Who knew that the Capitol Dome had signage like an amusement park ride? Reporters, including Whispers, took one of the last tours of the Capitol Dome Thursday, before a two-year restoration of America's rooftop, which has some 1,300 cracks, officially gets started.
Before climbing the more than 300 twisty-turny stairs, a warning sign awaits: "Climbing the steep and winding stairs inside the Dome is strenuous," the sign says.
"Pay careful attention to the stairs and projecting elements," it alerts. (A fair warning as a giant windowsill interrupts the stairs, and the railing, at one particular point.) And a final warning: "If you suffer from acrophobia (fear of heights), do not go on this tour." (Probably something Whispers should have paid attention to.) At the top of the tour, there's another warning sign. "No person permitted above this platform –under any circumstances," it says, as visitors are not allowed to climb that final staircase and pester the Statue of Freedom.
The Dome, finished in 1866, was last updated in 1960. Since then, cracks have formed, water has leaked in and the cast iron, the material the Dome is made of, has become rusty. Additionally, some of the oldest layers of paint contain lead and thus will have to be carefully removed. Starting this spring, scaffolding will start to cover the Dome. At night it will be lit, giving the Capitol a look similar to the Washington Monument when it was recently under construction.
The last "public" Dome tours were held on Dec. 15. Anyone who goes on the Capitol Dome Thrill Ride must have said tour arranged by members of Congress, making them hard to come by. Roll Call reported last month that as a result of the limited number of tours, a "black market of promised food, drink and even forced labor" had developed among Hill staffers as the Dome's closing date approached. Quoting the internal administrative message board, one staffer said, "we like diet soda and chocolate," when offering up a Dome tour spot. Another Hill staffer looking for a tour for a constituent presented "intern labor, baked goods, etc.," as a bargaining chip.
The Dome tours will resume once the project is completed, sometime in 2015. The project is expected to cost $60 million.