- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

Americans from around the country sought peace and a feeling of normalcy inside the Capitol building, an enduring symbol of democracy, which reopened to tourists yesterday after closing mid-October over the anthrax scare.
Hundreds of men, women and children lined up in the rain, choosing to wait even after security guards told them it would be two hours before their turn to enter the white-domed building topped by the Statue of Freedom.
Many were not dressed for the suddenly chilly temperatures and the unrelenting rain, but stayed put, shuffling their feet and rubbing their hands to stay warm.
Tours to the Capitol were closed Oct. 15, but city leaders, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, have been lobbying to reopen major attractions, including the Capitol, to bring tourists back to the District.
Visitors said they were not in the least afraid. "I feel very, very safe," said Debra Catlett, who came with her husband and two children.
Her daughter, Meleah, 12, stretched the sleeves of her sweatshirt over her fingers to keep them warm. The Catletts, who are visiting from Pigeon Forge, Tenn., extended their visit by a day after hearing that the Capitol was reopening. "We stayed because we wanted the children to see the Capitol, to learn about their history," Mrs. Catlett said.
Coming here after the September 11 attacks was especially important, she said, because it was a way of showing that "nobody can keep America down."
The tours, which began at 10 a.m., were heavily restricted there are still places the public cannot go and tightly structured, with guides in red coats keeping an unwavering eye on the tourists as they led the way through the Rotunda with its towering dome and the image of a floating George Washington flanked by Victory and Liberty. Also on the itinerary was Statuary Hall, lined with statues of heroes from around the country, and the Crypt, with its sandstone pillars.
The last tour began at 1:30 p.m., not the usual 4 p.m. once again, a security requirement. Tours will run on the abbreviated schedule until further notice, said Ted Daniel, director of the Capitol Guide Service.
Security guards buzzed around the visitors, checking bags before putting them through X-ray machines while the owners of the bags passed through metal detectors.
Because of the tight security, tourists were not allowed to walk around the Capitol on their own after the guided tour was over. As a result, Carl Starkey II from Lansing, Mich., did not get a chance to see what he most wanted to the Senate and House galleries.
Other tourists said they were disappointed they couldn't see the Brumidi Corridors, the ornately decorated corridors on the first floor of the Senate wing.
But Carl, 13, said he was happy just to be visiting the Capitol and being one of the first to do so on what many described as a historic day. "I wanted to be one of the first ones here, and here I am," he said.
Mrs. Norton said the reopening of the Capitol was vital to the city's purse and its spirits.
"This is the nation's capital, and we have to make sure we lead by example," she said. "This is meant to raise the spirits of the city and the country."
The city's economy has taken a triple hit with the September 11 attacks, the anthrax scare and the closure of the National Airport, she said. "It is now especially important to have official sites open," she said, adding that the country could go into deep recession if people were not encouraged to go back to leading normal lives.
The White House and the FBI headquarters, also top tourist attractions, still remain closed. Arlene Ryback, who was visiting from Wellington, N.J., said it was disappointing to visit the capital but not be able to see some of its greatest landmarks.
"The president has been asking people to come to Washington, but when we come here we can't even see his house," she said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide