Travel – The Royal Yacht Britannia

Britannia Royal Yacht - panorama

The Royal Yacht Britannia was used by Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family for over 44 years.  Once deemed an official Royal residence it has been used for state visits and official receptions, in addition it has been used for Royal family holidays and for the honeymoons of several Royal couples.  In this post I will discuss the history of Britannia from the time of the ship’s launch in 1953 to decommission in 1997.  The Britannia is now a tourist attraction in Edinburgh, Scotland and in this post I will give a brief tour of the ship.

The history of the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Britannia marked the end of the long tradition of British Royal Yachts used by the monarch dating back to King Charles II in 1660, to date there have been 83 Royal Yachts.   The most recent history of the Royal Yacht, prior to Britannia, goes back to the reign of Queen Victoria when the Victoria & Albert III (the first royal ship not powered by sail) launched in 1899, sadly the ship was completed in 1901 seven month after the Queen’s death.  The ship served four monarchs: King Edward VII, King George V briefly King Edward VIII and King George VI until it was decommissioned in 1939, the ship continue in service during World War II and was finally scraped in 1954.

By the 1950s, the Victoria & Albert III had become outdated and King George VI had made the request to Parliament for a more modern ship that could be used for Royal Tours, it would also serve as a type of floating royal residence.  The order was sent to the John Brown & Co. shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland but only the ship’s keel had been laid when the King died and his daughter became Queen Elizabeth II.

Work continued and when the hull was completed it was launched on April 16, 1953 and the young Queen christened the new ship Britannia.  Afterwards, the funnel and masts were installed and her sea trials were started in November 1953 and upon their completion the ship was commissioned into the Royal Navy in January 1954, it was the only ship in the world whose Captain was traditionally an Admiral.  Meanwhile the work on the interior continued and it would be the only new royal residence that the Queen would have final approval on the design and selection of furnishings aided by the British architect and interior designer.

Britannia Royal Yacht - boat launch 1  Britannia Royal Yacht - boat launch 16 April 1953

Throughout the 44 years that Britannia was in service it has been used for many State Tours visiting 600 ports in 135 countries logging over one million nautical miles (shown below is a photo of the Britannia in Sydney Harbor, Australia).  Since it was also a royal residence, the Queen has entertained numerous world leaders, such as Winston Churchill, Rajiv Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan.

The Britannia has also been used by the Queen and the Royal Family during private times.  In the past the ship has sailed on the Queen’s annual Scotland tour of the Western Isles accompanied by members of the Royal Family with a stop over to visit the Queen Mother at Castle Mey.  (Shown below are two photos of the Queen and the Royal Family, the left shows a rare photo of the Queen wearing pants was taken in 1985 and on the right in 1997)

Britannia Royal Yacht - Royal family  Britannia - Royal Family during the last Western Isles Tour in 1997

The ship has also been used for the honeymoons by four Royal Couples; Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones in 1960, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips in 1973, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 (as shown in the photo below) and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986.

Britannia Royal Yacht - Charles and Diana honeymoon 1

On June 23, 1994 Prime Minister John Major’s announced the decommissioning of the HMY Britannia due to the increasing cost of repairs, there would be no future replacement planned.  Finally, on October 20, 1997 the Britannia embarked on one last voyage around England, as the ship sailed passed the John Brown’s Shipyard it gave a blast as a tribute to the place where she was built.  Britannia was formally decommissioned in a ceremony on December 11 1997 which was attended by the Queen and members of the Royal Family.  Perhaps remembering the important part that the Britannia played in both her public and most importantly her private life, the Queen did something very unusual and she was seen shedding a tear during the ceremony as the “Highland Cathedral” was played by the HM Royal Marine Band.

Britannia Royal Yacht - decommision ceremony - the Queen shedding a tear

A brief tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia

Today the Royal Yacht Britannia is currently berthed in Edinburgh, Scotland and visitors can tour the ship.  For more visitor information regarding hours of operation and admission prices, please click on the link to the Britannia website at

The Britannia Visitor Center is located in the Ocean Terminal, about two miles from Edinburgh.  Visitors will able to learn about the history of the Royal Yacht through several interesting displays, be sure to look for the 11 foot replica model of the Britannia made entirely of Legos!  At the Center, visitors will pick up complimentary audio handsets to use for self-guided tours of the ship’s five decks.   Special Note: All the clocks on Britannia were stopped at 15:01, the time the Queen was “piped ashore” for the last time in 1997.

Britannia Royal Yacht - bell

Listed below are several highlights of a tour of the Britannia’s staterooms, crew’s quarters and the engine room:

  • The State Drawing Room – The State Drawing Room is the main reception area of the Britannia and was often used by the Royal Family as well as entertaining dignitaries on State Tours.  Please not the baby grand piano that was used by Princess Margaret, Princess Diana and even famous Noel Coward.

