Capitol

Deep in the heart of the City of Stars there is a tower which a giant stands atop. Formed from bricks of limestone, the tower’s base depicts scenes of great kings and thinkers whose eyes never gazed upon the land over which this tower holds dominion. 

From the side of the tower, two giant men of stone have been cut, and between them are the words “wisdom justice power mercy constant guardians of the law.” Beneath these words is a stone carving of the men and women who settled these lands in their covered wagons. Further down, another motto reads, “the salvation of the state is the watchfulness of the people,” an implicit threat to those who rule from within the tower. 

As a Californian, the look of the capitol building strikes me as rather odd and more than a little creepy. Like most government buildings, the entrance is oversized to inspire those who enter it with a sense of awe and perhaps fear. The Nebraska capitol does this especially well, given its height and the distance between it and all of the other buildings. 

It’s great that the building has such unique architecture, but, since the government is meant to represent the interests of the people, the seat of government should be inviting. 

The capitol’s architectural mix of the mythologies of so many disparate cultures along with its fortress-like appearance courted my curiosity. Built between 1922 and 1932 and designed by New York architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, the capitol reflects the strange time in which it was built. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Westerners became obsessed with the ancient civilizations of the past and sought to connect themselves to the great heroes from the dawn of civilization. Likewise, with the whole of the continental United States claimed and conquered, the Indian Wars were a generation in the past, and symbols from Nebraska’s first peoples were incorporated into the design of the building. This incorporation is reminiscent of how ancient civilizations would inscribe their victories over conquered peoples into their monuments, though perhaps it was also meant to pay respects to the natives of this land. 

The inside of the capitol is also a strange blending of artistic cultures. The actual rooms themselves aren't particularly out of the ordinary aside from the additional legislature chamber that is no longer used. 

What stands out the most to me about the interior is the artwork. On the floors, there are tile mosaics done in such a way that they mimic something you might see on the floor of a Roman bathhouse. On the walls of the rotunda, there are three murals done in a difficult-to-describe style that, while intensely interesting, seems out of place with the rest of the art.

While displaying the diverse and colorful history of both America and Nebraska is important, the capitol building seems trapped between the older postcolonial mimicry of the classical Mediterranean world and a newer style that better represents the realities of our pluralistic society. 

It's difficult to know how to feel about the capitol, as its mixture of indigenous themes and glorification of ancient monarchs sends a rather mixed message. As a democracy, and an American democracy at that, our government buildings should display the history of our democratic traditions, not the history of divinely anointed kings. They work for us, not the other way around.

Nick Finan is a sophomore secondary social science education major. Reach him at nickfinan@dailynebraskan.com.