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January Is A Capital Time For A Trip To Harrisburg

7 January 2011 No Comment

Let’s see, we’re wrapping up the first week of January and another snowjob, er, storm is headed for Pennsylvania. That can mean any of three things:

One, the Farm Show is coming up.

Two, the gang in Harrisburg is back from the holiday break and up to its usual mischief.

Three, it’s January and that’s what happens around here this time of year.

Nah, let’s stick with the first two.

Regardless of politics, the Pennsylvania Capitol Building is an impressive and beautiful structure.

There are a lot of new people in our state capital this week as the Commonwealth gets underway with a new Legislature and prepares to inaugurate a new governor. While that is really a small side show to the main event, the Farm Show, it is noteworthy because it focuses attention on the Capitol Building, one of the prettiest and most unique structures in the country.

I used to get to Harrisburg a couple times a year when I was a reporter, but it was a couple years since my last visit. I was there in December and had some time to kill while my son was interviewing for a college internship, so I used it to remind myself why I liked the capitol building so much – in short, it’s the architecture, the grandeur and the history.

When it was dedicated in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt called “the handsomest capitol I ever saw.” Proof that political exaggeration has deep roots, huh? It is pretty impressive. The 52-million pound Rotunda dome, modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome, stands 272 feet above the floor and the Rotunda is decorated with medallions done by the artist Edward Austin Abbey and designed to represent art, law, religion and science.

The large murals, also done by Abbey, reflect the state’s primary industries at the time – coal, oil (yes, oil) and steel as well as the depiction of William Penn’s ships arriving in the New World. The tile floor was done by Doylestown’s Henry Mercer and the 377 mosaics depict a timeline beginning with Indian activities and ending with what were, then, the most modern devices such as the car and the telephone. (Today it would have to be an iPhone, I guess.)

The House and Senate chambers at the end of either wing are worth a special visit, especially if the General Assembly is in session. There is a Visitors Center in the new East Wing is a great first stop. I get a kick out of the giant Rube Goldberg device in the middle of the room that allegedly depicts the way legislation is made. It doesn’t seem that far off.

But this reproduction of a "Rube Goldberg" device in the Visitors Center does honestly depict the difficulty in getting legislation passed through the Legislature.

Gov-Elect Tom Corbett gets sworn in on Jan. 18 and the city is likely to be swarming with gleeful Republicans and depressed Democrats, so keep that in mind if you are thinking of a visit soon. The better recommendation is to go out between Jan. 8-15 when you can make a stop at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center on Cameron Street.

The Farm Show is free and well-worth a visit, especially for city- and suburban-dwellers who unfortunately tend to forget that the food on the supermarket shelf is grown and made by people who are up before the crack of dawn, work until after sunset and often worry about their own financial survival from year to year.

There are a plethora of activities for both children and adults and there is more food than you can eat in a week. Bring an appetite.

Regardless of politics or eating habits, a trip to Harrisburg is always worthwhile because it reminds us that we are the government, and as you travel from stop to stop and see the legislators, aides and lobbyists scurrying from here to there you have to keep reminding yourself that virtually everything they do, every day, will affect you.

What To Know: The Farm Show is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day and while admission is free, it will cost $10 to park. The Capitol is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and guided tours are available on both weekdays and weekends.

If You Go: Don’t forget to stop in to see your legislator while in the Capitol. The office staff is typically very friendly to constituents and it never hurts to let them all know you are watching.

Facts: The cost of building the Capitol in 1906 was estimated at $13 million – which equates to $317 million in 2011 dollars.

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