The Suitcase Lady


April 13, 2021, 9:29 pm

When our children were little, we bought them a book called Fifty State Capitols. With little text, it consisted of big, super-colorful pictures of all the magnificent Capitol buildings in America. We wanted to show them as much of their country as we could before they grew up, and that little book sparked their curiosity.

I thought of that booklet the other day as we were on a road trip out West and hit the jackpot of five state capitols in six days. They still impress. Here are the five, each with unique stories to tell.

Madison, Wisconsin- My own state Capitol sits proudly on a hill, and its massive dome is only 3 feet and 1/2 inch shorter than our nation’s Capitol in D.C. The dome is topped by a bronze statue of a woman named Wisconsin. Created by Daniel Chester French, she wears a helmet upon which is sitting a badger. This is not because our state is overrun by badgers. Rather, it is a tribute to our early lead miners who were derisively called “badgers”.

Madison, Wisconsin

Topeka, Kansas- The Kansas Capitol was completed in 1903, but discussions about what would top its dome continued for decades. The solution for many years was a lightbulb. Finally, in 2002, it was topped by a statue named Ad Astra (to the stars) which portrays a Kanza warrior with a bow shooting the North Star. The motto of Kansas is “ad astra per aspersa”, “to the stars through hardships”.

Topeka, Kansas

Des Moines, Iowa- When I first viewed the impressive Iowa state Capitol (they call it the statehouse) from I235, I thought it was a Catholic basilica. A huge central dome is flanked by four wings with four smaller domes. The central dome is covered with thin sheets of pure 23 – carat gold. The gold leaf has been replaced 5 times, the last restoration to the tune of $170,000.

Des Moines, Iowa

Santa Fe, New Mexico- At 7,000 feet above sea level, the New Mexico Capitol is the highest in America. It is also the only circular Capitol in the country and is affectionally known as “the Roundhouse”. The building is designed to look like the Zia sun symbol when viewed from above. There is no dome, but a rotunda in the center of the building is three stories tall with a skylight that mimics an Indian basket weave.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma- The Sooner State’s Capitol sits atop the massive Oklahoma City Oil Fields. Twenty-four oil wells dotted the Capitol grounds in the 1940s. One well on the front lawn sat in the center of a flower bed and was nicknamed Petunia #1. It was capped in 1986 (after earning one million dollars for the state), but the derrick still stands as a monument. Another unique feature of the Capitol is its dome. It didn’t have one until 2002. Although the building was completed in 1917, squabbles and money problems held up the dome’s completion for 85 years.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 1969 Pre-Dome


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