When I went back to dispatching at the Norwich Police Department after I had married for the second time, moved back to California briefly, gave birth to two more kids, and decided that dispatching was in my blood (whew!) I met Paula. Paula had been a dispatcher in Houston, Texas before moving back to Connecticut and we ended up working the evening shift together for several years before I went elsewhere (i.e., across the street). Paula stayed on at NPD until she got hired on by the Connecticut State Police as a dispatcher where she stayed until she got her teaching degree and became an art teacher at Grasso Tech. Anyhow, suffice it to say that I've known Paula for about ten years now and she's a good friend to not only myself but also the girls.
Last year when Jamie was out, Paula went to New York City with us for a day to visit the Museum of Natural History as well as the trip to the beach in Rhode Island where I managed to get a nasty sunburn and ended up with cellulites on my left foot. Ouch! This year we weren't sure what sort of road -trip we might be able to take as I'm avoiding the beach (imagine that!) and neither one of us has the financial means to be able to take a real vacation but we wanted to do something with the girls. What to do for a day that might be at the least interesting and didn't cost much??
Paula suggested a trip to Hartford to check out The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the oldest continuously operating public art museum in the United States which first opened its doors on July 31st, 1844. I had never been there so it would all be new to myself and the girls and Paula wanted to check out a current exhibit, Picasso to Pop: Aspects of Modern Art, which sounded interesting. Add on the fact that I could get a pass at my local library that gave two adults and two children free admission and it sounded like a plan to me!
Of course, you can't really spend all day in an art museum (well, some people can but I can guarantee you that an almost 14-year old and a 15-year old can't!) so in looking for something else to do I thought it might be kind of cool to check out the State Capitol Building. Being a bit of a history buff, I love to check out old buildings and even though I had been to the Capitol way back in 1972 on a 7th-grade field trip I really wanted to take another tour. Besides, I figure that the girls are old enough to start enjoying history with me - like it or not!
We arrived in Hartford a little before 10:00 and were just in time to "be" the 10:15 building tour. Apparently everyone else was at the beach working on their own sunburns as we were the only ones there for the tour at that time. Our tour guide was a young man who was on his summer break from college in Chicago where he is majoring in history to become a teacher (if I had it to do over again ...) and he was quite knowledgeable about the building and its history. In case you couldn't guess, I like to ask questions!
Just to give you a brief overview of the Capitol Building (Paula says I am way too wordy sometimes and she's probably right but whatchagonnado??) ... construction of the building began in 1871 with a design using a mixture of French Renaissance and Gothic styles. The girls said it reminded them of the castle in Beauty & the Beast and I'd have to agree with them; I kept waiting to see the Beast hanging off of one of the spires! Completed in 1878 at a cost of almost $3 million dollars, the building opened for the General Assembly in January of 1879.
Our tour began in the Legislative Office Building which opened in 1988 and contains five floors of offices and hearing rooms. The LOB is connected to the Capitol Building by a 500-foot concourse that runs below the highway as well as a terrace walk outdoors. The interior of the building is decorated with stone and marble that was imported from Italy, Mexico, and Spain with the exception of one 24-foot pillar of Connecticut granite that stands in the lobby and is topped by an 8-foot gold-plated eagle. The tiles of the lobby floor are designed to look three-dimensional when viewed from the upper levels.
Moving onto the Capitol Building we learned that the interior of the building was done in a mixture of Turkish and Moroccan styles as depicted by the arches and pillars with very ornate carvings throughout. According to our guide, the distance between the rotunda on the first floor and the top of the dome is the equivalent of 22 stories even though the Capitol itself only has five floors. The dome, which tops a 267-foot tower, is covered in 24-carat gold leaf which is only 3/1000th of an inch thick; if you were to remove it all and crumple it into a ball you could hold it in one hand! The outside of the dome is circled by 12 statues representing Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Music, Science, and Force.