Britannia Royal Yacht - living room

  • The State Dining Room – Since the Britannia used on State Tours, the State Dining Room was used for formal lunches and dinners with such famous guests as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.  Please note the numerous displays of gifts given to the Queen, most of the items were received on the Queen’s first Commonwealth tour which lasted almost six months.

Britannia Royal Yacht - dining room

  • The Royal Bedrooms – The Britannia was considered a formal Royal residence and there are several bedrooms on board, such as Her Majesty’s bedroom and Prince Phillip’s bedroom, as shown in the photos below.  Also on board, is the Honeymoon Suite which is the only room furnished with a double bed and was used by four Royal couples.

Britannia Royal Yacht - Queen bedroom  Britannia Royal Yacht - Duke bedroom

  • The Queen’s Sitting Room – Even though the Britannia was used by the Queen and the Royal Family at private times, the Queen’s work never stopped and every day she would work on the State papers from the “Red Boxes” in the her private Sitting Room.  The room was also used to meet with her Private Secretaries.

Britannia Royal Yacht - Queen and red box 1991

  • The Bridge and the Wheelhouse – The Bridge of the Britannia was where the Captain and crew would run the ship; traditionally the position of Captain was held by a Rear Admiral of the Royal Navy although the first two were Vice Admirals and the last was a Commodore.  Visitors to the Bridge are able to tour the bridge and see all the navigational equipment, but Britannia’s steering wheel in located one deck below in the Wheelhouse.

Britannia Royal Yacht - bridge

  • The Laundry – The Britannia had a crew of over 240 Officers and Yachtsmen that changed their uniforms several times a day, an outfit for daytime work and formal uniforms for dinners or more formal occasions.  Visitors will be able to view the washing machines, dryers and presses for getting those sharp creases on the pants and shirts!

Britannia Royal Yacht - laundry

  • The Galleys – There are actually several Galleys (kitchens) on the Britannia, there are two galleys that prepare the food for the ships officers and crew, also there is the Royal Galley where the chefs from Buckingham Palace were brought on board to prepare her meals.  The Royal Galley is located adjacent to the State Dining Room; today the area is used as the Royal Deck Tea Room where visitors can have tea or lunch.

Britannia Royal Yacht - kitchen

  • The Engine Room – The Engine Room of Britannia is found far below deck and the engines generate 12,000 horsepower with a maximum speed of 22.5 knots, the Queen was known to bring her quests down to see the Engine Room after dinner.  The seemingly antiquated room of numerous chrome dials and two sets of steam turbines were fully functional and normally took eight men to operate the Engine Room and Boiler Room.

Britannia Royal Yacht - engine room

Jackie Kennedy Personal Jewelry Collection

In honor of the birthday of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (born: July 28, 1929 died:  May 19, 1994) this post will discuss several items from her personal jewelry collection that she received from her husband, President John F. Kennedy.  Jackie gained the world’s attention as First Lady and she famously oversaw the renovation and restoration of the White House but she was also known as a fashion icon with women in the 1960s emulating everything from the clothing she wore to the way she styled her hair.

1.  Jackie Kennedy Engagement Ring

Jackie and JFK met at a mutual friend’s dinner party in May 1952.  JFK was a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts at the time and he would eventually become a U.S. Senator and then President of the United States.  Shortly after meeting, Jackie left to cover the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London and stayed in Europe for a few more months.  Soon after returning, JFK proposed with a diamond and emerald engagement ring and the couple announced their engagement on June 25, 1953.  (For more information on the September 12, 1953 wedding of Jackie and JFK, please click on the link)

Jackie’s engagement ring was a lovely 2.88 emerald and baguette diamond ring, in 1962 she had the ring redesigned to include not only the emerald and diamonds but it was also set with an additional 2.88 square-cut diamond and marquise diamonds, as shown in the photo below.


Special Note: Jackie’s engagement ring was donated after her death to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum along with several other Kennedy memorabilia.  (If you are interested in more information about the JFK Presidential Library in Boston, please click on the link)

2.  Jackie Kennedy Wedding Bracelet

The night before their wedding, JFK presented Jackie with a lovely diamond bracelet which she wore as her “something new”.  The bracelet features 25 diamonds and 18 pearls with two borders on either side of thin and rather whimsical nautical ropes.  Jackie wore the bracelet on her wedding day along with a pearl choker necklace and a diamond leaf brooch that she received as a gift from Joseph and Rose Kennedy, her new in-laws.  Special Note: Jackie’s wedding bracelet was donated after her death to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. 

