on February 8, 2009
After we'd completed the main tour of the Colorado State Capitol building, we were still interested enough that we wanted to take the second of the available free tours – the tour of the Dome and the exhibition called 'Mr Brown's Attic'. We'd previously been told that they couldn't guarantee we'd get in, but to just pop upstairs and see if there was space. This was typical of the relaxed spirit of the Capitol building – nobody seemed bothered that we were about to wander off on our own to try to get into the dome. Apparently they have to be quite careful to restrict the numbers on the dome tours because of fire safety regulations – you can't help but think about the havoc that would ensue if the fire alarm went off with scores of tourists squeezed into the dome with only a rickety narrow staircase to get down. If you read my other review, you'll know we'd already succeeded in by-passing all the security to get into the building and were no longer surprised that nobody seemed bothered by odd foreigners wandering around.We shot upstairs to the dome tour desk and were told that the group already there was small enough that they could squeeze a couple more in without any problems. The dome tours go every hour, on the hour and we were lucky to have avoided getting caught up with a large school party. We had been warned that the climb was steep and not advised for anyone who's claustrophobic or has mobility issues. You wouldn't guess it to look at him but my husband isn't a fan of anything he thinks he might fall off – but by the time we got back to Denver after a week in the Rockies, he was starting to get used to me standing too close to the edge of every major attraction in the state and was a bit more relaxed about taking a steep climb up inside the dome.So who was Mr Brown? Well apparently the land on which the Capitol building was built was a donation given to the state by one Henry Brown. After 9/11 the dome of the Capitol was closed to the public and when it finally reopened, it came along with the addition of a fascinating museum about the Capitol which goes by the name of Mr Brown's attic. When you are actually touring the main part of the building, it's very clear that it's a workplace where the business of running the state is going on all around you. The building is NOT a museum with neatly labelled things to look at. It could, I suppose, be said that the entire building is a giant exhibit but it's not a museum as such. The role of educating the public about the building they are visiting goes partly to the volunteer guides and partly to the small museum in Mr Brown's attic, the space below the dome. Once you get up to Mr Brown's attic, you find a small but well constructed exhibition about the building which lies directly beneath your feet. The attic is a treasure house of photographs, information about the construction of the building and its importance to the surrounding areas, and about Denver and Colorado in general. There's also – and please don't ask me why, I haven't a clue – a scale model of the Capitol built entirely out of food cans. There are also special exhibits designed to be of interest to younger visitors – not so surprising since every Colorado school-kid undoubtedly gets dragged to the Capitol on a school trip at least once in their life.Next it's time to go up into the dome itself and visitors will be reminded that there are 99 steps to go and offered the opportunity to view a video if the climb is a bit too daunting for them. We headed up – to be honest, it's no big deal. The staircase is solid, not too narrow and you know full well in a country as litigious as the USA that there's no danger whatsoever. Climbing up the 99 steps brings you to the dome itself and it's well worth the effort. We had a young guide who'd been doing the job for only a few weeks and wasn't 100% sure what everything was, but was still clearly quite over-awed by getting such a cool job in such an amazing place. We spread out around the platform and looked at the stained glass roundels that decorate the base of the dome and commemorate the bigwigs of the city at the time that the building was being built. The guide pointed out various features and bombarded us with facts and figures but we were hoping she'd hurry up so that we could turn round and look out of the windows at the city around us. There are giant sliding windows which must have once been routinely opened to allow people to get a better view but in these days of health and safety, there's no way the public will get out onto the outer platform. Never mind, the views are still spectacular. We could even – with a little 'eye of faith' – pick out the pointed white peaks of the Denver International Airport, many miles away and the Rocky Mountains in the opposite direction. Closer to the building we picked out the Catholic cathedral and the museum zone with the Denver Public Library, the Denver Art Gallery and the Colorado History Museum. Looking across the Civic Centre Park, we could see the City and County building curving at the end of the park. Between us and the C&C building we noticed the flags of the state and the country hanging at half mast from the Capitol Building's flag pole. We had spotted flags similarly at half mast across the state for a few days before our visit and were told by the young guide that these were to mark the death of two young Coloradan soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.After about 10 minutes snapping photos out of the windows and playing "look! Isn't that the…..building" or "Oh look, there's our car park", it was time to head back down another set of rickety stairs. It's a bit like going behind the scenes of a theatre and seeing all the ironwork and ply-board that keep the whole place together. From the outside where you can see the golden dome, it's hard to imagine the engineering that goes into keeping it safely in place.The whole tour takes about 30 minutes and is well worth seeing either instead of or in addition to the main Capitol building tour.
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