During the Civil War, the U.S. Capitol served stints as a military barracks, a bakery, and a hospital for wounded soldiers, all while the building was under construction. After the war, the bakery was dismantled and the soldiers left — well, all but one …
From 1920 to 1930, George Cassiday was a bootlegger for Congress. He sold alcohol to four out of every five members during Prohibition, and at one point had an office inside the House Office Building. After his arrest for possessing alcohol, Cassiday told his story in The Washington Post.
As congressmen convened for a special session in July 1861, they were welcomed into the Capitol by the smell of baking bread. Just months into the Civil War, the building had already seen thousands of troops pass through its doors, and now it was the site of one of the largest bakeries the world had ever known. Twenty ovens, each with the capacity of holding hundreds of loaves of bread, were housed in the basement, and multitudes of men spent hours tending yeast and kneading dough. Having been in recess for less than four months, the congressmen were astounded, and some even annoyed, with this new mammoth bakery occupying their space. But a lot had changed for the country – and for the Capitol – in that short period of time.
Shortly before midnight on Friday, July 2, 1915, police responded to the U.S. Capitol where an explosion had just rocked the Senate wing. Fortunately they found no fatalities – a byproduct of the fact that Congress was not in session and the building was lightly staffed at night. But, there was plenty of carnage and, obviously, great concern about security.
The next evening, Washingtonians opened their Evening Star newspaper to find a peculiar letter under the headline, “Letter Received by the Star Thought to Have Bearing on the Explosion.” The diatribe began, “Unusual times and circumstances call for unusual means.”
It was a long wait for sculptors and local politicians.
Since 2008, a seven-foot tall, 1,700 pound bronze statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass stood in the lobby of a building called One Judiciary Square. It remained there for five years while Washington officials fought to move it to another building less than a mile down the road: the U.S. Capitol.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of Douglass’ statue in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall. The ceremony was the culmination of a fight spanning over a decade.