Diamond and pearl bracelet  - wedding gift from JFK  Diamond and pearl bracelet  - Jackie 

3.  First Anniversary Pearl and Diamond Earrings

For their first year wedding anniversary in 1954, JFK gave Jackie a set of pearl and diamond earrings.  The earrings are interchangeable and can be worn in a variety of different ways.  The diamond pave-set leaves can be worn alone or with either the white pearl drop or black pearl drop sets which both have diamond pave-set flower petal caps.

Pearl and Diamond Earrings - Jackie 1  Pearl and Diamond Earrings - Carolyn

The photo on the left shows Jackie wearing the earrings and the photo on the right shows Caroline wearing her mother’s earrings as her “something borrowed” on her wedding day in 1986.

4.  Schlumberger Berry Brooch

JFK had a custom of marking special occasions with extravagant gifts and shortly after the birth of their son John Kennedy, Jr. in 1960 JFK gave Jackie a lovely Schlumberger Berry Brooch.  What makes the gift more thoughtful was the fact that he purchased the brooch from the Tiffany store in New York while he was in the midst of organizing his presidential administration in the busy months before his inauguration.  The brooch was given to Jackie in January 1961 just a few days before JFK was sworn in as President of the United States.  The brooch was meant to represent the couple’s two children and Jackie absolutely loved it!

The Schlumberger Berry Brooch is set in gold and features rubies and diamonds.  At the time it was one of the few jewelry pieces that Schlumberger made for Tiffany, the exclusive jewelry store located on Fifth Avenue.  After Jackie’s death, Caroline inherited the brooch and it is currently on loan to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston where it can be seen proudly displayed with other Kennedy memorabilia.           

Berry Pin -A Mother's Day Gift from JFK for the Birth of JFK Jr.  Berry Pin - Jackie Kennedy 

5.  Vintage Sunburst Diamond Brooch

While in London in 1962, Jackie found a spectacular sunburst pin in an antique store and she knew she had to have it!  The problem was the brooch had a $50,000 price tag, so to purchase the expensive sunburst brooch Jackie quietly sold the diamond leaf brooches that were a wedding present from Joe and Rose Kennedy; she had copies made so as not to offend her in-laws.

The antique starburst diamond brooch was originally made in the nineteenth century and is set in silver and gold, it was purchased from the British Crown jeweler Wartski.  Jackie wore it often attached to one of her magnificent Oleg Cassini gowns for various White House functions but once she wore it in a very unusual way by having her longtime hair stylist, Kenneth, attach the brooch into an elegant chignon hairstyle which he attached to the top of her head as shown in the photo below.        

Sunburst Brooch
Sunburst Brooch - Jackie Kennedy  Sunburst Brooch - Carolyn

6.  Schlumberger Croisillons Bracelets

JFK purchased one of Jackie’s first Schlumberger croisillons bracelets in 1962 from Tiffany in New York City.  Jackie loved the bracelet and would frequently wear it with her casual daytime outfits; she eventually bought others to add to her collection in a variety of different colors.  In the early 1960s, Jean Schlumberger began making the croisillon bracelets using a paillonné enamel technique first used in the 19th century.  A classic Schlumberger bracelet uses a process of layering enamel over a gold bracelet and, like many women trying to emulate the style of the First Lady, the bracelets worn by Jackie made them very popular and created a new trend. 

Schlumberger Croisillons Bracelet  Schlumberger Croisillons Bracelet - Jackie

7.  Cartier Tank Watch

In 1963 JFK gave Jackie a classic Cartier tank watch and on the back he had engraved, “To Jackie, Love Jack”.  Jackie frequently wore the watch during casual activities such as horseback riding at Glen Ora, the 400 acre property they were leasing in Virginia, or sailing at Hyannis Port with other members of the Kennedy family or simply spending the day shopping in New York City. 

Cartier Tank Watch8.  Van Cleef & Arpels Emerald Ring 

For their tenth year wedding anniversary in 1963, JFK gave Jackie a special emerald ring.  JFK commissioned Van Dleef & Arpels in New York and was designed as an “eternity ring” with ten emeralds representing each year of their marriage; she wore the ring next to her wedding band.  Several years after the death of JFK Jackie had two of the emeralds removed to make two solitaire rings for her children.  One was made for Caroline and the other for John Jr. who gave it to his bride, Carolyn Bessette, on the night before their wedding.  After the death of her brother, the ring was given back and now Caroline Schlossberg owns all three rings.

Emerald anniversary ring

9.  Kunzite Ring

Sadly one of the most significant gifts given to Jackie from JFK was given to her after his death.  In August 1963, the couple had lost their newborn son, Patrick and seemed to be an experience that brought JFK and Jackie closer together in their shared grief and they were very optimistic for their future.  A few months later, JFK was in New York City and he went to Van Cleef & Arpels to order a special ring which featured a large 47 carat kunzite surrounded by 20 diamonds which he intended to give to Jackie for Christmas that year.  Sadly, before that could happen, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

In the days after the President’s death, the ring was delivered to the White House and Mrs. Lincoln, JFK’s personal secretary, gave the ring to Jackie.  The ring, a final posthumous present for her beloved husband, came to hold special sentimental meaning for Jackie.    

