Bring on the candles — at least a hundred of them — and roll out the drums. Utah's State Capitol is noting the 100th anniversary of its dedication on Oct. 9, 1916. The stately edifice, rich with marble and domed like the national Capitol, is often touted as one of the most attractive of the Union's 50 capitol buildings.
The Utah State Archives, another of the facilities that keep the state's history in its safekeeping for our benefit, has jumped on the occasion as the focus of October as Utah Archives Month. Several events and free classes are scheduled during the month. You can hold a 1st edition copy of the Book of Mormon, or learn how to preserve and protect precious digital and traditional photos, documents and recorings. Other events will recall the historical highlights associated with the Capitol's construction, architecture and financing, according to archives spokesman Glen Fairclough. If you have an interest, go to Utah.Archives.gov/archivesmonth for topics, times and places.
It's a rich history of the sort that becomes part of the lore of the citizens who stand by and watch. And many of those who showed up to celebrate the opening of the building were, no doubt, our ancestors.
I wrote an article about the Capitol while doing a series of historical pieces for the Deseret News in 1996. It ran Jan. 28 of that year. Pardon me while I plagiarise myself and share some of the fascinating facts about that historic event.
The Capitol was slow in coming. Utah had been a state for 18 years before its government home was finally dedicated. It might have taken longer if railroad tycoon E.H. Harriman had not died, leaving an estate of some $100 million. The state socked it to his surviving widow to the tune of about $790,000 in inheritance taxes and that become the foundation money for the building. Twice the builders had to return to the cash-strapped Utah Legislature to ask for more. The final figure was nearly $2.7 million, a very hefty amount for that day.
They held a competition to select an architect. Among the contenders was Richard K.A. Kletting, who had drawn the plans for other notable Utah buildings. When the Capitol Commission went into it its sixth hour of deliberation, he gave up and went home to bed. He had to return the next day to learn he had been granted the task.
There was long and emotional debate as to whether the building should feature Georgia marble or Utah marble. At the outset, the commission had agreed that only Utah materials would be used if possible. But Georgia marble was cheaper and came in larger slabs. The compromise saw Georgia marble on the first floor and Utah marble in the legislative chambers and Supreme Court.
The showpiece Gold Room cost $65,000 in 1916. It has been the setting for hosting kings and queens, presidents and notables, as well as both rich and poor from the state's citizenry. It remains a lovely formal meeting center for the building.
The building's artwork showcased talent from Utah and from around the country. Kletting's grandiose idea for statues in all the niches around the rotunda fell victim to budget concerns.
When the day finally arrived for the dedication, there was a festive atmosphere and crowds flocked up Capitol Hill for the festivities. A band from Utah State Agricultural College (later Utah State University) started things off with "The Star-Spangled Banner" and then the crowd of several thousand watched "in breathless silence" (per Deseret News account) as a powerful derrick swung the circular cornerstone into position. The stone covered a copper box of artifacts pertinent to Utah history.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir couldn't make it, so a poem extolling the state's virtues was read to fill up their spot on the program. The Rev. Elmer I. Goshen prayed that "nothing would ever take place within the walls of the Capitol that would injure any resident of the state of Utah."
With the formal dedication ceremonies over, the participants danced until 10:30 p.m. in the rotunda.
So, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Capitol Hill this Sunday, tip your hat in honor of a beautiful government seat that has served the state well for a century.
Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.