28.12.10

Freedom

28 December 1863 - Washington, D.C.

Today I visited the Capitol Building to see the new nearly-completed dome. I understand they are still working on the inside.

Original U.S. Capitol Dome in 1846
This isn’t the original dome. That one was completed in 1823 and was made of copper. The country soon outgrew it’s capitol building, and needed to expand. Unfortunately the old dome would be dwarfed by the new additions.

Construction on a taller more elegant dome began in 1855. The Civil War halted the construction in 1861, but President Abraham Lincoln insisted it continue, if only for the moral of this nation.

I had my camera glasses on to record the gleaming bronze statue on top. It had just been placed on the 2nd of this month. I zoomed in to get a better look.

“She is a beauty, isn’t she, sir?” a voice beside me said. “Nearly twenty feet tall.”

I turned to find a man about sixty of African descent. “Yes, she is. Do you know something about the statue?”

"Freedom"
“Her name is ‘Freedom,’ and I made her.”

I wasn’t sure if the man was mad, or if he was practicing that infamous American art of “pulling my leg.” “Really? I was told Thomas Crawford sculpted the statue.”

“He did indeed, sir, may he rest in peace. Mr. Crawford was the artist who designed her and made the plaster model in Rome. Someone had to create the mold and pour the bronze here.”

“Ah! So, you were the craftsman who created the finished product.”

“Took more than one man, but I was the foreman in charge.”

“Foundry men are the unsung heroes of the art world. Well, I must say, I am most pleased to meet you, sir.” I stuck out my hand. “May I ask your name?”

“Phillip Reid, sir. I was bought as a slave by Mr. Ferraro, a foreman with the Clark Mill Foundry. They were awarded the contract. I wasn’t the only slave working on the capitol building.”

“The capitol was built by slave labor?”

“Mostly. The fellow in charge of the renovations didn’t seem to mind, being a slave owner himself. Last I heard he was down in Richmond, being President to this here Confederacy.”

“Jefferson Davis!” I found it all too ironic. “I had heard the Confederacy originally wanted to make Washington, D.C. their capital.”

Capitol earlier this year (1863)
“Reckon old Mr. Davis didn’t want to give up all his hard work. Heard he changed the design on the statue, though. Mr. Crawford wanted to put something called a Liberty Cap on Freedom’s head.”

“Ah, yes. Like the freed slaves in the ancient Roman Empire wore?”

Reid nodded. “Mr. Davis had a tizzy fit. Made him change it to a helmet.”

“Did your master allow you to watch the statue being set?”

“What master?” Reid grinned at me. “President Lincoln signed an act outlawing slavery in the District of Columbia back in April of last year. When my old master striked for more money, Mill turned the project over to me.”

“Congratulations on your freedom, sir. I can see why this statue has special meaning for you.”

Reid shaded his eyes to look up at the statue. “Yup, ‘Freedom’ might have been molded by slaves, but she was raised onto her pedestal by freemen.”

I wish I could have told Phillip Reid that one day an African-American would take the Oath of Office in the shadow of his statue. I’m sure he would never have believed me. But then I suppose he would not have believed me if I told him thirty years ago that one day he would be free and his handiwork would crown the U.S. Capitol Building.

You never know what the future might bring.

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