January 14, 2011 •
Highlighted Site of the Week – Senate Chamber Desks
One of the pages of the U.S. Senate Web site lets you have a seat at the Senate Chamber desks. Rich with artistry and history, the Senate Chamber Desks site is smart a virtual tour.
Following the “Burning of Washington” in the War of 1812, in which the U.S. Capitol Building was partially damaged, there was a re-building of the Capitol. The new Senate Chamber needed to be refurnished, so in 1818 Vice President Daniel Tompkins hired cabinet-maker Thomas Constantine to construct 48 mahogany desks and armchairs:
“The Senate purchased 48 mahogany desks for its chamber in 1819, adding desks as new states joined the Union. To date, more than 1,600 senators have occupied these historic desks.”
The desks have been altered over the years to meet the senators’ needs. Writing boxes were added to the top of the desks. Microphones and speakers underneath were added in the 1990s to assist senators in hearing the floor proceedings.
The history you will find here is priceless: There is the time during the Civil War that Isaac Bassett (who worked in the Senate Chamber) had to stop Federal soldiers from chopping Jefferson Davis’ desk to bits for being a traitor. Did you know that many senators have been carving their names in the desk drawers since the early 1900s? One inscription in the desk of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond noted that he “spoke 24 hrs. 18 mins. from this desk in 1957,” commemorating his record-breaking filibuster against the Civil Rights Act.
There is also the fun and famous “Candy Desk,” a tradition started in 1965 by Senator George Murphy of California as a service to his fellow senators. According to the site, the tradition has carried on: “In every Congress since that time a candy desk has been located in the back row of the Republican side, on the aisle and adjacent to the Chamber’s most heavily used entrance.”
Enjoy this look into the Senate Chamber! And with that I bid you good day.
The photos used here are courtesy of the U.S. Senate Web site.
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