Archive for the ‘Famous Americans’ Category

Who We Choose To Honor

Statue Statuary Hall: A Curious, All-American Mix of Politics, Art and Political Correctness

At the very heart of American government, inside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, stand 100 statues of famous and not-so-famous Americans. The statues – two from each state – depict the individuals each state has chosen to represent its story to the rest of the nation.


The collection – a fascinating national cross section of great, near-great, and some mostly forgotten Americans – recently added a new honoree from Alabama – Helen Keller. The Los Angeles Times blog has that scoop.

The Statuary Hall collection from the Northwest states is fascinating.

Montana’s Jeanette Rankin (left), the first woman elected to the Congress and the only member to vote against U.S. participation in both World Wars, is in the Hall. Montana’s other statue is a great likeness of the wonderful cowboy artist and sculptor Charlie Russell.

George Shoup, Idaho’s last territorial governor and first state governor and also a Senator, is in the Hall. Idaho’s great progressive Republican William E. Borah is Idaho’s other pick and a natural.

Oregon is represented by Jason Lee and Dr. John McLoughlin , two early day Oregonians who played key roles in establishing the state. Not exactly household names, but interesting choices.

Washington’s picks are the pioneering missionary Marcus Whitman and Mother Joseph, a Catholic nun, who raised money and built early hospitals, schools and orphanages.

As with all things political, you know that there must be a back story (read political deal) regarding how each of these folks were chosen for this special attention in such a special place.

Earlier this year California, acting at the behest of the legislature, replaced its statue of Civil War-era preacher Thomas Starr King – he had been in the Hall since 1931 – with a likeness of Ronald Reagan. Minister King was credited by Abraham Lincoln with helping prevent California from becoming an independent republic during the great rebellion. Quite an accomplishment, but King was clearly not the Gipper.

Alabama’s new Helen Keller statue displaced a guy named Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, a Confederate Army Lt. Colonel and pre-and post-war politician. Southern states tend to honor Confederate generals and politicians. Bobby Lee, for example, stands erect for the Old Dominion and Jefferson Davis represents Mississippi.

Some of the picks are no brainers. Utah – big surprise – honors Brigham Young and the Kingfish, Huey P. Long, in full oratorical flourish, stands in the Hall for Louisiana.

Statuary Hall seems to me a particularly American idea – each state honoring its own in the nation’s capitol and every pick saying something interesting about each state.

I have not read the new Dan Brown best seller – The Lost Symbol – but I’m told Statuary Hall plays a role in the novel. Considering that the book sold more than two million copies in its first week, perhaps Dan Brown will help a whole new group of Americans discover this unique piece of American real estate.

Once readers have solved the mystery of The Lost Symbol, they can turn their attention to discovering Jacob Collamar, the extremely forgotten Vermonter who was President Zachery Taylor’s postmaster general. He, too, is in the Hall.