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071218-nws-dura

Dura

Cindy Solberg may know the secrets of the North Dakota Capitol better than anyone. 

She led me on a tour recently in her role as a guide around the famed "Skyscraper of the Prairie," completed for $2 million in 1934 during the Great Depression.

Her 35-minute tour covered the three branches of government and the rare materials that panel and coat and cover the 19-story Capitol tower, including the woodwork — such as California walnut in the "Monkey Room." 

The extremely rare wood paneling was cut in a way to create hidden animal faces — if you use your imagination.

Eyes of monkeys, a cat, a horse and even a small owl stare from the walls of the small private entry to the secretary of state's office.

Other rare woods, such as rosewood, panel the Capitol, which features other materials, such as creamy travertine and sheep's wool walls in the Ralph J. Erickstad Courtroom of the state Supreme Court.

Natural North Dakota light floods the 60-foot central atrium of the judicial wing.

Chandeliers resembling stalks of wheat hang from Memorial Hall's 40-foot ceiling.

The House and Senate chambers have cosmic themes in their lighting — a sunrise in the Senate and the moon and stars in the House.

Solberg said the House chamber is perhaps the most photographed space of the state Capitol. She added that children have said the House ceiling lights resemble a WiFi signal. 

Onward to the observation deck, the top of the 19-story tower — complete in an 11-second ride aboard the new "smart" elevators installed last summer. Solberg said taking the stairs would include 477 steps. 

Historic photos of the Capitol hang from the observation deck's walls — the 1930 fire that destroyed the previous Capitol; construction of the new Capitol in the 1930s amid a workers' strike and martial law; 8,962 people making snow angels simultaneously on the Capitol lawn in 2007 for a Guinness world record. 

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The public observation deck also features elegant wicker furniture created in the 1920s by patients of the State Hospital in Jamestown. 

The doors to the balcony just outside have been locked for decades — ever since someone threw a bottle that shattered a vehicle's windshield, according to Solberg. 

Snowballs and crab apples were also popular projectiles back in the day.

The view is far-reaching — up to 40 miles perhaps, Solberg said. 

Only three other state capitols are towers — Florida, Louisiana and Nebraska. 

Tours of the North Dakota Capitol are offered on the hour from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 pm. Monday to Friday, starting on the ground floor in the Rough Rider Hall of Fame.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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