WHO: Globe staff member Milva DiDomizio with her husband and daughters
WHAT: Exploring state history and politics
WHERE: Massachusetts State House
Have you driven through Boston with your kids and gotten peppered with questions about the cool building with the gilded dome? That would be the Massachusetts State House, and it’s worth a visit.
As the oldest building on Beacon Hill (it was finished in 1798), it’s chock full of history, art, and architecture. It’s also where our governor, state legislators, and many other employees go to work. Like most office buildings, it’s only open during weekday business hours, which makes summer a good time for the whole family to check it out.
We booked our 45-minute tour in advance, as requested on the website.
Upon arrival, the first order of business was to go through security, then head upstairs to Doric Hall to meet our guide. The room, named for the architectural style of its columns, houses exhibits and several portraits, busts, and statues of prominent figures from our nation’s past.
Our guide showed us a statue of George Washington wrapped in a toga. Apparently, the Roman garb created a stir, as some thought he looked too much like a king. A little media spin fixed the problem when a reporter interpreted the toga to be a blanket and said Washington was emerging from a frigid battlefield.
The tour is rich with such fun facts and trivia. Among the things you’ll learn: the most elected governor in Massachusetts history (John Hancock, 11 times); why the shoe in the statue of Governor Roger Wolcott is tarnished (legislators rub their bills on it for luck); the difference between the sacred cod and the holy mackerel (we’ll keep that one a surprise).
With its Doric and Corinthian columns, grand staircase, stained glass windows, and marble and mosaic floors, the building itself, designed by Charles Bulfinch, is simply fabulous. Ditto the statues, paintings, murals, and art installations.
Despite its museum-like qualities, the State House is still very much the living, working center of Massachusetts politics. We saw the House of Representatives, the Senate chambers, and the executive offices, where portraits of the seven most recent governors hang, including Michael Dukakis (the most artsy, abstract painting of the bunch), William Weld (the only governor to be depicted outdoors), and current presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
There’s a wealth of information on the website that’s appealing to kids, including a Kids’ Zone section that is worth perusing before visiting. If you don’t get to it, no worries. Kid-friendly materials like free coloring and storybooks are available when you arrive.
After the tour, we inquired about the room number of our state representative and made our way through spacious, hushed hallways in search of his office. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in, so we’ll have to save greeting our legislator for another visit. With any luck, the House will be in session, too, with a few balcony seats saved just for us.
Massachusetts State House, Boston. Enter through the Governor Hooker entrance on Beacon Street. Wheelchair access at the Ashburton Park entrance. Tours offered Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Free, reservations requested. 617-727-3676, www.sec.state.ma.us/trs/trsidx.htm