We toured the first floor which holds a statute of Nathan Hale, local hero of the American Revolution; a statute of Civil War Governor William Buckingham which people rub for good luck; the original 17-foot, 10-inch tall plaster model of the Genius of Connecticut which was used to make the bronze statute that stood atop the Capitol dome from 1878 to 1938 when it was taken down due to hurricane damage (in 1942 it was melted down to help the War effort); the Hall of Flags which showcases battle flags of Connecticut regiments from the Civil War through the War on Terror; the figurehead of the USS Connecticut which was the flagship of President Teddy Roosevelt's "Great White Fleet" which was sent on a goodwill mission around the world in 1907; and other artifacts that are important to the State.
On the second floor we toured the House Chamber where the 151 elected representatives meet to discuss and vote on bills. From there we proceeded to the third floor and the Senate Chamber. Converted in 1910, the room was originally the State Library but now is where the Lieutenant Governor presides over the State's 36 Senators from the "Charter Oak Chair", one of two chairs that was carved from the famous oak tree where the Connecticut State Charter was hidden in 1662 when King Charles II attempted to take it back. Connecticut was the first State to have a self-governing charter hence the reason for the State's nickname - The Constitution State. The chair is also known as "The Wishing Chair" so we all got a chance to sit in it and make a wish.
After our tour of the Capitol Building we went across the street to the State Library, State Museum, and Supreme Court Building for a little more education before walking over to Bushnell Park, the 41-acre park that the Capitol overlooks. While there Paula and Jamie took a ride on the 93-year old Bushnell Park Carousel; going in a circle tends to make me sick so Amanda and I sat the ride out while Paula and Jamie thoroughly enjoyed their ride.
Also located in Bushnell Park - America's oldest public park by the way - is the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch which was dedicated in 1877 on the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, September 17th, as a monument to the 4,000 citizens from Hartford who fought in the Civil War and the 400 that died for the Union. The Gothic monument is made of brownstone from Portland, Connecticut and originally cost about $60,000, which the City of Hartford paid. The monument has a terra cotta frieze which depicts scenes from the Civil War and topping the towers are the angels Gabriel and Raphael. They were replicated in bronze and replaced in 1987 as part of a $1.5 million restoration at which time a plaque which honors the 128 African American residents of Hartford who fought for the Union was added.
After touring some more of the Bushnell grounds we decided that we were quite hungry so we made our way over to Black-Eyed Sally's, a tiny BBQ and Blues Joint on Asylum Street for some lunch. If you ever find yourself in Hartford and hungry may I highly suggest the pulled pork sandwich with a side of twice-fried vinegar chips - delicious! Amanda tells me that the Crispy Cornmeal Catfish with salt & vinegar fries was excellent, too and if Mimi, Queen of Memes, can't find sweet tea anywhere else in Connecticut then Bud needs to take her to Sally's as they've got it and it's good!
Following lunch we went over to the Wadsworth Atheneum to get some culture. The museum houses almost 50,000 art objects including paintings from the Renaissance, Baroque, French, and American eras; early American clothing, furniture, and decorations; 18th century French porcelains; historical artifacts; and more. The collections span more than 5,000 years of history - which is a lot of history! Also located in the Wadsworth is the second chair made from the Charter Oak when it toppled over in 1857.
While most of the artwork was beautiful I have to be honest when it comes to the Connecticut Contemporary Collection which is currently on display. The exhibition is supposed to "reflect the vibrancy and diversity of talent in the state" with art from 24 various artists but I guess my idea of art is totally different than theirs! Paula always tells me that art is subjective and boy, I'd really have to agree with her on that one! Even as an art teacher herself Paula was having some trouble appreciating some of it, too - which made me feel a bit better! The only thing that kept running through my head while viewing it was a line from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou spoken by George Clooney's character, Everett ... "I don't get it, Big Dan"!
All in all I would say that we had a nice trip to Hartford and the girls actually seemed to enjoy themselves in spite of it being a "learning experience". While writing this I had to ask Amanda to verify a couple things for me and she was actually able to remember a lot of what she learned on our tour of the Capitol yesterday. With any luck I'll make junior historians of those two yet!
Paula - thanks for being along on a great day and sorry this is so wordy but you knew it was going to be, didn't you?! Also, many thanks for some of the great pictures used in the slideshow!