Andy Hayes

Groined arches and Statehouse malaria…

I’m finishing my third mystery, “Capitol Punishment,” about a murder at the Ohio Statehouse. I’ve covered the Legislature on and off for more than fifteen years, and thought I knew a lot about the building and its history. How wrong I was. Here are some of my favorite discoveries from my reading and interviews:

_The selection of both the Statehouse site and Columbus as the state capital were the result of intense campaigning by four frontier businessmen who saw an opportunity. In other words, lobbyists have been with the General Assembly from the very beginning.

_In the middle of the lowest level of the Statehouse, a space dubbed the Crypt, brick arches come together in a design known as groined vaults. Groin in this case refers to the edge between the intersecting vaults. In a building that seethes with intrigue, often involving whispers of affairs, “groined vaults” is an excellent descriptive phrase.

_Nearby, reached through a nondescript office, a staircase of 207 steps leads to the top of the Cupola, the crowning feature of the Statehouse’s distinctive Greek Revival style. Just a few steps into the climb, visitors come across an inscription likely dating from the 19th century that warns: “Commit No Nuisance.” Worthy advice, but will characters in a mystery heed it?

_The interior of the cupola forms the Rotunda, a soaring dome capped by a skylight embossed with the state seal. During the early 1990s Statehouse renovation, the Rotunda was repainted in shades of salmon reminiscent of colors associated with neo-classical Rome. The best part of this is that a Statehouse tour guide once overheard a class of fourth graders likening the effect to Barbie’s “Dreamhouse.”

_And finally: not long after the Statehouse was completed in 1861, a construction error mistakenly connected sewage ducts from the indoor “water closets” to the building’s air vents. The resulting stench was known as the “Statehouse malaria” and sickened people for years until its source was discovered and the accumulated filth removed–150 barrels worth. Politics stink, indeed.

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