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United States Capitol crypt: Wikis


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The United States Capitol crypt, older image taken looking east.

The United States Capitol crypt is the large circular room filled with forty neoclassical Doric columns directly beneath the United States Capitol rotunda and was built originally to support the rotunda, as well offer an entrance to Washington's Tomb. Presently, it serves as a museum, a repository for six statues of the National Statuary Hall Collection.


Origin and construction

The crypt originated with the initial designs drawn up for the United States Capitol by Doctor William Thornton, which called for a rotunda to be placed between the two wings of the building.[1] The room beneath the rotunda was therefore required to support the large space above it. However, construction did not begin on the central part of the Capitol, where the rotunda and the room beneath it were located, until after the War of 1812.

Construction on the Capitol, itself, began in 1793, when the first American President, George Washington, laid down the cornerstone to the north wing of the building.[2] Upon the death of Washington, in 1799, the designers of the Capitol went to Martha Washington and requested permission to build a tomb for her husband in the Capitol. She acquiesced to this request and plans were made to construct the tomb underneath the floor that supported the rotunda. This area then received the title crypt, as it would serve as the entry to the tomb.

Present day image taken looking southwest from south entrance.

Delays wracked the construction efforts of the Capitol's builders, notably the interruption by the War of 1812, when all construction came to a halt. Then, dramatically in August 1814, the British captured the city of Washington, and set fire to the Capitol, nearly destroying the entire building. Thus, when construction began after the war, in 1815, it initially was to rebuild what had been lost to the fire.[3]

The central section of the Capitol, which housed the rotunda and the crypt, was not completed until 1827, under the oversight of Architect of the Capitol Charles Bulfinch.[4] However, the plans to inter Washington in the Capitol fell apart when attempts were made to retrieve his body from Mount Vernon, the President's home, due to the legal contractions of Washington's will and refusal of the plantation's then owner, John Washington. Thus ended the function of the room as a true crypt, but the name remained regardless.

A marble compass was set into the floor of the chamber to mark the center point of the District of Columbia, where the four quadrants of the city begin.[5]

Present day usage

The crypt serves as the main thoroughfare of the ground floor of the Capitol and as a museum. In addition, it is the terminating spot for all tours provided by the United States Capitol Guide Service. Multiple exhibits on the history of the Capitol's construction are located throughout the room, from the ground breaking to a model of the grounds upon the completion of the Capitol Visitor Center.[5] A gift shop is located against the east side of the room and operated by the United States Capitol Historical Society, and an office for the Congressional Special Services Office is located off the northwest corner of the chamber.


National Statuary Hall Collection

There are six statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection located in the crypt. Going clockwise from the east entrance of the chamber, they are:

External links



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