I still needed to pick up my camera at the repair shop just off State Street so I headed to the city after voting to take care of that. First stop was the capitol building because I've been longing to return ever since the startling discovery inside the rotunda in D.C. It occurred to me I was doing this on election day so it seemed even more appropriate. I floated in and rubbernecked as if it were the first time. It really is a magnificent building and everything from the doors to the dome overwhelms me every time.
I whistled my tune a bit as I walked in from the west entrance enjoying the fine acoustics within. I heard children further on and their voices chattered ceaselessly as they hurried about, unheeding of the fact that I just wanted the place to myself for a time. Everyone who has ever attended grade school in Wisconsin has made a trip to the capitol building with their fourth grade class. I remember my trip back then and the class photo we took on one of the stairways to the first balcony. We spent the day in the area and also visited the museums and the Civic Center. I wonder how many of them would feel the same way I did today when they get older.
I walked to the middle of the room and took in all that I could. There is just so much more to see compared to the one in D.C. that the difference is like night and day. The green marble columns topped with gold-leaf scroll work, the giant paneled archways to each wing, the glass tiled mosaics, the balconies with endless balustered railings all combine to give me just a hint of what Randolph Carter may have seen in the dreamworld glimpses of his marvelous sunset city.
I found myself in the center of the main floor looking 20 or so stories up at the "Resources of Wisconsin" painting on the ceiling. My eyes drifted and set longingly on the narrow balcony and railing some ways up above the two main balconies and grand staircases. I've always wanted to see the view from up there but as far as I knew it was closed to the public being a safety hazard. I instead walked about my usual route up to the first two levels and made my way all the way around each time. By then the schoolkids had gone and I was left with a few moments of peace. I gazed out across the expanse from under a small archway down the opposite wing until I saw a security guard walk out to the center of the room facing me and just stand there until I left. I don't think he was the one I would later meet and forever indebet myself to.
Having seen a cutaway diagram of the dome on the main floor from the second story balcony I walked down to examine it and place in my mind the places I had been to in relation to the others. Once down I saw the information desk beyond and decided to inquire further about my desires. I asked the girls there about tours and when they're available. I didn't want one today but found I could drop by midday just about any day to join one. What I really wanted was to go up to the fourth floor balcony around the dome and I asked about it. They said that the observation deck was open until the end of the week! I was surprised, confused and excited all at once. I followed their directions and hurried to the elevator and up two flights of stairs. I recognized the entrance to the museum, entered and climbed the spiral staircase to find not quite what I was hoping for. The observation deck is outside of the dome and wraps all the way around the building at 92 feet up. I'd never been there before and it was great to see the view from each direction of the capitol as I walked around but what I wanted to see was inside. I went back in and asked the man at the desk in the small museum about where I wanted to go and his answers weren't very promising. I realized then that getting there would take even longer than I had anticipated but I resolved to follow it all the way through until I had a conclusive answer!
Back down to the information desk I thanked the girls for their directions and told them where I really wanted to go. Finally realizing where I was referring to they agreed that it would be quite a view and admitted not having access those types of areas. I began inquiring again as to what contacts I should begin making in case someday, somehow, I might possibly have the chance of making it up to the fourth floor interior balcony of the rotunda.
They barely had time to begin when a security guard (actually, a capitol police officer whose name I unfortunately forget because I couldn't pronounce it) who had been leaning on their desk this whole time chimed in and and asked exactly where it was I wanted to go. I pointed it out again and he said something about going up right now but not later this week. He had a hispanic accent and I had to ask again to figure out what he had said. Then again to fully understand what he meant. Then again because I couldn't believe it! He was offering to take me up to the balcony and... what's this? Higher? What? All the way up to the top??! Right now?! One of the information desk girls (whose name I would later learn is Anna) became increasingly excited through all this and asked to come along. The guard was happy to oblige and went to grab some keys while we waited. We were both excited, sharing the same sence of awe and wonder about the building and briefly related similar desires of exploration until he returned.
We took a different elevator back up to the fourth floor and up two more different flights of stairs. -- The capitol is quite symmetrical and it's easy to get lost or exit the wrong wing if you're not careful. -- Up to a different side of the museum level again and into an area used primarily, it seems, as storage space. I noticed a large pendulum clock and tried not to imagine the task of getting it there. I wasn't sure exactly where we were but knew that going up the spiral staircase next to us would lead to the observation deck as mentioned above.