Kunzite and diamond ring10.  Multi-strand Faux-Pearl Necklace

Jackie Kennedy’s multi-strand faux-pearl necklaces became one of her most frequently worn jewelry item.  She owned several necklaces in a variety of different lengths ranging from the single-strand pearl choker necklace she wore on her wedding day in 1953 to her most often worn triple-strand pearl necklace 17 inches in length, she also had one 19 inches in length.  Shown below are two charming photos of Jackie’s children tugging at her pearl necklace, Caroline on the left and John Jr. on the right.  

Pearl necklace 1  Pearl necklace 2 

Travel – The United States Capitol

US Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Washington, D.C.  In this Travel Post I will discuss the history of the building and give a brief description of the various interior areas, such as the Rotunda where several Presidents have laid in state prior to their funerals, the Crypt which was originally instead as the burial site of the first President George Washington and the National Statuary Hall which holds numerous statues of prominent Americans.  To end this post, there is some fun trivia about the U.S. Capitol building.

A brief history of the U.S. Capitol

Once the permanent location of the Federal City (later to be known as Washington, D.C.) of the newly formed United States of America was determined, the site for the U.S. Capitol building was chosen to hold the legislative branches of the Federal Government, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and the judicial branch, the Supreme Court.  In 1792 the planning commission decided to hold a competition for the best building design and the winner was done by Dr. William Thornton, a Scottish physician living in the British West Indies.  Since Thornton an inexperienced architect, the construction would be directed by James Hoban, the designer of the President’s House (later to be known as the White House)

On September 18, 1793 the U.S. Capitol cornerstone was laid by President George Washington in an elaborate ceremony, a special commemorative metal plate also buried according to masonic traditions.  The festivities also included a parade, marching bands speeches and a pig barbecue for all those in attendance.  Special Notes: In the Cox Corridors of the House Wing of the U.S. Capitol Building there is a mural depicting the cornerstone laying ceremony, as shown in the photo above.

Capitol Cornerstone Ceremony Mural

The north wing of the Capitol was completed and the first session of Congress was held in the new building on November 17, 1800.  By 1803, construction on the south wing was started under the direction of Benjamin Henry Latrobe and when it was completed in 1813 a temporary wooden covered walkway connected the two wings.

US Capitol 1814

Then during the War of 1812, on August 24, 1814 British troops entered the city and set fire to many of the buildings of Washington, D.C. including the White House and the U.S. Capitol, luckily a sudden rainstorm prevented the city from being completely destroyed.  Repairs on the Capitol after the war ended and the anticipated plan was to join the two separate wings of the building with a domed center section in an architectural style that would be cohesive.

Special Note:  Held within the Capitol building was the small library which was for the special use of the members of U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court.  In 1802, President Jefferson signed legislation to establish a permanent building for the Library of Congress.  Unfortunately, before it could be built, the library was destroyed with other parts of the Capitol building.  Ultimately, Thomas Jefferson donated his personal book collection to replace the destroyed library and a permanent building was eventually completed in 1897.  (For more information on the Library of Congress, please click on the first of the three part series.

Meanwhile, since the number of US senators and representatives was increasing with the expanding size of the United States additional extensions were planned for both the north and south wings of the Capitol.  With these proposed renovations the height of the dome would appear out of proportion and plans were made to alter the size of the dome.  In 1856, the old dome was removed and work began on an updated replacement dome made of cast-iron that would be fireproof.  Then, with the onset of the Civil War in 1861, construction work on the Capitol extensions and dome were suspended while the building was used for military barracks and a hospital.  But a year later, President Lincoln firmly believed that the Union would ultimately survive and the construction on the Capitol resumed and were completed in 1868 after the end of the war.

Capitol - dome completed before statue

Over the following years, the Capitol building was periodically renovated and both the East and West Fronts were expanded, terraces were constructed and the surrounding grounds were landscaped by the famous Frederick Law Olmsted.  The Capitol measures 751 feet 4 inches in length from north to south, the width measure 350 feet in length and the height from the base of the east front to the top of the Statue of Freedom measures 288 feet.  There are six Congressional office buildings constructed in the immediate surrounding area which make up the Capitol extended complex on the appropriately named Capitol Hill.  As of 2014, a major restoration project was started on the Capitol dome and a massive scaffolding was erected, it is scheduled for completion in 2017.

