On Political Discourses: Above & Below
The top Politicians, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and eminent personalities have been using the secret Capitol Subway System in the US for the last 100 years mainly to escape the crowds. However, most of the Americans do not know the whereabouts of this secret tunnel!
The 3,100ft-long Capitol Subway System is basically a network of trolleys in the fluorescent-lit bowels of the labyrinthine, connecting the Capitol Building with the Upper House of the US Congress or the Senate Office, and the Lower House of the House. This system was opened on March 7, 1909, and since then political leaders have held debates on important issues or press conferences during their quiet tours through this network many a time.
Talking to the media, Assistant Historian at the Senate Historical Office Dan Holt has said that the 27th US President, William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930), reportedly disappeared from his Oval Office for an hour on one Saturday in January 1911. Later, he was found inside the tunnel. At the time, the Washington Times wrote: “A keen thrill of fear swept over the city when anxious inquiries at the White House brought forth the reply that the President could not be found. The alarm spread like a forest fire.” The President, actually, visited the tunnel to see the trains. Holt added: “Children love it so there are always Senators who are willing to bring family members with young children, nieces and nephews, to ride on it. And so, I think there’s just something kind of special about it.”
The Capitol Subway System also witnessed an assassination bid, as disgruntled ex-Capitol Police Officer William Kaiser opened fire from a .22-caliber pistol on presidential hopeful John Bricker on July 12, 1947. The Ohio Senator immediately dived into the waiting subway car, yelling at the driver to whisk him away. The second bullet whistled over his head just before the train started moving. “Only good fortune and the bad marksmanship of his assailant saved the Senator,” reported the New York Times. Later, the Police arrested Kaiser.
Holt has recalled that Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith decided to deliver a rebuke to fellow Republican Joe McCarthy in 1950 after she met the later in a subway car. McCarthy told her: “Margaret, you look very serious. Are you going to make a speech?” She replied: “Yes, and you’re not going to like it very much.“
The Capitol Subway System was built in 1909 mainly for the Senators so that they could avoid the punishing Washington heat while travelling between their offices and the Upper Chamber. In the 1950s, a monorail with its own track replaced the Electric Studebaker automobiles. Later in 1960, four USD 75,000 electric subway cars – dubbed “Swift Chariots of Democracy” by the Senate chaplain – were added. In 1965, a House line connected the Rayburn House Office Building to the Capitol, and in 1993, the authorities introduced an USD 18 million Disneyland-style driverless train. Interestingly, some senators did not like bumpy rides, while others complained that gusts of wind ruined their delicately coiffured hair. Once, Mike DeWine of Ohio asked his staff not to use the Capitol Subway System in protest against Government waste.
With the 90-second hop between two stations, the System is ideal for holding serious political debate, idle gossip, impromptu press conference or a moment of quiet reverie. Holt stressed: “Think about getting on the train to ride to work in other contexts, where you have that moment where you can just sit for a minute and think – or sit and have casual conversation. The train in the Capitol has served that purpose as well over time.“
Famous actors Richard Gere, Chuck Norris and Denzel Washington, satirist Jon Stewart and rock star Bono, too, enjoyed riding the train. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony Award-winning creator of hit musical ‘Hamilton’, also enjoyed a midnight ride before receiving the award in 2017.
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