High atop Beacon Hill, Massachusetts’ leaders and legislators attempt to turn their ideas into concrete policies and practices within the State House. John Hancock provided the land (previously part of his cow pasture) and Charles Bulfinch designed the commanding state capitol, but it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who called it ‘the hub of the solar system’ (thus earning Boston the nickname ‘the Hub’). Free 40-minute tours cover the history, artwork, architecture and political personalities of the State House.
Tours start in the Doric Hall, the columned reception area directly below the dome. Once the main entryway to the State House, these front doors are now used only by a visiting US president or by departing governors taking ‘the long walk’ on their last day in office.
The nearby Nurses Hall is named for the moving statue of a Civil War nurse tending to a fallen soldier. The circular Memorial Hall, known as the Hall of Flags, honors Massachusetts soldiers by displaying some of the tattered flags that have been carried to battle over the years. Finally, the impressive marble Great Hall is hung with 351 flags, representing all the cities and towns in Massachusetts.
Upstairs, visitors can see both legislative chambers: the House of Representatives, also home of the famous Sacred Cod; and the Senate Chamber, residence of the Holy Mackerel. The massive wooden carving of a codfish (nearly 5ft long) has hung in the State House since the 18th century, as testament to the importance of the fishing industry to the economy and culture of the Commonwealth. The brass casting of a mackerel has hung in the Senate Chamber since 1895.
On the front lawn, statues honor important Massachusetts figures, among them orator Daniel Webster, Civil War general Joseph Hooker, religious martyrs Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer, President John F Kennedy and educator Horace Mann. Unfortunately, these lovely grounds are closed to the public, so you’ll have to peek through the iron fence to catch a glimpse.