State House

Our hotel was strategically placed directly between two distinct Indianapolis landmarks: the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and the Indiana State House. Whoever built this city must have thought long and hard about the placement of each structure because the sun very perfectly rises and sets behind them, respectively. Or the city planners were just really lucky.

I walked out the door of the hotel, took a right, took another right, and walked two blocks straight up the steps to the Indiana State House. Its original building was constructed in 1835 at the cost of $60,000 (sixty thousand dollars), but it collapsed (budget cheapery, mayhaps?) and a new one was built. I thought about how much it looked like the U.S. Capitol Building and later learned that Edwin May, the architect with a budget of $2,000,000 (two million dollars!) in 1878, swiped the design idea from the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Ten years later, the State House was completed and came in under budget.

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One hundred years later in 1987-1988, restorations took $11,000,000 to complete. ELEVEN MILLION DOLLARS. That’s an absurd amount of money! It sure makes for pretty pictures, though.

 inside the Indianapolis State House

inside the Indianapolis State House

inside the Indianapolis State House

inside the Indianapolis State House

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inside the Indianapolis State House

inside the Indianapolis State House

There is a lot of history to this building, most of which I won’t get into because it involves politics and politicians and I really have no interest in either one of those things. My fascination with this building comes in the form of small snippets of nonsensical information, things you’d expect to learn from watching Jeopardy! and smiling smugly to yourself for actually having known the answer. At least, that’s how I measure my success when watching the show. In smugness points.

  • The restoration in 1988 included the hand stenciled artwork of 4 acres of walls and ceilings on the fourth floor. I am actually more impressed by the 4 acres than by the hand stenciling, simply because I have always associated acreage with land ownership and farming and not with State House wall areas.
  • The third floor chandelier is lit by 100 lights, each meant to represent a member of the House.
  • There are fifty desks in use when the General Assembly is in session. This means they have to share. Ha. But remember – they each get their own light on that aforementioned chandelier.
  • It is imperative that you do not walk on the grass. I’m not sure why, but this instruction was noted in the walking tour handout as well as told to me by the armed police officer who let me into the building after scanning me for bombs, handguns, and other weapons. Obviously, their lawn is important to them (it’s too bad they don’t pay just as much attention to their dying flowers).
  • Back in the day, the State House included a tunnel entrance for horse and wagon deliveries but it no longer exists. That’s a shame.

Notable Indianans:

Abraham Lincoln. I had no idea!

inside the Indianapolis State House

Should I have known this? That Lincoln spent fourteen years of his childhood in southern Indiana? I always thought he had been born and raised in Illinois, but this explains the significance of the Lincoln funeral train stopping by the original Indiana State House building in 1865 on its way to Springfield, Illinois.

Then there’s this guy, Richard Owen.

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There is nothing posted anywhere informing visitors as to why he is such a prominent figure or at least enough of one to warrant a bust in the State House that alludes to him being some kind of caped avenger. It’s an impressive sculpture. Doesn’t he look like he’s exacting justice in the world (or in Indiana) just by the intense look on his face and the fact that his arms are crossed?  He has totally out-serioused my own serious face. I like you already, Col. Owen.

It turns out he was Scottish, but he was a really, really nice guy. That’s why he has a place in the State House, because he was nice. Apparently during the Civil War, Colonel Owen guarded four thousand imprisoned enemy troops until he and his own regiment were taken as prisoners of war. After his release, Colonel Owen was personally thanked by a gracious former enemy, General Buckner, for the pleasantness and kind treatment Owen bestowed upon his own enemy prisoners.

Prior to his war obligations, Owen was a geologist who was the first to ever explore (scientifically, at least) the northern shore of Lake Superior. After the war, he was elected President of Purdue University. The school was so unorganized, though, that he refused to take on the job.

Oh, how I wish there were more people around like him these days.

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