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Hidden history shown in tour


Published: Sat, February 24, 2007 @ 12:00 a.m.


Handicap accessibility laws don't permit large groups to enter the cupola.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- High atop Ohio's historic Statehouse lies a series of corridors filled with the names of the well-known and the obscure who have visited the spot throughout time.
Governors, dignitaries and young brides and grooms have been signing their names for 146 years on the walls, ceilings, door jams and benches of the building's cupola -- an area now off limits to public tours.
Most historic signatures were accidentally covered with paint during a 1990s renovation, but some recognizable ones remain: "TAFT," as in governor Bob; "Larry Householder, Speaker of the Ohio House" above a hard-to-reach door; "Mary Ellen Withrow," the former state and U.S. treasurer, in the same swirly hand that appeared on billions of pieces of U.S. currency.
Most of the older scrawlings remain as carvings in a wood bench that rings the corridor that circles that fattest part of the dome. Other scratchings appear on outside walls untouched by the recent upgrade, among them "Madison -- 1873" and "1904 -- C.J."
In the beginning
Michael Rupert, the Capitol's resident history expert, said squeezing one's way up the spiral passageway to peer from the windows of the dome was at one time a significant tourist attraction. When it was completed in 1861, the Statehouse was the second-tallest building in the nation, after the U.S. Capitol that was going up in Washington, D.C.
"Can you imagine coming up here at that time and being able to see out over the Scioto River?" said Rupert, a spokesman for the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board. It was a common destination for 19th-century honeymooners.
Today, handicap accessibility laws prevent opening the area to big groups -- but that hasn't stopped plenty of Statehouse interns, staffers and lawmakers from ascending to make their marks.
Former state Sen. Jeffry Armbruster and his clan signed the wall multiple times, a child embellishing one signature with a picture of SpongeBob Squarepants.
One attempt at political commentary -- "No Death Penalty" -- was crossed out.
Behind a door locked even when tours were allowed are the stairs to the Statehouse's highest point, where one tiny entryway leads out to the stained-glass sun shaft above the central Rotunda and another leads to the roof.
Risky walk
Rupert said legislative pages at one time were sent out to walk the roof without aid of safety gear to hoist the flag each morning.
Other risks have been taken: In the 1800s, a 10-year-old girl climbing to the cupola with her family fell through a missing window pane onto a metal ledge below.
After horrifying her mother and the many onlookers with all the blood, she ultimately survived.
When painters were repairing and touching up the Rotunda last year, Rupert said they found a shoe box filled with bones.
"They were small, so we think it was maybe someone's lunch -- or maybe a pet," he said.
As the walls inadvertently painted during the 1990s are refilled with signatures, the catwalk around the sunny chamber above the Rotunda has become host to a new tradition of leaving a mark.
Visitors toss their business cards over the edge and hope they, too, will be remembered.


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