U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

Visitors to the U.S. Capitol start their tours at the Capitol Visitor Center located in the area at the East Front of the Capitol.  The Visitor Center opened in December 2008 and it is an underground 580,000 square foot facility where all visitors are processed through a strict security checkpoint.  While visitors are waiting for their tours to start there are exhibits and displays, including a 10 foot model of the Capitol Dome, and an interesting view from overhead windows.  Also located in the Visitor Center Emancipation Hall is a plaster model of the Statue of Freedom which seats on the top of the Capitol Dome.  Before starting the tour of the Capitol, visitors will see a 13 minute film about the history of the U.S. Capitol and Congress.  The 450 seat Congressional theater as the Capitols venue for full-media governmental screenings and was designed for the joint session of Congress and special Library of Congress presentations.

Capitol Visitor Center - interior  Capitol Visitor Center - interior 2

Tours are available for free and tickets can be acquired in one of two ways.  Limited tickets are available at kiosks on the East and West Fronts of the Capitol or at the Information Desk at the Visitor Center.  Visitors can also book tickets in advance at or by contacting their local House of Representative or State Senator’s office or by phone at (202) 226-8000.  To watch Congress in Session, visitors can request House or Senate Gallery tickets through their Representative or Senator’s office.

A tour of the U.S. Capitol

The United States Capitol was built in a distinctive neoclassical style with a white exterior; the east front has an extended terrace which is the official reception area for dignitaries and visitors.  The Capitol is considered the center of Washington, D.C. and from the Rotunda the Senate chambers are to the north and the House of Representative chambers are to the south.

US Capital building - east front

The East Front

At the East Front of the Capitol are the 17 foot tall bronze doors known as the Columbus Doors.  The doors depict Christopher Columbus and his journey in discovering America; the doors were designed by Randolph Rogers and were cast in Munich in 1860.

Columbus Door

House of Representatives Chamber

The House of Representatives Chamber is the largest room in the Capitol and is located in the south wing where both the House and the Senate hold joint meetings.  Most visitors will recognize this room from the televised Presidential State of the Union addresses with the President standing at the podium on the raised dais, the Vice President seated behind on the left and the Speaker of the House seated on the right, the Chamber has 448 permanent seats arranged in a semicircle facing the Speaker’s rostrum and there is an upper gallery which surrounds the room and is where visitors and the press sit.  The Chamber has a Daniel Webster quote etched in the marble surrounding the walls, there are also twenty-three relief portraits of famous lawmakers throughout history.

Capitol House Chamber

National Statuary Hall

The National Statuary Hall is located in the south wing of the Capitol and was the original House Chamber.  Around the perimeter of the semicircular high-ceiling room are several large Breccia marble columns, quarried from the nearby Potomac River, and each is topped with white marble Corinthian capitals which were carved in Italy.  In a niche above the colonnade is an Enrico Causici plaster statue, Liberty and the Eagle and in the frieze below that is an eagle sandstone relief figurine.  Above the door leading into the Capitol Rotunda is a large marble sculpture which depicts Clio riding the chariot of Time with the wheel of the chariot containing the Chamber’s clock.

National Statuary Hall - Liberty the eagle and the serpent  National Statuary Hall - Car of History

In 1976, the National Statuary Hall underwent an extensive restoration in preparation for the Nation’s bicentennial celebrations.  Based on the 1822 Smauel F.B. Morse painting, The House of Representatives which currently hangs in the nearby Cororan Gallery of Art, the room received new reproduction chandeliers, sconces and deep red draperies.  Bronze markers were placed on the black and white marble patterned floor marking the locations were former presidents sat when they served in the House.

National Statuary Hall - right  National Statuary Hall - left

The highlights of the room are the numerous statues which were originally donated by each of the fifty states which initially submitted two statues to honor their notable historical citizens.  Throughout the years, additional statues were added to the collection and ultimately Congress authorized that the statues could be displayed in other areas of the Capitol, such as the Emancipation Hall and the Hall of Columns.  Recently two more statues joined the collection; the statue of former President Ronald Reagan in 2009 which sits in the Capitol Rotunda and the Rosa Parks statue in February 2013 which sits in the National Statuary Hall.  Special Note:  The King Kamehameha I statue was donated by the state of Hawaii; it is the largest statue in the collection.  The bronze statue is 9.5” tall and placed on a 4.5”granite base, the combined weight of both is approximately 15,000 pounds.

The Rotunda

The Rotunda is situated in the center of the Capitol building, the circular room measures 96 feet in diameter and soars to a height of 180 feet from the floor to the interior of the dome.  The interior dome features the “Apotheosis of Washington” mural painted by Brumidi.  The first President of the United States is depicted as a seemingly Roman or Greek god ascending to the heavens surrounded by 13 goddesses.  At the base of the dome is a frieze depicting the history of United States arranged in chronological order, such as Christopher Columbus “discovering” America, the Pilgrims, Pocahontas and the first flight the Wright Brothers.   In the Rotunda there are also several notable paintings, on the west side is the “Declaration of Independence”, the “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis”, and the “George Washington Resigning His Commission”.  The “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln” hangs over the west staircase leading to the Senate wing.

