For almost 20 years now my fall employment is taking tourists on
bus tours, so they can experience leaf peeping from the 6 foot advantage
a coach affords. For most of those years I've included a tour of
the Vermont State House in the day. Frankly, its free, historic,
and manages to be both impressive, and cute, at the same time. It's
a can't lose for a bus tour.
When was the last time you were in Vermont's
Ignore, as you walk up the long stairways from State Street, the
gold dome, if you can, and instead concentrate on the walk. At Versailles,
Louis the XIV had the stairs cut in ever shorter rises, so by the
time you actually reached the top you were moving with appropriate
deference to the King. Our stairs require no mincing steps, but
bold strides, to achieve the objective; the impressive portico inspired
by the temple of Theseus, in Greece.
To your left will be a cannon dating from the Revolutionary War.
I'm rather fond of this cannon, as it is representative of those
the Vermont Green Mountain Boys faced at the Battle of Bennington.
There, General John Stark mounted a split rail fence, pointed at
the British barricaded behind timbers at the top of a hill and shouted
"There are the British, and they are ours, or this night Molly
sleeps a widow!" History does not record what Molly thought
of this sentiment. Not much, I'll warrant. In any event, the Green
Mountain Boys were successful in driving back the British, and saving
the desperately needed store of supplies in Bennington. So John
Stark took one of the seized British cannons, one very much like
this one, and dragged it home over the mountains and past Brattleboro,
as a trophy of war for his wife, Molly.
So. There you are in your dirt floor cabin, trying to keep the
farm going while your husband is off to war. And what does he bring
you from his long trials? Not a paper of pins. Not a bit of sugar,
or perhaps some salt... or even a packet of forbidden tea. Not a
length of cloth, or even a useful iron pot. No, your husband comes
home dragging a cannon behind him. I hope she at least used it as
a handy place to dry sheets.
To your right is a copy of the statue of Ethan Allen. Originally
carved by Larkin Mead, the statue is based on nothing more than
the last on which Ethan Allen's shoes where made. That last became,
for decedents of a cobbler, a family heirloom. And when it came
time to carve a statue of the Patron Saint of Vermont, Larkin Mead
used that wooden last with E. Allen carved on the bottom, to extrapolate,
based on the length of the foot, the length of the shin, tibia,
breadth of hips... until he reached the top of a very tall man.
Which Ethan Allen was reported to be. Since Ethan Allen carried
Vermont into Independence in 1777, I find it unlikely he ever wore
the uniform of a Colonial Regular... but then, everything from the
foot upward is a pure speculation.
Ammi B. Young designed the statehouse which went up in smoke in
1857. This one is built along his design, just on a larger scale,
and with ornamentation in the Renaissance Revival style popular
at the time. The Friends of the Statehouse have done a wonderful
job of restoring much of the State House to its original grandeur.
Above you is a lavish chandelier. In much of the building, carpets,
replicated from documented patterns, have been laid down. Even the
woman's bathroom (although I suspect the electronic flush mechanisms
are not period) is something to see.
But the essence of the Vermont State Capitol Building lies not
in fixtures, no matter how lavish. Nor carpets, no matter how accurate.
It is not in the plaster, nor the perfect period antiques tucked
into the corners. Nor in paintings of heros and statesmen.
It is in sound. Hard soled shoes do not click when they strike
the marble of the lobby, they ring. Dress shoes or logging boots,
hard soles striking the marble floors create an unmistakable music.
The sound rises above the shuffle of sneakers, officials, traffic,
and the muttering of a hundred tourists. When I walk into the lobby
of the Vermont State House I am part of a tradition of local power
over two centuries old, and in that hall, in my dress boots, my
Every fall, I take my busses into the Vermont State House. They
marvel at the excess of the chandelier in the House of Representatives,
and appreciate Julian Scott's painting "The Battle of Cedar
Creek." I listen to the sound my footsteps make as they ring
through the corridors. Two hundred years and the steps of a single
Vermonter moving through the statehouse still has the sound of power
and authority. A music that rises above all other trivia to echo
from the ceilings and batter on the doors.
Listen, and be inspired too.
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