Washington DC – The Capitol Dome

RISING far above the Capitol is the great dome, an object of imposing beauty, to be seen for miles around. No edifice in the world possesses a dome equal to it in grand, classic symmetry, and in size it is only equaled by the domes of St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s in London, and the Hotel des Invalides in Paris. It was designed by Thomas U. Walter, and erected by Charles Fowler. The most beautiful forms of classical architecture are embodied in it. It is of cast iron, and is a vast sphere nearly 3,576 tons in weight. The builder states that it was constructed on a series of ribs which give support to the large outer plates, which are bolted together. It is nearly all of one metal, and the plates are so arranged that they will expand and con-tract ” like the folding and unfolding of a lily, all moving together.” Any atmospheric change that will move one part will also move all the others — the plates, the bolts, and the other mechanism, and ” the Rocky Mountains will budge as quickly ” as this ponderous iron structure, which is likely to endure for ages. It is prevented from rusting by covering it yearly with white paint in solid coatings. It rises from a colossal peristyle, with tall, fluted columns, above which is a balustrade, and above this an ” attic.” On its top is a ” lantern,” fifteen feet in diameter, and fifty feet high, which is crowned by a huge bronze statue of Freedom. This statue stands three hundred and seventy-seven feet eleven inches above the level of the Potomac River. From the base line of the eastern front of the Capitol to the top of the statue it is two hundred and eighty-seven feet eleven inches. Thomas Crawford modeled the figure, which is that of the Goddess of Liberty, with a ” liberty cap ” of eagle’s feathers, suggested to the sculptor by Jefferson Davis, when Secretary of War. The figure is nine-teen and one-half feet in height, and weighs 14,985 pounds. It was cast at a foundry in Bladensburg, Md., and cost nearly $25,000.

The body of the statue was raised to the lantern on the dome a few days previous to the 2d of December, 1863, and on that day the head was placed on the body with patriotic ceremony. All the forts around Washington fired rapid salutes as the head of the goddess was care-fully hoisted over the vast iron sphere, and when it had reached the summit and was securely fastened to the body, flags were dipped on every public building, and in every encampment in and near the city, and a hundred guns on the District and Virginia hills rang out deep-toned salutations to the glorious emblem of liberty.