Great Rotunda  Capitol Dome - Apotheosis of George Washington

The Rotunda is also the location where eleven former Presidents, several Senators and Supreme Court Justices have been granted the highest honor to be laid in state, the last president to lay in state was Gerald Ford in 2006.  Exceptions have been made and with Congressional approval citizens such as Rosa Park was allow the privilege in October 2005.

The Capitol Dome

The Capitol Dome is located on the exterior of the Rotunda with the Statue of Freedom set on top.  The Dome was constructed between 1855 and 1866 and although it appears to be made of stone it is made of 8,909,200 pounds of cast iron and painted to match the stone of the building.  The architect of the Dome, Thomas Walter, based his design on several other famous domes, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  The Dome is constructed as two structures, the exterior dome which rises to the height of 288 feet and the interior dome which measures 180 feet from the Rotunda floor, as shown in the drawing below.

Capitol Dome drawing

The bronze statue at the top is known as the Statue of Freedom and the Dome plans had to be altered to hold the weight of the statue which is 15,000.  The statue is 191/2 feet tall and depicts a female figure wearing a military helmet with points tipped with platinum and a crest of eagle feathers, in her right hand is a sheathed sword in her right hand and a laurel wreath and shield is in her left hand.  The statue is set on a cat iron globe with the national motto E pluribus Unum (Out of many, one)

Capitol dome lantern - exterior

Through the years, the Capitol Dome has undergone several restorations; the most recent is an extensive restoration which started with scaffolding being erected around the Dome in November 2014.  The project will involve both interior work to the Rotunda and the exterior of the Dome to repair the iron structure, repainting the exterior Dome and the installation of new lighting.  The restoration is schedule to be completed and the scaffolding removed in time for the 2017 presidential inauguration.

Old Senate Chamber

The Old Senate Chamber was used by the U.S. Senate from 1819 until 1859 when the larger Senate Chamber was built as part of the Capitol extension and then the room was used by the U.S. Supreme Court from 1860 until 1935 when the Supreme Court Building was built nearby on Capitol Hill.  Today, the 75 foot diameter semi-circular room is used as a museum.

Old Senate Chamber

Senate Chamber

The Senate Chamber has been continuously used by the U.S. Senate since 1859 and is located in the north wing of the Capitol.  The two story rectangular room is 80 feet by 113 feet and holds 100 desks (one for each Senator) are arranged in a semicircle facing the dais; the Democratic Senators sit to the right and the Republican Senators to the left.  Items of note are the white marble busts of the former Presidents of the Senate (a position held by the Vice Presidents of the United States)

Senate Chamber

Brumidi Corridors

Located on the first floor of the north wing of the Capitol is the beautiful vaulted Brumidi Corridors.  Constantino Brumidi designed the elaborately decorated hallways with murals depicting various people and events in the history of the United States; such as Benjamin Franklin and the Cession of Louisiana.  The walls are beautifully painted with animals, insects, plants and flowers indigenous to the United States.  Later, additional moments in US history have been added; such as the voyage of the Spirit of St. Louis, the Moon landing by Apollo 11 and the crew of the “Challenger” Space Shuttle.

Brumidi Corridors 2

The Crypt

Located on the basement floor directly under the Rotunda is the Crypt.  This area of the Capitol was originally intended to be the final resting place of the first President of the United State, George Washington, but according to his wishes as stipulated in his will be is buried at Mount Vernon.

Capitol Crypt

The West Front

The West Front of the Capitol is located facing the Mall area of Washington D.C., the Lincoln Memorial is located at the opposite end of the Mall.  The West Front has become the location of the presidential inaugurations which is traditionally held every four years on January 20 (or the 21st if the 20th is a Sunday).  The first inauguration ceremony to take place at the West Front of the Capitol was the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan; his second term inauguration took place the Rotunda of the Capitol due to cold weather.

Capitol - inaguration day

U.S. Capitol Grounds

Capitol Hill is the location of the U.S. Capitol; in addition to the Capitol building and Capitol Visitor Center there are six Congressional office buildings, the Supreme Court building, the Library of Congress three buildings and the U.S. Botanic Garden and Conservatory.  The Capitol Grounds cover approximately 274 acres are were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, planted from 1874 to 1892 with more than 100 varieties of plants and trees and an impressive array of seasonal flowers.  The U.S. Botanic Garden and Conservatory and the admission is free and a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year, for more visitor information please click on the link to their website

Interesting U.S. Capitol facts and trivia

  • The National Capitol Columns were originally used at the old East Portico and removed during the Capitol expansion in 1958, the old quarry identification marks are still on some of the columns.   Twenty-two of the original 24 Capitol Columns were relocated to the National Arboretum and placed in the Ellipse Meadow 1984 (the other two columns were placed at the top of Mount Hamilton, both were damaged and had neither a base or a capitol).  The stone foundation for the Columns was originally used as the steps on the east side of the Capitol with flowing water that runs down a channel into a small reflecting pool.

