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Pennsylvania capitol dome replica of St. Peter's Basilica - abc27 WHTM

Pennsylvania capitol dome replica of St. Peter's Basilica

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Every day in the Capitol Rotunda tour guides are extolling its virtues.

"It weighs 52 million pounds. It's completely self supported by four marble pillars that run behind these walls," Courtney told  grade-schoolers from York County about Pennsylvania's dome Thursday afternoon.

Tourists, necks craning upward, check it out in wonder. Lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists and reporters mostly take it for granted. That's why David Craig, of the Capitol Preservation Committee, likes to see the dome through the eyes of those school children.

"You walk in and you look up, the kids are doing this [he snaps his head back] and their jaws drop and they're like wow. That's a constant reminder for the people who are here what we have."

Midstaters who travel near the capital get that reminder daily. The magnificent green dome is the city skyline's signature.

And there's a worldwide familiarity with the place.

If you've been following the Catholic Church's transition to a new pope, you've seen Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. And you might feel like you know the place. And in a way, you do.

Pennsylvania's capitol dome is modeled after Saint Peter's.

The resemblance is remarkable. Harrisburg's dome is about half the size of the Vatican's.

"It took probably a year, year and a half to construct the dome part," said Jason Wilson, a capitol historian.

Pennsylvania's is made of steel and concrete and it stands on self-supporting columns. The exterior is actually red tile with a green glaze, per the instructions of architect Joseph Huston of Philadelphia.

According to Wilson, Huston was a stickler for every detail in the capitol down to the door knobs and keystone-shaped clocks on the wall.

Wilson doesn't know if Huston was Catholic. The architect didn't emphasize his religion while copying St. Peter's. But Wilson says he did visit the Vatican and was no doubt inspired by it.

Through a maze of narrow staircases, locked doors, catacombs and ladders you can get to the very top of the dome, some 250 feet above the ground.

But the view is breathtaking regardless the vantage point.

In a fifth floor office of the capitol, you'll find the preservation committee and lots of historic photos and artifacts. There's also a photo and bust of Huston. Ironic, because Huston was busted and jailed for overcharging the state in the furnishing of the building.

It cost $4 million to construct the capitol, $9 million more to furnish it.

"They were accused over-weighing the chandeliers," Wilson said. "And over-billing the cubic foot of the furniture instead of the square footage."

The money didn't come from a tax increase on citizens: Wilson says businesses in arrears on their taxes were forced to pay up and that money funded the four-year (1902-1906) project.

Spending $13 million back then was considered a crime.

Today, it would be considered a steal.

 "You couldn't do it," Wilson said when asked how much it would cost to build today. "It's priceless. It'd be in the billions and billions of dollars."

 

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