austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

But richer thy historic lore

On going to visit bunny_hugger I had no preconceptions about Lansing. Most of what I knew of it was that it's the only state capital for which another city is the county seat. (This not at all awkward phrasing is because Connecticut and Rhode Island have so abstracted the notion of ``county'' that they can't be really considered as having county seats anymore; there are also some capitals not considered to be in counties.)

I have to credit midwestern states with ease of navigation: so many of these roads are nice and clear and straight so that getting near the Capitol is a matter of just looking for the tall, skinny dome and driving in that direction. We parked just a couple blocks away behind a car with a license plate, ``PLANN 9'', that I had to suppose was custom-ordered and ambled past a bank and arts supply store that we figured we could use to tell how far we were from getting back later on. bunny_hugger shared some of the history of the town, such as its origins in a land scam run on gullible easterners, some of whom decided that just because they had bought fraudulent title to swampland in the middle of the remotest nowhere was no reason not to settle in, although they did eventually move out of the swamps.

She also talked about the process of how Lansing became the capital, which was through the neat process of there being enough competing towns that actually and truly existed and weren't in imminent peril from Canadian or Ohioan invasion that they cancelled each other out and they picked a town nobody could bring anything against. A historical marker in the area mentioned that it was initially dubbed ``Town Of Michigan'', suggesting that the name was carefully chosen after a process lasting over three seconds. I can't imagine that one of the many states to just use ``O Tannenbaum'' as the State Song would do that, though. Probably it was meant to be provisional, although it also made me think of that ancient Saturday Night Live sketch where the game show asks questions of ordinary knowledge but the answers are based on surveys of Those Dopey Teenagers Like Those Who Watch Saturday Night Live, so that the capital of New York is New York City, the capital of New Jersey is Jersey City, and the capital of Washington is Washington DC.

The capitol has the sorts of statues and memorial trees and such outside that you might expect, and the broad, opening stairs in front that the signs tell visitors not to use so that we can instead go down a little stairway underneath the main entrance. There was some sign about a group that was to meet somewhere different because of the rain although, as would happen for most of the week, bunny_hugger and I saw no actual rain. We saw evidence of it, but not the actual thing. Tragically I failed to photograph the sign so I have to be vague about its contents. They did have a booklet for guests to sign in but just as a tourist thing, giving kids who'd been driven here by their parents from as far away as Indiana the chance to do something prove they are too having fun.

The building itself was constructed in the ``late middle section of a Mark Twain novel about railroad speculators'' style, brass and bronze and limestone and white pine made to look like walnut. It still is, thanks to a restoration recent enough that people are still satisfied that the restoration actually restored rather than messed up the things that went before. In our basement level there was a lovely diffuse light thanks to the frosted-glass floor of the main level and the high windows of the capitol dome, although it's the higher levels that were more interesting.

The base level of the dome shows off some Michigan-booster type items, mostly battle flags as I remember them, but the upper levels start to get into the really important thing of portraits of former governors. Most of them are pretty standard representations of hesitantly smiling white men in suits sitting awkwardly on desks, but a few strive for weirdness: the one whose portrait is deliberately left in the sketch form because his term of office was ended rather abruptly and he wanted to emphasize how his work was not done, or the one posed in what looks like the temporary office H&R Block sets up next to the Chinese take-out in the strip mall every March, only this with a big poster-sized picture of a pine tree falling onto the floor. The portraits go up several levels, interrupted by pictures of what are either muses or various images of things the artist wanted endowed on Michigan, such as industry or other industry. The dome goes up something like six levels, although the public can only get up about three or so, which is really getting to be enough because the walkway around the dome gets surprisingly narrow.

The legislature wasn't in session, although there was a sign warning of when they'd be back, and a security guard puttering around at a little desk outside the House's chamber pretty busy at that for there not being much going on. In the House's side of things we looked out over the viewing gallery at dozens of empty legislative desks. Well, most of them were empty; some legislators did leave things on their desks, though, such as college football paraphernalia, or a big M&M figure. I don't know who had the M&M figure but I imagine that's the person to be seated next to. There was also one balding guy working at his laptop. The roof is tiled with frosted windows each showing what appear to be coats of arms or state seals for the various other states; I did recognize New Jersey's and New York's as such, at least. Other states I'm vaguer about. For example, if these are state seals then Alabama's state seal is a map of Alabama, labelled ``Alabama'', with the surrounding states identified. That may help Alabamans who aren't sure just where they are in relation to Tennessee, but it seems like they weren't making a lot of effort at it.

The Senate chamber in comparison has the same basic idea of desks with state seals (I guess) for the roof, although it wasn't so well-lit --- I think that's just an effect of being on the wrong side of the afternoon sun --- and there weren't any personal touches like the M&M's. But there was a guy vacuuming, and there were actually other people wandering around the visitor's gallery taking pictures too despite the light problems. Also on this level is the former State Supreme Court chamber, a neat little courtroom with a plaque outside warning that important frontiers of jurisprudence were committed here. Although since the State Supreme Court moved to its own building decades ago I'm a bit at a loss of why they still have the room set up as a courthouse. Perhaps they want to convey the many important historical points of the Michigan judiciary.

And of course there's the ceremonial governor's office, location of the really big portrait of Gerald Ford.

Having finished off the statehouse there was also this whole city to explore too.

Trivia: In its early years the Empire State Building rented no offices from the 45th to the 79th storeys and shut down elevator service to those floors. The floors were lit at night. Source: Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City, Neal Bascomb.

Currently Reading: The Family Trade, Charles Stross. That's more my style, yes.

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