–by Donald Kennon
One hundred and fifty years ago shortly after noon on December 2, 1863, workmen bolted the head of the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome, completing the statue’s installation. The event was purposely low-key, even though it was marked by a volley of artillery from the Union forts that encircled the city. The New York Times, for example, had only a two-sentence notice in its dispatches from Washington that day: “The head or crowning feature at the statue of Freedom was successfully hoisted to its position on the dome of the Capitol, to-day, amid the cheers of the spectators below and a salute of cannon. The figure is made of bronze, is 19 feet high, weighs 15,000 pounds, was designed by CRAWFORD, and was cast by CLARK MILLS.”
The flag of the United States was unfurled from the statue and at that moment a photographer took a picture of the event from the west front side of the Capitol. A copy of that photograph, preserved in the collections of Charles F. Thomas, the engineer who supervised the installation, is shown here courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, whose Flickr feed includes a high resolution image of the photograph.
The most recent issue of the Capitol Dome magazine has an interesting article by Katya Miller on the productive friendship between Thomas Crawford and Sen. Charles Sumner that culminated in the creation of the sculptor’s masterpiece. You can find the article online here.