The guard searched his keyring. Anna and I smiled at each other in anticipation as he unlocked and opened the inner door. As I stepped up and through my breath was taken from me as I suddenly saw some several dozen yards across from me a decoratively painted wall in a bright, wide open space. A stark contrast to the dim, narrow, cramped and dusty walkway curved around the outer wall in which we were standing. Out and away was the opposite wall of the rotunda and I nearly tripped down the ramp as from the door is a step down to the walkway. Anna did the same a moment before me but I was too distracted to caution myself. The walkway was much wider and sturdier than I was led to believe and I had no trouble stepping out to the edge to.... look .... d.. d... down.
This was the rotunda trumpeter's ring at 83 feet up. There was a brief ledge beyond the railing and below that I could see the tiled mosaics that I had so long looked at from the main floor. The main floor w... was farther down than I expected, but according to the diagram I saw earlier we were only about a third of the way up. I could see more fourth graders wandering around and they noticed us. They waved; we waved back. Maaan, I bet they were sooo jealous. The guard came out and said it was all right to go all the way around. He also pointed out the acoustics of that area and Anna and I had a quiet conversation from opposite sides of the dome, hearing each other perfectly without having to raise our voices. Time was finite tho' so we headed on.
He unlocked the gate blocking the spiral staircase and up we went up the longest trek of stairs for the next few minutes around and around until I feared I would no longer be able to walk a straight line again. I peeked through windows into the rotunda and finally learned wherein the dark panes of glass seen from inside viewed. Up up up to the second observation deck where we went outside we had a wonderful view of the city from 157 feet up. Again Anna and I walked all the way around either side and once more to fully appreciate the sight. Wind from the lakes proved it was a very November day and we were glad to get back inside.
The stairs changed into an inclined staircase and inside a large open room I could see very plainly that we were climbing atop the inside of the dome itself. There is a small open ring where we could see the dome mural "Resources of Wisconsin" close up. Close enough to touch. Close enough to see the brush strokes! There is a gap between the mural and balcony where we could look down at the rotunda floor 184 feet below. I was overawed. I had never even seen this view from the restoration documentaries I watched on public television a few years ago. I marveled at the massive bullseye formed by by the lower balconies and patterns in the marble floors. I had often felt a reverse vertigo looking up from the floor in the past but now a weightlessness overtook me as my mind tried vainly to grasp what I was seeing. Perspective distorted and I could no longer judge distances. It all seemed so unreal. I pulled away before my mind could hurl itself over the edge and we continued on the last leg of our journey.
The final staircase is suspended directly over the dome mural and winds upward to the lantern, a lantern-shaped observation room 244 and a half feet up and directly under the gold "Wisconsin" statue. From here the view is simply spectacular. I could see everything. Anna listed off the places she could recognize and I noted how few street names I knew of the city. She even found her house off in the distance and pointed it out for me. I walked around and around trying to take in everything. The day was cold, cloudy and windy but all I could think of was how beautiful everything looked. I have mild acrophobia but it wasn't enough to keep me from this adventure!
I wanted to stay up there all day. I wanted to forget about work, grab a lunch and take it up there with me to watch the city lights come out at night. It was wonderful. I was amazed at my luck. All I expected today was to have left with perhaps a contact number or two to find out how to get permission to see the trumpeter's ring and here I was looking out from an area that I didn't even know was accessible. How I came upon such fortune I do not know.
Eventually we had to return and make our way back down. The going was much easier albeit more dangerous. The guard was cheerful and polite throughout, I suspect delighting in our wonder and awe on our first real tour of the capitol dome. My mind whirled with all that I had seen while descending the 240-odd steps to the fourth floor elevator. I wanted to go back and soon for on my way to the city I had actually considered returning home for my camera but decided against it. Of all the days to leave it behind, eh?
Anna returned all bug-eyed and bushy tailed to the information booth where her coworker was waiting. They had an excited conversation about the trip and the guard offered to show the other girl around. They agreed on Friday and I will return as well. With luck, I'll be there at the right time to do it again. This time with camera.
I walked out on air and did a little twirl just outside the revolving doors. As I went down State Street again I couldn't help turning several times to look back at the dome and lantern balcony so far up. I never dreamed. . .
I finally made it to Pel Meni again for lunch as the last two times I dropped by they were closed. As I waited for my order of Russian dumplings I searched their bookcase full of LPs for the Wish You Were Here album I saw the last time I dined there. It was at the back of the box on the bottom shelf and the last logical place anyone would look but I found it nonetheless and queued it up to play next. The food was great and I took my time while reading the latest Onion and listening to one of my favourite albums. I had plenty of time to relax and daydream about all that I had already done today and when I eventually had to leave for work I was truly happy.
- E V I L O U T -
For additional (and probably more accurate) information about my trip up to the top of the capitol today, go to the capitol tour webpage of wisconsin.gov. Be sure to check out the neato virtual tour links for Quicktime interactie views of the rotunda interior and lantern balcony.