracket on the inside of the exterior wall of the Dome that has come almost completely free from the frame because of the sheer weight of the structure (remember, that's 14.1 million pounds of cast iron!). Visible are three nearly-square temporary support brackets that workers have installed to help bear the weight. Areas like this one will be prime targets for workers during the renovation.
Even the Apotheosis of Washington at the peak of the rotunda sports a crack or two.
The top of the rotunda as viewed from inside the dome. The netting above it is actually chain link fencing, designed to protect the Apotheosis of Washington below it from any falling debris. It was installed in 1960, during the last renovation effort.
Another view of the interior of the Dome. No, that isn't the Death Star.
The stairway leading up to the very peak of the Dome, where the lights signaling whether Congress is in session hang. Hildebrand says that AOC employees often jokingly compare the sign to a warning in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her friends enter the Haunted Forest: "I'd turn back if I was you!"
Hildebrand, however, admits that he has gone up the stairs a couple of times.
The "Convene Light" at the top of the Capitol is actually four lights, which are illuminated by the Architect of the Capitol's office when either chamber of Congress is in session. The location of the light switch — which is not at the top of the Dome itself — is something of a state secret and Hildebrand would not reveal its location.
Damage to the "Tholos" — the very upper reaches of the external dome upon which the Statute of Freedom sits.
When standing at the top of the Capitol Dome, Pierre L'Enfant's vision for the city becomes clear. Here, a view of the Capitol Visitor's Center going down East Capitol Street to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
A view of the Washington Monument from the top of the Capitol Dome.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.
The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.
The condition has long been considered untreatable. Experts can spot it in a child as young as 3 or 4. But a new clinical approach offers hope.
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At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze. She flashes a smile when I ask about her favorite subject (history), and grimaces when I ask about her least favorite (math). She seems poised and cheerful, a normal preteen. But when we steer into uncomfortable territory—the events that led her to this juvenile-treatment facility nearly 2,000 miles from her family—Samantha hesitates and looks down at her hands. “I wanted the whole world to myself,” she says. “So I made a whole entire book about how to hurt people.”
Isabel Caliva and her husband, Frank, had already “kicked the can down the road.” The can, in their case, was the kid conversation; the road was Caliva’s fertile years. Frank had always said he wanted lots of kids. Caliva, who was in her early 30s, thought maybe one or two would be nice, but she was mostly undecided. They had a nice life, with plenty of free time that allowed for trips to Portugal, Paris, and Hawaii.
“I wasn’t feeling the pull the same way my friends were describing,” she told me recently. “I thought, maybe this isn’t gonna be the thing for me. Maybe it’s just going to be the two of us.”
At times, she wondered if her lack of baby fever should be cause for concern. She took her worries to the Internet, where she came across a post on the Rumpus’ “Dear Sugar” advice column titled, “The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us.” The letter was from a 41-year-old man who was also on the fence about kids: “Things like quiet, free time, spontaneous travel, pockets of non-obligation,” he wrote. “I really value them.”
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New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu explains to his city why four monuments commemorating the Lost Cause and the Confederacy had to come down.
Last week, the City of New Orleans finished removing four monuments—to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee, and the postwar battle of Liberty Place. The removals occasioned threats, protests, and celebrations. On Friday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu explained to his city why he had concluded that the monuments needed to come down.
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U.K. police said at least 22 people are dead and 59 injured following the incident at Manchester Arena.
Here’s what we know:
—Greater Manchester Police said 22 people are dead and 59 injured following reports of an explosion at the Manchester Arena.
—The venue was the scene of an Ariana Grande concert. British Transport Police said there were “reports of an explosion within the foyer area of the stadium” at 10.30 p.m. local time, but Manchester Arena said the incident occurred “outside the venue in a public place.”
—There’s no word yet on what caused the incident, but authorities said they were treating the incident as a terrorist attack “until police know otherwise.”
—This is a developing story and we’ll be following it here. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -4).
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