- United States Capitol crypt
The United States Capitol crypt is the large circular room filled with forty neoclassical doric columns directly beneath the
United States Capitol rotundaand was built originally to support the rotunda, as well offer an entrance to Washington's Tomb. Presently, it serves as a museum, a repository for six statues of the National Statuary Hall Collection, and as the location of a Capitol gift shop.
Origin and construction
The crypt originated with the initial designs drawn up for the
United States Capitolby Doctor William Thornton, which called for a rotundato be placed between the two wings of the building. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/capitol/capitol_construction.cfm Architect of the Capitol (AoC) site on Construction history.] ] The room beneath the rotunda was therefore required to support the large space above it. However, construction did not begin on the central part of the Capitol, where the rotunda and the room beneath it were located, until after the War of 1812.
Construction on the Capitol, itself, began in 1793, when the first American President,
George Washington, laid down the cornerstoneto the north wing of the building. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/capitol/capitol_construction.cfm AoC site on Construction history.] ] Upon the death of Washington, in 1799, the designers of the Capitol went to Martha Washingtonand requested permission to build a tomb for her husband in the Capitol. She acquiesced to this request and plans were made to construct the tomb underneath the floor that supported the rotunda. This area then received the title crypt, as it would serve as the entry to the tomb.Delays wracked the construction efforts of the Capitol's builders, notably the interruption by the War of 1812, when all construction came to a halt. Then, dramatically in August 1814, the British captured the city of Washington, and set fire to the Capitol, nearly destroying the entire building. Thus, when construction began after the war, in 1815, it initially was to rebuild what had been lost to the fire. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/capitol/capitol_construction.cfm AoC Construction History.] ]
The central section of the Capitol, which housed the rotunda and the crypt, was not completed until 1827, under the oversight of
Architect of the Capitol Charles Bulfinch. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/capitol/capitol_construction.cfm AoC Construction history.] ] However, the plans to inter Washington in the Capitol fell apart when attempts were made to retrieve his body from Mount Vernon, the President's home, due to the legal contractions of Washington's will and refusal of the plantation's then owner, John Washington. Thus ended the function of the room as a true crypt, but the name remained regardless.
A marble compass was set into the floor of the chamber to mark the center point of the
District of Columbia, where the four quadrants of the city begin. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/capitol/crypt.cfm AoC site on crypt.] ]
Present day usage
The crypt serves as the main thoroughfare of the ground floor of the Capitol and as a museum. In addition, it is the terminating spot for all tours provided by the
United States Capitol Guide Service. Multiple exhibits on the history of the Capitol's construction are located throughout the room, from the ground breaking to a model of the grounds upon the completion of the Capitol Visitor Center. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/capitol/crypt.cfm AoC site on crypt.] ] A gift shop is located against the east side of the room and operated by the United States Capitol Historical Society, and an office for the Congressional Special Services Officeis located off the northwest corner of the chamber.
The tomb underneath the Crypt which originally was reserved for Washington now serves as the storage area for Lincoln's catafalque, the support that was built for Abraham Lincoln's body after his assassination.
National Statuary Hall Collection
There are six statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection located in the crypt. Going clockwise from the east entrance of the chamber, they are:
*Robert R. Livingston from
New York, bronze, by Erastus Dow Palmerin 1875.
Caesar Rodneyfrom Delaware, marble, by Bryant Bakerin 1934.
Samuel Adamsfrom Massachusetts, marble, by Anne Whitneyin 1876.
John C. Calhounfrom South Carolina, marble, by Frederick Ruckstullin 1910.
Sakagaweafrom North Dakota, bronze, by Leonard Crunellein 2003.
Crawford W. Longfrom Georgia, marble, by J. Massey Rhindin 1926.
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