Many months ago, I promised to turn some of my writing assignments from college into posts on this blog! I am long overdue in publishing this post, but… better late than never, right?!
The following post was written for an assignment for a short, three-day class in my university’s honors program’s Primetime program. My specific class was called Iowa City Guide, and in it we learned about our new home and how to explore it. We made mental maps and read essays about people traveling to Iowa.
For our final project, selected a location we wanted to learn more about, interviewed someone who worked there, and compiled all that info into a blog post. The blog post was then published on WordPress and the collection of student posts is intended to serve as a guide for new students as they explore Iowa City and the surrounding areas.
Everyone was required to partner up, and what ended up happening was that the guy I worked with took most of the notes, and I wrote most of this post. Also, I ended up helping a TON of other people in this class because they’d never used WordPress before and had no idea how to insert images into a post. So that was amusing.
Anyway. I’m sorry this post is so late, but I hope you enjoy it! You can read an earlier post I wrote about Primetime here, and all of the posts on the Primetime Iowa City Guide blog may be found here.
Everyone knows of the Old Capitol Museum on the Pentacrest, but not many know about it. We’d only been on campus for a few days, but we – and hundreds of other awkward freshmen – already used it as a place of reference when navigating the university. Made a wrong turn? Look for the Old Capitol. Got lost? Look for the Old Capitol. Students see its tall golden dome each and every day, but how many of them actually enter the Old Capitol to see what lies inside?
At first, we thought the building was locked – actually, it turned out that the doors were just really heavy and difficult to open! The museum is open, and the staff inside is eager to tell you all about the history of the building. When we stepped inside, it was dark, cool, and a welcome relief from the drizzly day outside. As soon as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we saw two staff members sitting behind a desk, reading books.
One of them introduced himself as Brennan Bogert, a junior at the University of Iowa, and enthusiastically offered to give us a tour. It was obvious that the four of us were the only people in the building, so he probably welcomed the opportunity to do something. As he led us to the first exhibit, he lamented the lack of visitors: While the Natural History Museum located next door in Macbride Hall typically receives one hundred visitors per day, the Old Capitol Museum receives one-third to one-half of that amount.
And that’s a shame, because the museum is crammed with weird-but-true stories about the early history of the university. As we wandered through the building, Brennan bombarded us with odd historical facts: The first office of the president of the university used to be a gym. The building was never meant to be a dorm, but it housed students anyway. In the 1920s the entire 630-ton building was lifted off its foundations in order to be repaired.
During the quick tour, however, Brennan explained that much of what is “known” about the Old Capitol is guesswork. The architect ran off with the plans because he didn’t think he was paid enough. As a result, the history of the museum has been pieced together from documents, photographs, drawings, and more.
Sometimes the history is inferred from looking at the building itself. When the museum was restored in the 1970s, workers in the old Iowa house chamber noticed unusual markings along one wall. Eventually, historians realized that these markings showed where a balcony used to be. Although men were allowed to see what was happening on the chamber floor, the women were required to sit up in the balcony because it was designed in such a way that it was impossible to see any of the house members. The men wanted to make sure that the women didn’t “gossip about the voting process,” as Brennan put it, so they built sexism into the room!
In only twenty minutes, we learned so many weird facts about the history of both the Old Capitol and the University of Iowa. As we left the museum, we felt that we had a much better understanding of our own school. Brennan agreed: “It’s important to know the history of our university, and how the present is tied to the past… there are so many stories in this building.”
We encourage other students to do as we did and take a tour of the place. Exploring the museum doesn’t take much time, but it teaches you so much! Whether you love history or are just looking for something to do on a lazy afternoon, we recommend that you check out the Old Capitol Museum!