First off, I probably have some explaining to do. No, we didn’t fly to Michigan straight from Yerevan, Armenia. We stopped in SC for a few nights first. We came to Michigan to attend a seminar series at Hillsdale College on the history and controversies of the United States Intelligence agencies. I’ll be honest, when the invitation pictured below came in the mail, it was like cheese in a mousetrap to us. We simply had to figure out a way to squeeze this trip in. There are probably 600-700 people here from all across the country and the speakers have been first rate. We’ve heard from historians, American foreign policy professors, and retired CIA officers. Some of the lectures have been frightening, some funny, some infuriating, and some optimistic. How and when the agencies became politicized was discussed as well as how to get politics out of the business of the intelligence agencies and restore them to their original missions. Since “woke” wasn’t on the program, the discussions have been open and the mealtime conversations have been wide-ranging and honest. I’d say most people here probably came away with more respect for our intelligence officers and less respect for our politicians, if that is possible.
We had some spare time Tuesday morning and decide to drive to Lansing to see the Michigan State House. It’s easy to see why Michiganders are proud of the building; it really is a beauty. The architect who designed it, Elijah Myers, has been hailed as the greatest capitol architect of the Gilded Age. Actually, he has also been called one of America’s greatest architects and he designed more state capitols than any other architect. He is credited with adorning state capitols with domes which led to domed capitols becoming a powerful symbol of American democracy. Naturally, Michiganders are proud to be capitol trendsetters.
The dome was one of three things that especially intrigued me about the Michigan capitol, AKA “The Lion of Lansing.” My first thought upon seeing it from the street was that it was more slender than most domes that I have seen. We entered, eager to see it from the rotunda, but that was not in the cards. Apparently, it is spectacular, but you can’t prove it by me. Two other aspects of the capitol really grabbed my attention. These were the chandeliers and the creative use of paint, but let’s take the dome first because I can make quick work of it. It’s under renovation, so all we saw was scaffolding. If you are planning to go for a visit, you should postpone that trip for about a year because it’s going to take that long to complete the work. Below is what you will see if you go now.
Although I can’t post a picture of the dome, I can show a picture of the chandeliers; they are extraordinary. Called the “Michigan” chandeliers, these beauties feature an elk as well as a shield design that was inspired by the Michigan Coat of Arms. They light the hallways and were designed and crafted just for the capitol. There are twenty of these magnificent cast metal chandeliers in the hallways and they are exquisite. Originally lit with gas, they all have light bulbs now. Until recently, it was thought that they were made of Michigan copper, but it has been discovered that they were really cast from a mix of several other metals.
The Senate chamber is decorated in gold and blue. Again, the lighting is incredible although this picture is not. Totally off the subject of lighting, but the desks were purchased from a Chicago company for around $8 each when the building was completed. The builders went anywhere and everywhere to get the best prices for the materials, unlike many capitols where the builders try to source materials from the home state.
This is the House chamber. The brochure calls the color scheme teal and terra cotta. Looks pink to me, but whatever color it is, the lighting is beautiful. They lower each chandelier yearly and clean it by hand.
Construction of the Michigan State House began in 1872 and was completed in 1878. The project was proudly hailed as scandal-free and the price tag was less than 1.5 million – a bargain on anybody’s spreadsheet. Using local pine for the trim, door and window frames, wainscot, and doors helped cut costs, but that required the skills of very talented artists to mimic the look of walnut. In some places, this process took seven layers of paint, all done carefully by hand, to replicate the grain and even the pores of walnut. The walls and ceilings are also beautifully decorated with elaborate hand-painted designs using ornamental plasterwork, glazes, decorative paint, and gold leaf. In total, there are over nine acres of hand-painted surfaces. Yeah, it’s very impressive.
We can’t remember just how many state capitols we have visited (it’s written down somewhere at home), but it has been fun and instructive. We learn so much local history. We think we’ve gained a little insight into the people who settled in the states, and having thought they had found their own little corner of paradise, went to work to build a home, a life, and a future there. I doubt that we will get to all fifty state capitols, but that’s ok; it’s fun to try.