Massachusetts State House

Anyone who has ever been to downtown Boston has seen the large expanse of the Public Garden and the adjacent Common. Just up Beacon Hill behind the Common it’s hard to miss the red brick façade of the Massachusetts State House, which has been in this location since 1798. The beautiful structure, designed by Charles Bullfinch, was built on land that once served as a cow pasture for the famous John Hancock. Its dome, originally made of wood shingles and subsequently sheathed in copper by Paul Revere, has been covered in 23 karat gold leaf since 1874. Apparently the dome was painted black during the Second World War to protect the building in case of potential bombing attacks. In late December I decided to take advantage of one of the capitol's free guided tours.

I learned several interesting things visiting the state house. According to our guide Jane, the Army Nurses’ Memorial, installed in 1914, was the first monument anywhere in the world to recognize the role of women in history. The bronze statue, designed by Connecticut native Bela Pratt, honors the nurses who cared for soldiers during the American Civil War. In nearby Memorial Hall, there’s a painting dedicated to the well-known involvement of Paul Revere in the American Revolution. Another Civil War reference is a mural celebrating the contributions of the all-African-American 54th Regiment in the Union Army. At the top of the Grand Staircase, Jane also recounted an amusing story about the creation of the first Massachusetts state seal. It seems that someone in England, who had never been to the New World, was asked to place a Native American coming in peace with an arrow pointing down within the design. He created a very atypical looking figure dressed in a fig leaf with the motto "Come over and help us"! Needless to say, the seal has undergone several transformations since that time.

Upstairs we visited the House of Representatives chamber and heard about the “sacred cod.” A gift of a certain John Roe, it was meant to underscore the importance of the fishing industry in the early years of the commonwealth. At one point in the 1930s several, spirited Harvard University students “cod-napped” the fish, but it was safely returned to the chamber. When it was decided that the Senate would move into that room and that the Representatives would go to a different location in the state house, the Senators were overjoyed at the prospect of inheriting the "sacred cod." But after the Representatives insisted on taking the cod with them, the disappointed Senators got their own fish symbol, now referred to as the “holy mackerel.” Oh, those jovial Massachusetts legislators! One of the highlights of the tour was the beautifully renovated Senate Reception Room. Formerly the site of the Senate chamber, it is now used on ceremonial occasions.


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