Confession: I still get lost in the Capitol sometimes.
Even after almost 10 years of covering the happenings in the building for WISC-TV News 3, I’ll absentmindedly take a turn and end up in the wrong wing. Its intricate design is one of my favorite things about the place.
Our Wisconsin state Capitol is special. I knew that when I walked in its doors as a fourth grader. I have a very clear memory of eating lunch in a hearing room and thinking we shouldn’t be allowed to have peanut butter sandwich crumbs anywhere within its hallowed halls. It has always felt to me like there was an invisible atmosphere of authority and importance in the building, as if history has seeped deeply into the marble walls and surrounds everyone who enters.
It’s the juxtaposition of that with the daily happenings of the building I find so endearing. Like the times when troops of children notice the fossils in the stairs or the gold badgers high above their heads but seem oblivious to high-ranking senators and their staff who move past them on their way to meetings; when kiddos lie on the floor of the ground level, staring up at the dome mural some 184 feet above their heads while lobbyists tap away on smartphones on their way to lawmakers’ offices; or when beaming brides and grooms pop up in the rotunda among the mess of staffers and journalists trying to pass quietly.
Any of my family members or friends who come from out of town can tell you that I love to show them around the building and point out things they might not notice otherwise: The starfish in the walls of the North Hearing Room, or the bank vault door hidden in a first-floor hallway. My fascination may have rubbed off on my daughter, who incessantly points out the building when she sees it in the skyline. I had to convince her this year that the building isn’t just “my Capitol,” it is everyone’s.
I’ve been to the lantern level of the Capitol and stared out over the isthmus in the fall, seeing every line that makes up this beautiful city. I’ve taken the long, circular stairway hike to the “dome within the dome” before it was repaired, and had my breath taken away as I stared back down. I’ve read the words on the ceiling of the governor’s conference room: “The rule of the people is the law of the land,” as protesters shouted outside the doors. I’ve gone in and out of its doors early in the morning and late at night (if you’re wondering, the North exit is the prettiest one) and each time, I say silently to myself how lucky I am that this is sometimes my office.
So as the Capitol turns 100 this year, I’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you: to the lawmakers who have made it a pleasure (and a pain sometimes) to work there, to the police and staff who work in the building and keep it safe and beautiful and to the architects who painstakingly restored the building so it is as ornate and breathtaking as you see it today. For a building that’s known as the “people’s house,” it sure feels a lot like home to me.
Jessica Arp is the political reporter for WISC-TV.