Exploring the Missouri Capitol’s hidden spaces.
Anyone who has ever visited the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City can attest to how stunningly beautiful and historically impressive the structure and its contents are. Dedicated in 1924, the current Capitol houses the Missouri Senate and House of Representatives, along with workspace for legislative support functions. All statewide elected officials, but the attorney general, also have statehouse offices. Familiar features of the Capitol include the rotunda, the Missouri State Museum, the Hall of Famous Missourians, and the Thomas Hart Benton murals, to name just a few. But the Capitol is also home to several spaces often only seen by legislators, and their staffers, that deserve exploring, too.
House and Senate Floors
A view from both the Missouri House and Senate floors provide vantage points not widely known to the public eye. Only state representatives and senators are allowed on the floors of their respective chambers. Anyone fortunate enough to take in the panorama of these legislative chambers from the ground level will be treated to the full perspective, beauty, and history of these great rooms. From incredible painted glass windows to artistic murals depicting key periods of Missouri history and grandiose marble columns, the view from the chamber floors provides impressive and awe-inspiring scenes not soon to be forgotten.
Located behind the Senate dais, the Senate Mezzanine is closed to the public and offers a view of the Senate Chamber that most people don’t get to see. Now mostly used for special events, the space once housed two tiers of offices, but was refurbished about nine years ago to an open space that overlooks the Senate floor. Here, one can get an up-close look at the chamber’s monumental marble columns, beautifully painted glass windows, and historic murals.
A visit to the Missouri State Capitol is well worth while, even more so knowing something about the hidden offerings and secret tales this magnificent structure has to offer:
The House Chamber is home to a secret figurine called the roaming gnome, which whimsically moves about the space much to the entertainment of the state’s representatives.
• The legs on the ornate chairs gracing the Missouri House of Representatives’ dais, as well as those on the president pro tempore’s chair in the Senate, are carved with hoofed feet, much like those of the mythical creature Pegasus.
• The House’s Press Gallery features a full-size wooden telephone booth complete with a working rotary dial telephone.
• Two hidden doors on either side of the Senate’s Bingham Gallery lead, respectively, to the men’s and women’s restrooms.
The Senate Galleries
These two Senate side galleries, named the Pershing Gallery and the Bingham Gallery, are located on the Capitol’s third floor and are accessible to the public when the legislature is in session. State senators largely use the rooms for news conferences and as places to meet privately off the Senate floor. Most often frequented by lobbyists, the galleries are staff ed by individuals who make sure only those allowed by legislative rules make it past them.
Located on the north side of the Senate Chamber, the Pershing Gallery is named in honor of Missouri native Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, who led the American Expeditionary Force in Europe in World War I. A portrait of a saluting general is the focal point of the ornately decorated room, which features rich mahogany wood paneling, overstuff ed black leather chairs, and plush green and maroon carpeting. Domed, painted ceilings trimmed in gold loom overhead to complete and complement the historic ambience of the room.
Across the Senate Chamber from the Pershing Gallery is the Bingham Gallery. Similar to its counterpart, the room is adorned with a portrait of George Caleb Bingham, an American frontier artist, whose paintings depict Missouri in the 1850s and 1860s. Rich hues of gold and hunter and sage green, found in the gallery’s carpet, walls and leather chairs, spotlight the painting and other decor in the room.
Rounding out the hidden, and not-so-hidden, spaces surrounding the Senate Chamber is the Kirchhoff Gallery, open to use by state senators only. The gallery was named in 2004 in honor of Ron Kirchhoff , who served as the first Senate administrator from 1976-2002. Kirchhoff began his service to the Missouri Senate in 1969, working in the Senate mailroom.
House Lounge & Galleries
Located on the west side of the House Chamber, the House Member Lounge, interestingly enough, used to be part of the Capitol Rotunda and is technically considered to be an extension of the House floor. Unlike the Senate’s enclosed side galleries, the House’s side galleries are open areas located on both sides of the House floor. Guests to the side galleries must be invited by the Speaker of the House.
“The lounge gives the representatives a place where they can work, eat, and take a restroom break,” says Dana Rademan Miller, chief clerk of the House. “This is their space, a special space, a member space.”