120,000 people visit the Capitol each year. Of those, 60,000 are students. This building wasn’t the original capitol, but it opened in 1905 and was a gift from Civil War Veterans. Cass Gilbert was the architect and did an amazing job. The details that showcase this as a Minnesota building are quite interesting. Because of the Civil War connection, there are Civil War display cases that house various flags. The building itself is part of the MN Historical Society. And the MHS runs a variety of programs at the Capitol as well as programs at their other sites.
We started with a visit from our Secretary of State, Mark Richie. He has actually had a more “exciting” tenure in office than one might expect. We have had three major recounts for elections during Mr Richie’s time in office. Our latest gubernatorial election needed a re-count as well as the race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. In all of the cases, there was no fraud. When there is less than a quarter of a percent difference, there is an automatic hand recount done. He explained that when there is a recount, you have an opportunity to look at your system for elections and make any changes if necessary.
The last time I had a tour of this building was when I was in elementary school. The shiny gold horses had graffiti on them. And that was the main thing I remembered. We saw both the senate (above) and the house (below).
And we got to see those horses I remembered from before. They were restored around 1995. There are now railings up so no one can get to the area. It’s called a quadriga. There are four horses yoked together, drawing a two-wheeled chariot. The horses represent the four elements, earth, fire, wind and water. The two women symbolize agriculture and industry. A man in the chariot, symbolizes prosperity, if I’m remembering correctly.
There are about 11 different tours or programs that have already been prepared by the MN Historical Society. The general tour is what we did. We also got a demonstration of a “Rally ‘Round the Flag Civil War Tour” activity. One of my classmates was able to dress up in a civil war uniform. And at the end we participated in an exercise “Taking Issue – Making a Stand: An Experience in Government.” We were able to have teams defend a real legislative issue. The one we used was about a ban of cell phones in cars. One team argued in favor, one against and one group was the committee. It says it’s geared toward 7th and 8th graders, but I think you could use it for older kids too. Most of the activities seemed to fit very easily into a social studies curriculum. But the importance of being a well-informed citizen is also a good lesson to learn.
I knew that the Capitol was a place where one could learn a lot about our state government and history. But it’s also a place to see art, architecture and learn about some very important processes in government. If my social studies counterparts don’t already know the possibilities at the Capitol, I will certainly share them.