There’s an interesting symmetry at the Arizona Capitol.
On the west side, Gov. Janet Napolitano continues the state’s business from her high-rise office complex. On the east side, George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor, still mans the desk in his original office. There he sits, stout and bespectacled, staring dourly over his walrus mustache as visitors amble between furnishings predating World War I. His last term ended in 1933, and he died the next year.
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But the wheels of government move slowly, and this poor guy hasn’t gotten the memo yet. No one on the tour has the heart to tell him.
In a state so blessed with natural wonders, it’s easy to overlook the Arizona Capitol Museum. Fugitive snowbirds may recall capitol tours from their home states with waxy hallways and dry lectures on “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” Our capitol is a pleasant improvement on that.
In fact, Arizona’s varied scenery and crazy cowboy history have inspired so much art and artifact that governance has been driven out of the Capitol altogether.
“Now, the neighboring buildings — the House and Senate offices — are for the government,” tour guide Seth Franzman explains. “This building is for the people.”
That means four floors of Arizona history, caught between the state seal mosaic on the rotunda floor and the copper-capped dome on top. And it isn’t all bookish history, either. You can see the detailed engravings of the silver service of the U.S.S. Arizona, stripped from the battleship just months before it struck its watery grave at Pearl Harbor.
Exhibits include artifacts from the French Gratitude Train, bestowed on every state in thanks for America’s service in World War II. They track the breadth of Arizona’s cultural footprint, from the photos and hand-woven baskets that Edward Curtis used to chronicle American Indian tribes, to the latest doings of the Mars Lander, constructed and monitored at the University of Arizona.
A surprising amount of diversity is framed inside this gorgeous, quirky 1901 building. Visitors can walk its tiled hallways, lean against its worn wooden banisters, and sit in the old House Chamber where Arizona’s constitution was hammered out and sent to President William Howard Taft.
And they do have “How a Bill Becomes a Law,” but they explain it with a Whack a Mole exhibit, so you have to give them points for originality.
The Arizona Capitol Museum is located at 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
Admission is free. It’s open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, with guided tours available at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. For more information, call (602) 926-3620 or visit www.lib.az.us/museum.