Birds And Bees

16 NJ visit 001Linda Burton posting from Trenton, New Jersey – The New Jersey state bird is the Eastern Goldfinch, and the New Jersey state bug is the Honeybee. I was standing one-legged in a center hall of the New Jersey State House when I learned this; the tour guide had stopped the crowd by a glass-encased Boehm ceramic artwork to explain. Inside, perched on the New Jersey state tree – the red oak – were a number of bright yellow birds; striped honeybees hovered over sweet-purple violets, the state flower. I didn’t get a photo of the display because there was a glare on the glass, so I can’t show you 16 carpethow pretty it was. I might have tried harder for a better angle except, as I said, I was standing one-legged, holding onto the wall. My knee had suddenly decided not to work; it does that sometimes, especially, it seems, if I’m in a crowd; that makes for a higher embarrassment factor. Nobody seemed to notice, however; and soon we were in the Assembly Chamber, just down the hallway, where I could sit. Ah, look at the floor! The Birds and Bees and Trees and Flowers were part of the carpet design, a charming swirl against a background of blue. I got a picture of that, and 16 seal highlooked around the room, squinting as the sun beamed through the high windows on either side of the State Seal; our guide was focused on the legislative process. In my hand I held a roster of the 215th New Jersey Legislature – 80 in the Assembly; 40 in the Senate; party and district were identified, phone number listed. Two seats are vacant, it said; I counted 70 Democrats and 48 Republicans serving a state where the Republican governor makes the daily news; Chris Christie, resoundingly re-elected November 5.

16 seal closeMy eyes went back to the brightly colored State Seal; I had another brochure in hand that explained the various elements I could see. The horse is the state animal; it stands for speed and strength. The three designs on the blue shield (that looked like Chinese letters from where I sat) are actually three plows, representing agriculture. Liberty and Prosperity (the state motto) are represented by the two red-robed female figures; the seal was designed by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere in May of 1777. I see that the New Jersey flag at the front is buff-colored; I read that buff and dark blue were the colors George Washington chose for the flag of New Jersey’s army regiments during the Revolutionary War.

16 goldfinchWhy were the birds and bees chosen? The Eastern Goldfinch, with its bright yellow feathers and black head and wings, flits around all over the state, an obvious choice. The Honeybee became the state “bug” in 1974, due to the efforts of a group of children from the Sunnybrae School in Hamilton Township. They went to the State House with a presentation that included a song and a poem; the Legislature enacted Bill A-671; Gov Brendan Byrne signed it; what could be a happier sight? Honeybees pollinate the crops that grow in this “Garden State;” they also pollinate the state flower, the purple violet, found in New Jersey fields, 16 violetlawns, and meadows. As to the red oak (a type I wasn’t familiar with), it’s a hardwood with pointy-lobed leaves that have prickly tips; they turn a beautiful, bright red in the fall. Ah yes, I’ve seen many of them in this area. More involvement by school children – the horse has always been a part of that 1777 state seal; it was named the State Animal two hundred years later thanks to the efforts of Michael McCarthy and his fifth grade class at Our Lady of Victories School in Harrington Park and James Sweetman, an eighth grader from Freehold. As they pointed out, people continue to raise horses in New Jersey today, and racehorses are very popular here.

16 capitol frontMy reading stopped when our guide led us back past the Boehm birds and bees to the Senate Chamber, down another hall. I was still limping so my attention span fell short; I didn’t listen as carefully as I should have as the guide pointed to the murals above, and the scagliola (fake marble) columns; “Oh well,” I told myself; “you can read about it later.” Back past the birds and bees, back past the Governor’s Reception Room, back into the ruby-red rotunda for our goodbyes, and more literature. My car was just across the street; I got 16 Linda Capitol Trentonpictures of the front of the building, and the interesting houses along State Street; then drove around the complex to the back, trying to understand how all the buildings that make up today’s State House are so seamlessly connected. The complex is an interesting combination of history, and current activity. Some parts are closed on Saturday, but I share with you both my experience, and the literature I read at that promised later time.

16 chandelierThe Assembly Chamber. When Thomas Edison’s young Electric Light Company first installed the 66-light-bulb brass chandelier in the new Assembly chamber in 1891, the electric light bulb was just 13 years old. It symbolized a new era of progress and technological promise. Nevertheless, the wall sconces were piped for old-fashioned gas light, just in case. Stained glass lunettes and an enormous skylight help to light the bright and spacious hall. Gold leafing (added in 1898) decorates ornamental plaster work. A brightly painted wooden statue depicting the great seal of the State of New Jersey stands atop a high arch over the Assembly Speaker’s dais and desk.

16 senate chamberSenate Chamber. Washington’s troops fought more battles in New Jersey than anywhere else. Artist William Brantley Van Ingen designed sixteen symbolic murals for the Senate Chamber to celebrate New Jersey’s hard won freedom and prosperity. Scenes include the Revolutionary War battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth, as well as important industries, such as building construction, glass making, agriculture and ceramics. The domed skylight overhead features the names of famous New Jerseyans, including Civil War General George B McClellan. Originally completed in 1903, the Senate Chamber is the third such chamber dedicated to the upper House to exist at the capitol. The first now serves the Governor’s Office, making New Jersey’s State House the second oldest in continuous use in the entire nation.

16 rotundaRotunda. In the historic Rotunda space one can learn about the Capitol’s evolution from a simple rubble-stone structure built in 1792 to the grand architectural monument of today. Impressive stained glass windows surround portraits of early Governors. In the Governor’s Reception Room are portraits of recent Governors and the podium used by the Governor for signing bills and making public addresses.

Cafe NJ is accessible via the pedestrian tunnel between the State House and Annex. The cafe serves weekday breakfast and lunch. Directly below the cafeteria, the State House Welcome Center houses exhibits, a theater space, multipurpose rooms, public rest rooms, pay phones, 16 just in jerseydrinking fountains and information assistance. Just in Jersey is a series of interactive exhibits which includes multiple levels of learning for children and adults. The centerpiece is Making Laws — Debate, Negotiation and Compromise, where a ball rolls on a track representing the path of legislation. Treasures and Trivia uses touch-screen monitors to quiz visitors on State trivia. A large display monitor enables guests to Discover New Jersey by showing legislative districts, major attractions, and fun facts. Nearby, a rotating mobile represents Democracy in Balance. For I Have a Voice, visitors hear short debates on public policy issues and cast votes. Large blocks representing portions of the State House help visitors construct The Building of Government. A large multipurpose room can be divided into two to accommodate educational programming and public use functions. The space is used by school groups for Make a Law! mock-legislative session programs. The space is available to State agencies for training and other business activities, and to outside parties for certain types of functions.

The most impressive bit of literature I read is entitled New Jersey Legislature Pastimes and Trivia; on Page 15 is an encouragement to Get Involved! Here are their tips for how to do that:

  • Look, listen, and learn. Stay informed, read the paper, watch the news, hear other opinions.
  • Get Specifics. Legislative information is always available; get copies of bills, and the legislative calendar.
  • Write a Letter, Call, or Email. Names and addresses and phone numbers of all representatives are available, so contact them.
  • Join Forces. Join a group or start one. Sign or start a petition. Attend rallies.
  • Visit the Site. Public hearings, committee meetings, tours.
  • Vote!

In New Jersey, as the young students learned when they took action to name the state bird, and the state bug, you can be as busy, and involved, as the birds and the bees.

New Jersey State House, 125 West State Street, 609-847-3150 for information on open hours and tours,