Capitol Columns

  • The US Capitol has a private subway station; it was built in 1909 to link the Russell Senate Office Building to the Capitol and requires a Capitol staff ID.  An additional subway line takes the Senators, Representatives and Capitol staff to the Hart and Dirksen buildings.

Capitol subway

  • The Congressional Chapel was opened in the Capitol in 1955 and is located near the Rotunda, it is available for the use of members of Congress who seek a quiet place for meditation or prayer and not open to visitors.  The Chapel is a non-partisan design so that it could be used by any Senator or Representative regardless of his or her faith.  The room’s main feature is a stained glass window of President George Washington kneeling in prayer, with the words from Psalm 16:1, “Preserve me, O God, for in thee do I put my trust,” and also included are the words, “This Nation under God”, from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Capitol chapel

  • Back in 1859, most of the members of Congress lived in boarding houses with no running water, so the decision was made to install several bathtubs as well as a barbershop.  The bathtubs were carved from a single piece of marble and shipped from Italy.  After the installation of modern plumbing throughout Washington, the bathtubs were no longer needed or used and currently the water supply has been cut off.

Capitol bathtubs

  • At any given time, several United States flags fly over the Capitol building and the flags have been flown continuously day and night since World War I.  Two flagpoles are located at the base of the Capitol Dome on both the East and the West sides.  Two other flagpoles are located above the North Wing (the Senate side) and the South Wing (the House side) and are flown only when the Congress is in session.  There are also several additional flagpoles located west of the Dome and are not visible from the ground, these flagpoles are used to meet the congressional requests for flags flown over the Capitol.  Special Note: U.S. flags flown over the Capitol can be order through your local Congress member to commemorate specific events, such as the death of a veteran.  Personal Note: When we visited in Washington D.C. in 2002 we ordered a flag flown on the day we would be visiting the U.S. Capitol, it makes a wonderful and relatively inexpensive souvenir!

Capitol with flag

Travel – Philadelphia, PA (Part Two)

Previously, I posted a travel report from our family’s 2009 trip to Philadelphia, PA.  Due to Philadelphia’s numerous historic sites connected with the colonial and revolutionary periods in America history, I have divided the content into two separate posts.  The first post, Philadelphia, PA (Part One), covers Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, Franklin Court, Betsy Ross House, Christ Church and Burial Grounds.  In this second post about Philadelphia I will cover the Franklin Institute, the National Constitution Center and the Philadelphia U.S. Mint.

The Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest centers of science education in the United States and its purpose is to honor the ideas and principals of Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman and scientist.  The Institute opened in 1825 on South 7th Street (as shown in the photo below on the left) and in the beginning it promoted science and offered classes in engineering, drafting and mechanics.  Throughout the years, the Institute held various scientific demonstrations of new technology and even hosted the International Electrical Exhibition in 1884.

Franklin Institute - original building  Franklin Institue 

Almost 110 years after the Institute opened, the Institute moved to its current location near the intersection of 20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1934 (as shown in the 2009 photo below on the right). 

For more detailed visitor information on the Franklin Institute, such as operating hours and admission prices, please click on their website at

A brief tour of the Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute covers has more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, there are currently 12 permanent exhibits which offer visitors learning experiences with engaging displays regarding various aspects of science.  The Institute also offers space for various traveling exhibits, such as the very popular “King Tut” in 2007.  (Personal Note: When our family visited the Institute in 2009, we saw “Star Trek – The Exhibition” featuring costumes, props and other memorabilia which my Trekkie husband really enjoyed!)

Some of the highlights of the Franklin Institute are listed below:

The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial –

An immense marble statue of Benjamin Franklin is located in the Franklin Institute rotunda, the 20 foot-tall, 30 ton marble statue was sculpted by James Earle Fraser and sits on a 92 ton white Seravezza marble pedestal.  The Institute rotunda in which the Benjamin Franklin statue is placed was opened in 1938 and was designed by architect John T. Windrim.  The room measures 82 feet in length, width and height and features a floor, walls, columns, pilasters and cornices crafted from various types of marble imported from Portugal, Italy and France.  In 1972, the U.S. Congress designated both the rotunda and the statue as the official Benjamin Franklin National Memorial; it is the only privately owned National Memorial in the United States.  (Travel Note:  Visitors should check to see the time for the three and a half minute multimedia show which briefly discussed Benjamin Franklin’s contribution to the world as statesman and scientist)

