In honor of the upcoming 125th anniversary of the day (April 21, 1888) the Texas Capitol was opened to the public — and courtesy of an interesting exhibit now in the building — let’s test your knowledge about Austin’s pre-eminent edifice.
Please mark each of the following nine statements as fact or fiction:
• The Texas Capitol is taller that the United States Capitol.
• There are cannonballs in the walls of the Texas Capitol.
• A state official was killed in the Capitol.
• Confederate gold is buried under the oldest tree on the Capitol grounds.
• Someone is buried on the Capitol grounds.
• Secret tunnels for people and horses extend from the Capitol to Lady Bird Lake.
• Texas owns the land on which the Capitol stands.
• No women’s restrooms existed in the Capitol until Barbara Jordan became a senator in 1966.
• The crack in the rotunda floor was caused by someone falling to their death.
Three are fact, six fiction. Let’s start with the facts.
The Texas Capitol, 302.64 feet high to the tip of the star in the Goddess of Liberty’s raised left hand, is 14.64 feet taller than U.S. Capitol. (Related note: Has Texas suffered a greater day of infamy than June 14, 1986, when, after repeated failures by our own troops, we had to call in the Mississippi National Guard to place a replacement Goddess atop the Capitol. Mississippi?)
And yes, the state owns the land under the Capitol. In fact, the State Preservation Board exhibit says, “Texas has paid for the land three times.” (We’re not proud of this, but at least we didn’t pay Mississippi.)
“The Republic of Texas initially purchased the site in 1839 from two men who appeared to have legal title,” the exhibit says. “In 1874, E.M. Smith provided evidence he had purchased a rightful deed for the land from the only surviving member of a pioneer family who perished in an Indian raid.”
In 1926, the state paid $20,000 to Stella McGregor and Kate Sturgis “after they proved their family had a legitimate and earlier land claim.”
It’s also fact that a state official was killed in the Capitol. On June 30, 1903, Comptroller Robert M. Lowe was gunned down in his office by former employee William Hill, who, according to the exhibit, “was accidentally shot and died later that day.”
Now let’s deal with Capitol fiction. The cannonballs-in-the-walls legend, according to the exhibit, probably stems from an 1884 document that said “five-eighth inch round iron” was to be used for anchors in the exterior walls.
There’s no Confederate gold under the Capitol grounds. The exhibit says it’s an “often-told legend” with nothing to substantiate it.
There are no people buried on the Capitol grounds, either, despite a 2000 claim by descendants of John Ballantyne who said they found a document showing he was buried “near the river … on the Capitol grounds.” Ballantyne died in 1846 when Texas was using a log Capitol not near where the current Capitol stands. “It appears that he received a burial at the log Capitol that stood closer to the Colorado River,” the exhibit says.
There are no secret tunnels from the Capitol to Lady Bird Lake, and the crack in the Rotunda floor wasn’t caused by someone falling to their death, though somebody did fall to his death in the building.
“Tragically, Ed Wheeler fell approximately 160 feet to his death while painting the inside of the Rotunda on Dec. 13, 1922,” the exhibit says. But the Rotunda’s terrazzo floor wasn’t installed until 1936. The crack in it, we’re told, “occurred due to the building settling.”
And the story about the late Barbara Jordan and the Capitol’s first women’s bathroom is legend and nothing more.
“When the Capitol opened in 1888, a restroom for women was in place. The drawings of architect Elijah Myers show a ‘Ladies Retiring Room’ on the third floor next to several water closets,” the exhibit says.
Thank you for participating. If you failed to correctly answer at least six questions, please cut your Texas driver’s license in half and mail it to the Department of Public Safety.