It’s out with the old as states replace historic statues at U.S. Capitol
California’s longest-serving representative in the U.S. Capitol will soon return home.
The towering bronze sculpture of Thomas Starr King, a fiery Unitarian minister credited with keeping California in the Union during the Civil War, is being replaced in the National Statuary Hall Collection with a 7-foot likeness of former President Ronald Reagan.
King is not alone. Thanks to a 2000 federal law allowing states to change the two statues they get on Capitol Hill, more long-ago luminaries are being replaced by images of modern icons.
Some fear the loss of King and other figures from Congress’ prized collection of historic state statues will cause the man hailed as a saint and patriot by the leaders of his day to disappear into obscurity.
“Most people don’t know who the heck Starr King was,” said Jay Roller of the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco, where the minister is buried. “Americans and history don’t go together very well.”
The King statue, which has stood in the U.S. Capitol since 1931, will be sent home and displayed in the state Capitol in Sacramento.
King goes the way of former Kansas Gov. George Washington Glick, whose statue was the first to be replaced. A statue of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower displaced Glick in 2003.
Alabama and Michigan are moving to replace statues with ones of Helen Keller and former President Gerald R. Ford.
In 2000, Congress passed legislation allowing states to replace their statues, provided they pass a state resolution.
In the months after Mr. Reagan’s 2004 death, state Rep. Ken Calvert sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and leaders in the California Legislature, urging them to take action to honor the late president. They unanimously did so on the last day of the 2006 session.
This summer, the Reagan statue is expected to be finished and unveiled at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.
“There’s a great affection for Ronald Reagan — not just in California but around the nation,” said Mr. Calvert, a Republican.
Not everyone was pleased. King biographer Glenna Matthews called the vote outrageous, saying the measure was slipped in without proper debate. She asked why other important Californians such as former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, legendary naturalist and preservationist John Muir, or Hispanic labor leader Cesar Chavez were not considered.
“There should have been robust public discussion,” Ms. Matthews said.
Beyond preventing a Golden State secession, King founded the West Coast branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an early version of the Red Cross. But his legacy, already in peril, could be gone after the statue is removed, Mr. Roller said.
“I think he has vanished from the public consciousness,” he said. “That’s why the Legislature did this.”
But state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, a Republican and sponsor of the resolution, defended the state’s decision, saying that far more California schoolchildren and other visitors would learn about King in Sacramento than do so now, with the statue in far-off Washington.
Mr. Reagan “was one of the more history-making presidents of the 20th century,” Mr. Hollingsworth said. “It’s a fitting recognition, a fitting memorial.”
Each state is allowed two statues inside the U.S. Capitol. States are allowed to choose any notable figures, as long as they are deceased. California’s other statue, that of 18th-century Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, was accepted at the same time as King.
The state sculptures, now so numerous that they spill out of Stat- uary Hall and throughout the Capitol building, display an array of artistic style but must adhere to a few simple guidelines: They must be made of marble or bronze, must stand no taller than 7 feet, pedestal not included, and weigh no more than 10,000 pounds.
The current 100-statue collection ranges from the little-known — such as former Nebraska legislator Julius Sterling Morton — to more prominent historic figures such as Robert E. Lee and Sacajawea.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, the business and fundraising arm of the Reagan Library, commissioned Chas Fagan, a painter and sculptor based in North Carolina, to create a bronze likeness of the actor who became president.
Mr. Fagan called the job an honor, saying the Statuary Hall collection has long inspired him, both as an artist and a history buff.
“You get to walk up and meet all of these famous figures,” he said.
Distributed by Howard News Service