Storied Statues

 

 

On Wednesday, we visited our twenty-fifth state capitol building when we toured the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, so we find ourselves halfway through the list of state capitals with absolutely no serious ambition to see all of the other twenty five. If it happens, that would be great, but it’s not something we are driven to do. I mean, let’s face it: flying all the way back to Juneau, Alaska or Honolulu, Hawaii just see a building would be nuts. But if we are there anyway, we will definitely pop in for quick look around.

We were scheduled for the 9:15 guided tour and knew we would be with a previously scheduled group, so we were not surprised to be thrown in with a group of middle-schoolers. We fit right in. The building is beautiful. Opened in 1878, the “Eastlake” style building was described by the New York Times as “a vast mass of white marble (is) this imposing structure, and in the dazzling sunshine of a New England summer noon, sparkles like a fairy palace of frost work.” We can’t verify that since it was an incredibly dreary rainy cold spring morning when we visited, but it is a magnificent building.

Normally when visiting a state capitol, we hardly notice the statues and busts of all the favorite sons and daughters of the states. Well, except for VIPs like Colonel Sanders in Kentucky, of course. But the Connecticut State Capitol building and grounds had some rather storied statuary that we had to pause and study. We first encountered Israel Putnam on the grounds. “Old Put,” as he was known, served bravely during the French and Indian War as well as at the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolutionary War. You may not remember his legendary service, but you will no doubt remember his famous words, “Don’t fire until you can see the whites of their eyes.” Now there is one less mystery in life. How many times have you wondered who exclaimed these words? Never, probably, if truth be told. Anyway, just in case anyone ever asks you, you can impress them with the knowledge that it was “Old Put.”

 

Inside the capitol building, we were not surprised to see the statue of Connecticut’s official state hero, none other than young Nathan Hale. Hale volunteered to spy for George Washington in New York City where he was recognized, captured, and hung within 48 hours at the age of twenty one. Hale went to the gallows bravely and his purported last words were, “I  only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” The statue of Hale in the Connecticut State Capitol is only one of many statues of him that can be found around the Northeast.

 

Also in the Connecticut State Capitol are twin versions of “The Genius of Connecticut.” One version is bronze and one is the original plaster model made in Rome and cast in bronze in Munich in the nineteenth century. (I should add that “genius” in this title actually means “vision” in this case.) Originally placed atop the dome on the capitol, the Genius had to be removed after it was damaged in a hurricane in 1938. During World War II, the state donated the damaged statue to the war effort and it was melted down to make ammunition and parts for machines. After the turn of this century, the General Assembly voted to recast another statue from that original plaster model, so that version is in a place of prominence in the capitol today. When funding is acquired, the plan is to return the Genius to the top of the capitol building.

 

 

Actually, I probably should stop here and tell the real story of how the Genius came down from the dome originally and what happened to her parts and pieces, but that story is really not the stuff of patriotic lore. I can’t imagine why we would let actual facts get in the way of a wonderful old state legend, so we will stick with the story as it was proudly presented to us by one of the Connecticut State Capitol guides. After all, if the story is good enough for the guides to tell the schoolchildren, it’s good enough for us.

3 Comments

  1. Melinda Young on April 5, 2024 at 3:17 pm

    👋

  2. Judy on April 6, 2024 at 4:57 am

    A tour with children had to be fun! Thanks for the history lesson!

  3. Pam Morgan on April 8, 2024 at 10:15 am

    The building is beautiful!

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