Tuesday, March 11, 2014


On our last day in West Virginia, we had just enough time to stop at the state capitol building in Charleston before catching our flight home. I hadn't really expected anything too fabulous from the capitol. After all, West Virginia is the 38th most populous state in the country with the 39th largest economy. By way of contrast, California's economy is almost THIRTY TIMES larger than West Virginia's.

I should have known better since all of my other assumptions about West Virginia had been shot down over the past few days. I quickly saw that the California state capitol building can't hold a candle to West Virginia's.

The capitol was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by Cass Gilbert, who also designed the capitol buildings for Minnesota and Arkansas, the United States Supreme Court Building, and the Woolworth Building in New York City, among others. It is a stately, royal structure crowned with a dome of polished gold:

Yes, I fell in love at first sight:

West Virginia's capital has had a rather itinerant history:
. . . but its current location along the banks of the lazy Kanawha River, a 97-mile-long tributary of the Ohio River, is hard to beat.
Two statues in the front of the capitol are especially noteworthy. The first is a Civil War monument:

West Virginians seems to have a special love for the President who helped create their state:

The second statue, of Lincoln himself, stands directly in front of the capitol's main entrance. I think it's one of my favorite depictions of Abe. The original statue was a 29" bronze created in 1933 by Fred Martin Torrey, a West Virginian, and displayed at the World's Fair. This 9 1/2-foot-tall version was created in 1974 by another West Virginian, Bernard Wiepper, for the capitol grounds.

The words on the pedestal read: "Abraham Lincoln created the state by proclamation and signature. West Virginia joined the Union June 20, 1863."
A poem by the famous American poet Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) was the inspiration for this sculpture. How cool is that?
Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
(In Springfield, Illinois)
It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down.

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:—as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free;
The league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain.   And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?

Together, the tender sculpture and the poem create a wonderful portrait of Lincoln.

We entered the building through the front doors
. . . and discovered that the inside of the capitol is just as magnificent as the outside.

Things That Are Great About West Virginia line the rotunda, including this statue of Robert C. Byrd, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1959 until his death in 2010.

West Virginia memorabilia of all types on display.  Bob and I decided that the state is shaped like a turkey carcass.
Did you know that Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day, is from West Virginia?
Here's a black bear like the one we saw in Shenandoah National Park:
A nice replica of the West Virginia quarter:
After exploring the inside, we went back outside to the other side of the building, and we discovered yet more wonderful surprises. For starters, there is a nice reproduction of the Liberty Bell, one of 53 cast in France in 1950 and given to the United States:
It has a place of prominence:
Adjacent to the capitol grounds is an extensive memorial sculpture garden with some unusual honorees. For example, just about every coal mining tragedy I've heard of has been in West Virginia. This statue honoring the men who have died in the mines is poignant.
The plaque says "In honor and recognition of the men and women who have devoted a career, some a lifetime, towards providing the state, nation and world with low-cost, reliable household and industrial energy. Let it be said that 'Coal' is the fuel that helped build the greatest country on earth, has protected and preserved our freedom, and has enhanced our quality of life. God bless the West Virginia coal miner!"

From behind, the next statue looks like the standard military memorial:
However, the figure is a female war veteran:

This is the first war monument dedicated to women veterans that I've ever seen.

My favorite memorial, however, is this four part structure:
The harmony of the oval shape is interrupted by dramatic slashes that cut it into four pieces:
On the outside of each quarter is a figure of a soldier from each of the major wars of the 20th century, and each figure is from a different branch of the service. There is a World War I Army doughboy, a World War II Navy sailor, a Korean War Air Force aviator, and a Vietnam War Marine Corps marine:

On the inside of each section is a black marble wall inscribed with the names of the West Virginians who lost their lives in each conflict.  All told, there are more than 10,000 names. World Wars I and II are on the longer sides of the quartered oval:
 The number of names for World War II is sobering. It has to be more than the rest of the wars put together.  The names even wrap around the sides of the wall:

While we were there, a man was hanging around the Vietnam section. He left his backpack here, and we wondered if he was a veteran or the relative of a veteran.

I checked each wall for the Cannon name and found one the World War II wall:

The state capitol building and surrounding grounds were the cherry on top of my West Virginia hot fudge sundae. I had gone to West Virginia expecting beautiful scenery but not much else. Yes, there is a lot of beautiful scenery, but there is so much more. West Virginia has a little bit of everything. It's a state I hope to visit again for another sampling of its many delights.


  1. The fancy gold dome kind of puts the old Salt Lake Copper dome to shame! I always like the war memorials - like you, I have also never seen one for women.

  2. Yes, West Virginia was wonderful. We've since been to the capitals of Georgia, Alabama and Florida and all were inferior. Fortunately, we were ahead of the chemical spill which impacted the river in front of the capital.

  3. "Beaux-Arts style" is new to me. I had to look it up. The dome is quite beautiful, from the outside or inside.

    I also like the women's memorial. I think the Abe Lincoln statue is terrific-the block-y, almost primitive style seems to fit him.

  4. Very cool state capitol building. We were similarly impressed with Oregon's for the same reasons. I've visited the Women's War Memorial at Arlington Cemetary and was glad to hear there is another one dedicated to women for the same reasons. That last one, with the splits, is very cool. I think you guys need to go to Washington DC and see the WWII Memorial--my favorite, bar none. Given your love of All Things Memorial, I think you'd have a great time.