Welcome to History, Welcome to the State House

I was wandering down the hall in the State House last week, walking from the House chamber to my office, right outside the Hall of Flags.

I don't know why it took me so many years, but it suddenly dawned on me that I am living history, right in the middle of this 200-year-old edifice. One of the oldest and most historic State Houses in our nation.

I've looked at all the famous pictures and plaques and statues-Coolidge, Hooker, Kennedy, Adams, Revere-the list is endless, so I better not start. Hundreds of people most of us have only read about in our history books. But people that have worked in this building, or spent time here, or were part of Massachusetts when it first began.

How many of us have ever spent time wandering these halls like I am fortunate enough to do almost daily? If you haven't been to the State House, or haven't been here recently, I urge you to pay a visit.

For one thing, the State House is going through a major rehabilitation. Some of the sidewalks and lawns and entries aren't complete, but most of the shroud is off and you can see what clean marble and stones actually look like. The State House is no longer dingy and grey on the outside.

Inside, there's still some grunge, but we're working on it. And the halls and lights and ceilings are fantastic. Look at them closely. See the delicate patterns in the marble, the designs in the stained glass, the architecture itself. The chandeliers, porches and porticos, and especially the House and Senate chambers.

So bring the kids and come visit. We've used this Bullfinch-designed building, constructed on John Hancock's cow pasture, for more than 200 years. (If you want to see the previous State House on your visit, it's only blocks away.)

Start on the second floor, in Doric Hall, where the Doric Dames will give you an official tour. Or, call ahead, and my aide Tim Cheever or I will be happy to arrange a private tour. For the kids, see if you can get Secretary William Galvin's pamphlet, "What's Under the Golden Dome" at the welcome desk.

Doric Hall. Where Governor John Andrew passed out guns and ammunition and flags to the men volunteering for the Civil War. Where President Monroe was honored at a banquet in 1817. Where Lafayette was entertained and honored as a Revolutionary war hero. With doors seldom opened-only when the President of the United States comes to visit and when a Governor leaves the State House for the last time. Just outside Doric Hall is Hear Us, marble and bronze plaques honoring Massachusetts women, the most recent addition to the State House.

Nurses Hall. Also just outside Doric Hall, you'll find the only statue of a woman in the building. It's a statue of a nurse tending to a wounded soldier. Look for paintings of Paul Revere's Ride and the Boston Tea Party, as well as some fabulous mosaics and murals. And six kinds of marble inlaid in the floor.

Hall of Flags. Right outside my office in Room 254, the area displays flags carried by Massachusetts troops from the Civil War through Vietnam. Be sure to see the stained glass window in the ceiling depicting the state seals of all 13 original colonies.

Great Hall. Previously open space, renovated for meetings and meals and speeches by guests. The controversial clock weighs 1,250 pounds and is supposedly reminiscent of a lantern like Paul Revere would have carried.

House Chamber and Senate Chamber. Don't miss them. Ornate, beautiful, historic. There are 160 House members, 40 Senators. Combined, they're known as the General Court. Look for the Sacred Cod in the House Chamber and the so-called Holy Mackerel in the Senate Chamber. The domed ceiling in the Senate is just below the Golden Dome of the State House. In the House, see how many of the names on the frieze below the dome are familiar.

Governor's Office. You can't go in to see the red carpets or the sculptures symbolizing the arts, freedom, executive power and Massachusetts. But a visit to the hall outside the third floor office gives you a chance to see photos of what the offices look like.

Then, just wander the halls. Go into the library, past offices, and all the names and plaques and pictures and sculptures. And wonder what it was like 200 years ago. Wonder what all those people did. How did they become Governor.

There's plenty more to see. But you've probably seen enough. Take a break-a quick hot dog at Joe and Elmo's just a block down the hill on Cambridge Street? Or, at a typical politician's favorite lunch place right across the street-The 21st Amendment.

Then, on to the Freedom Trail, the Constitution, Fanuel Hall, the Old Burying Ground. A Duck Tour? A visit to Make Way for Ducklings in the Public Garden? Or a quiet break on a bench on the Common.

There's a lot to do and see in this state's capitol city. So take some time this summer and enjoy.

All materials copyright 1997 - 2014