Open For Business

Linda Burton posting from Baton Rouge, Louisiana Merry Christmas glows red on the electronic board behind the President’s chair in the Louisiana Senate Chambers. Seasons Greetings follows below, in green. The time and date and the Louisiana state seal shine brightly in the middle; the senator’s names are listed on either side of the sign. Through the open door I see red-striped flags, pots of red poinsettias, and wreaths with red bows; all surrounded by soaring square columns in a dark exotic sturdiness. Splendid is the word that comes to mind; it’s the shine, the color, the richness of the look. The House Chambers are closed for a while; major renovation work is going on. But that’s okay, there is plenty to see in stunning Memorial Hall; handpainted murals in glowing colors; white marble statuary, double life-sized; filigreed bronze chandeliers; the Senate Chambers to the left; and just beyond the centered Christmas tree, the flags. I counted twelve in all, hanging over the bronze elevator doors. I boarded the elevator with a crowd; a mix of state employees and others like me, just visiting. It’s clear, the Louisiana state capitol is open for business.

The elevator takes us to the 24th floor; there we switched to a smaller elevator for the observation deck on the 27th. The Louisiana capitol is the tallest capitol in the United States, at 450 feet, with 34 floors. It’s built on the sweep of a hill above the city, and the river; added oomph. The balcony allows views in every direction; I see massive tank fields to the north, a part of the state’s petrochemical corridor. I see the wide Mississippi River to the west, barges floating south, a ship docked. I see pelicans floating on Capitol Lake, just below. East and south are city views – the Old Arsenal Museum; the Governor’s Mansion; the Capitol gardens, 27 acres filled with magnolias and azaleas and Huey Long’s statue and grave.

Back downstairs, a plaque marks the spot where Huey Long was killed in 1935; I see the hole in the wall from one of the bullets fired that night. He’s the governor who pushed for the construction of this capitol during Depression years, though he was serving as a US senator the day he was killed; the legend of Huey Long is a story worthy of a separate post.

There are many stories brought to mind in a walk around this capitol. The statues in Memorial Hall for instance – Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, governor in colonial times; William C C Claiborne, the first governor after statehood; Henry Watkins Allen, governor during the time Louisiana was part of the Confederacy; Francis T Nichols, governor during Reconstruction; Pinckney Benton Pinchback, the first African-American governor. There are stories in those flags hanging over the elevator doors – Spanish, French, British, Confederate; the Republic of West Florida and LA Independent Republic; a 15-star US flag; the current state flag and United States flag.

There is a story in the pencil still embedded high up in the ceiling in the Senate Chambers; I zoomed the camera in to see. It happened in 1970; controversy was intense over Right to Work legislation; a bomb was slipped into the Chambers in a suitcase. Fortunately it exploded on a Sunday night; it is believed the timer was set incorrectly and the intention was for it detonate on Monday morning when the Chambers were occupied. I saw photos of the horrific shambles that was the Chambers scene; unlike the shining room today, where each beautiful walnut desk is marked with a small US flag, and handsome leather chairs sit waiting, ready for January’s session to begin.

The Governor’s Office is on the 4th Floor and he was there today; the building was buzzing with activity; working folks in suits, construction folks in hard hats, tourist folks in jeans with cameras in hand; a few kids out for Christmas break; people coming in and going out; the lady in the gift shop selling postcards and souvenirs; the greeter at the tour desk in the front hall inviting all to sign the guestbook. “We’re glad you’re here,” she said. “Please come back again.”

I headed out through a basement exit; the Scion was close. There are plenty of parking spaces out front; no meters; no restrictions; all who need to come inside are welcome. This functional, beautiful art deco highrise capitol on the banks of the Mississippi River is open for business. Seasons Greetings, to all.

Louisiana State Government

Louisiana State Senate

Louisiana State Capitol