–by Joanna Hallac
A few times a year, I work with a non-profit organization—Live It Learn It—to give Capitol tours to 5th graders from some of DC’s most under-served public schools. Those are days I always look forward to for the obvious reason that the kids are not only bright and respectful, but they’re totally adorable. Another entertaining aspect of these tours is trying to anticipate what questions the kids will ask me because, as anyone who has spent time with 5th graders knows, they can ask a lot of very specific questions about very random things. Without fail I will get a new question during each tour, usually about an obscure part of a painting or sculpture in the Capitol somewhere and, of course, it’s always something I know nothing about. So, after each tour, I find myself back at my desk, looking up the answers to these many queries.
I decided to share with you two of the pieces I get asked about very often by the 5th grade students on these tours. They are located in National Statuary Hall (the Old House Chamber), and they are two that I had seen many times, but not paid too much attention to: the “Car of History Clock,” and the “Liberty and the Eagle” sculpture. The questions usually entail one of the students pointing to one or the other statue and saying, “Who is she?” Or, “what’s that snake mean?” Not knowing any of the answers, I took to the Architect of the Capitol’s website to find out, and here is what I found:
Car of History Clock
This piece of sculpture sits above where one enters Statuary Hall from the Rotunda. It is a marble sculpture of Clio, the muse of History, standing in a winged chariot, which sits atop a marble globe that has the signs of the Zodiac engraved on it, with the face of the clock as the chariot’s wheel.
In her hand, Clio is holding a book within which, it is said, she was recording the unfolding events in the House. On the other hand, the chariot depicts the passage of time. The sculpture of Clio in the chariot was done in 1819, by Carlo Franzoni, thereby making it one of the oldest works in the Capitol. The clock was installed in 1837 and was done by Simon Willard. And no, the clock doesn’t work anymore.
Liberty and the Eagle Sculpture
This plaster sculpture depicts Liberty—as with Freedom, Liberty is personified by a female figure—with an American bald eagle to her right and a serpent coiled around part of a column to her left. The serpent is apparently a sign of wisdom, although that’s not usually what I think of when I encounter a snake. In her outstretched hand, Liberty holds a rolled up copy of the Constitution.
The piece is above where the Speaker’s desk used to be when the House met in Statuary Hall, and is now above the area where members of the House and others walk through to enter the current House chamber. The sculpture was done by an artist named Enrico Causici and placed in the Old House Chamber between 1817 and 1819, also making it one of the oldest pieces in the Capitol.