Living in Washington, D.C., I can’t walk two feet without encountering historic ground. (I exaggerate only slightly) Despite my work in the history field, and contrary to what some people might believe, I don’t think of history every moment. I love unexpected history encounters.
The other night I attended a reception in the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. I walked there from work, across the Capitol lawn, arriving slightly late. I had not been in the space before and was suitably impressed with its grandeur and classical beauty. I was distracted and thinking of the business at hand until the speaker, Senator Thad Cochran, pointed out the room’s historic significance as site of some big events in American history.
It was the site of many major public investigative hearings in American history, including: 1912 – Titanic sinking; 1923-24 – Teapot Dome scandal; 1932-34 – Wall Street banking practices; 1950-51 Organized Crime; 1966 – Vietnam War; 1973 – Watergate Break-in; 1987 – Iran Contra affair; 1991 – Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas.
At a casual event in the grand space it is hard to imagine the tense drama that unfolded around these famous moments in the past. I enjoyed my evening in the oldest and one of the largest assembly rooms built for the U.S. Senate outside of the Capitol Building. The 1909 Beaux-Arts room with its richly detailed ceiling, Corinthian columns, intricately carved wooden benches, and four crystal chandeliers reminded me once again that Washington’s buildings exude power and stand silent witness to the ongoing theatrics of political drama.