Churchard and McPherson: Capitol dome effort's historical symbolism

Posted on by az100

by Karen Churchard and Jim McPherson – Mar. 7, 2011 12:00 AM

For 48 school days beginning Feb. 9, 2011, Arizona K-8 students are collecting pennies to clean, reseal and brighten the copper dome of our historical state Capitol.

Schools are signing up at to support this children’s legacy project of the Arizona Centennial 2012 Foundation. In fact, this simple yet powerful service-learning project also has historical symbolism that adds to the interactive lesson it provides.

Let’s review “classroom style” with a simple Q&A so we can all be reminded of a few facts about Arizona history.

Why 48 school days? That should be an easy one: Arizona was the 48th state admitted to the Union.

Why Feb. 9? On Feb. 9, 1911, voters of the Arizona territory overwhelmingly approved a new state Constitution, with 12,534 ayes and 3,920 nays. It wasn’t signed into law until a year later, due to President William H. Taft’s insistence that a provision in the Constitution to recall judges be removed. Arizona statehood finally came on Feb. 14, 1912.

Why the copper dome? The Arizona Capitol was built to help demonstrate that the Arizona territory was ready for statehood. Texas architect James Riely Gordon won a design competition, but funding shortfalls scaled back his original plan. Ground was broken in 1898, and the building opened three years later. It’s made of materials largely indigenous to the state, including granite, malapai and copper (one of our historical “five C’s”).

Why elementary-school students? There is a long tradition of America’s schoolchildren raising funds for America’s treasures. A sampling of their efforts:

In 1925, Massachusetts children saved the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) from demolition. In 1943, Illinois children purchased for public display one of only five known copies of the Gettysburg Address in Abraham Lincoln’s own handwriting.

In Arizona, children took to the streets on Memorial Day and July Fourth of 1916 to raise money to help pay for the $9,000 silver service to be presented to the state’s namesake battleship. The USS Arizona and many of its crew were lost at Pearl Harbor, but the entire silver service was spared and used by sailors on other Navy ships, and it now is a priceless artifact that resides under the copper dome of the Arizona State Capitol Museum.

Today, Arizona’s children are being asked to support their own historical state Capitol. It may not be the most physically imposing or elaborate capitol building, but its listing on the National Register of Historic Places means it’s just as important and meaningful as any other. And it’s ours.

This is not a onetime thing. Our goal is to establish an endowment for cleaning and resealing the copper dome each decade beginning this year.

If we exceed our goal, additional funds will be endowed to refurbish memorials in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza and maintain centennial trees planted on Washington Street.

Come this fall, the seat of government for all Arizonans will regain some of its luster in preparation for our statehood centennial next year. I hope you’ll join with Arizona’s children in making all of us – and our Capitol – shine.

Celebrate Arizona

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