Benjamin Franklin statue

The Benjamin Franklin Collection –

Located in the Pendulum Staircase area of the Institute is a rotating display of several items pertaining to Benjamin Franklin.  Visitors will see a scale model of the bust from the Benjamin Franklin Memorial, the figurehead from the USS Franklin, Franklin’s ceremonial sword from the court of King Louis XVI and the odometer that Franklin used to measure the postal routes, in 1775 Franklin was the Postmaster in Pennsylvania when it was still an English colony.  The 1751 publication of Franklin’s “Experiments and Observations on Electricity” as well as Franklin’s lightning rods, electricity tube and Franklin Electrostatic Generator are displayed in the Institute’s Electricity exhibition.

(Travel Note:  Please check out the Travel post Philadelphia – Part One for information on Franklin Court which holds not only the home of where Benjamin Franklin lived and worked but currently an active Post Office and an underground museum with displays of inventions and other items associated with Benjamin Franklin) 

The Giant Heart –

One of the most popular exhibits at the Institute, especially for visitors with children, is the Giant Heart.  The 5,000 square foot exhibit opened in 1954 and it allows visitors to crawl through the artery of Giant Heart.  Other interactive displays in this area of the Institute explain the anatomy and physiology of the human body.  (Trivia: The Giant Heart would be the correct size for a 220 foot tall person, which would be the approximate height of the Statue of Liberty)

Cardiac Adventure sign  Cardiac Adventure 1

Foucault’s Pendulum –

The Institute has a display which duplicates an 1851 experiment by Jean-Bernard-Leon Foucault, a French physicist which set out to prove the Earth’s daily rotation around its axis.  The Foucault’s Pendulum demonstrates this theory; during the course of day the pendulum knocks down a peg every 20-25 minutes and appears to change direction throughout the day which is an effect caused by the Earth’s rotation.

Franklin Institute - Pendulum

Fels Planetarium –

The Fels Planetarium opened in 1933 and at the time that it was built it was only the second planetarium in the United States.  In 2002, the Planetarium underwent an extensive reconstruction project which replaced the dome and installation of new sound and special effects equipment.  The Planetarium now has several astronomical presentations.  Please check the Institute website for current shows, time and admission prices at

The National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center is located within walking distance from Independence Hall and it is the first institution completely dedicated to the United States Constitution.  In September 1988, President Reagan signed the Constitution Heritage Act which began the process of establishing the Center, although the idea dates back to 1887 at the time of the centennial celebration.

It took another twelve years before ground broke on September 17, 2000, which was coincidentally the date 213 year after the Constitution was signed.  The Center opened on July 4, 2003 and is located at 52 Arch Street which was specifically chosen because it was May 25, 1787 that the Constitutional Convention began in Philadelphia. 

National Constitution Center

Some of the highlights of the National Constitution Center are listed below:

Freedom Rising –

“Freedom Rising” is a multimedia 17 minute performance performed in a theater in the round at the Center.  The production takes visitors through over 200 years of constitutional history from the American Revolution to the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movements in an entertaining and musical way.

National Constitution Center - Freedom Rising

The Story of We the People –

The Story of We the People is the Center’s main exhibit where visitors can move through interactive multimedia displays involving several milestones in America’s history while demonstrating how the U.S. Constitution is relevant and important in the lives of the American people.  Displays include a rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, see Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s Supreme Court robe, there is a large American National Tree which has an interactive touch screen featuring over 100 average citizens and visitors can take the Presidential Oath of Office on a large screen and.  Please note that the memorabilia are rotated on display and are subject to change.

National Constitution Center - We the People - interior

Signer’s Hall –

In Signer’s Hall visitors can walk among 42 life-size bronze statues of the “Founding Fathers” who signed their names to the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.  The room and statues are meant to recreate the Assembly Room at nearby Independence Hall in the final day of the Constitutional Convention.  Some of the famous faces include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.  Travel Note:  Visitors can have fun taking photos with the various statues, just imagine standing next to one of the Founding Fathers.

National Constitutional Center - Signer's Hall

For more detailed information about hours, admission fees and other exhibits, please see the National Constitution Center’s website at

The United States Mint – Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Mint is the largest mint in the United States and the current facility opened in 1969, there have also been three previous buildings located in Philadelphia.  The Philadelphia location is also the site of the master die production for the U.S. coinage and the design and engraving departments of the U.S. Mint are also located there.  (Special Note: The United States Mint was created by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1792 and was originally a part of the Department of State. In 1799, the Mint was made an independent agency and later in 1873 it became part of the Department of the Treasury)

US Mint Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Mint is the world’s largest U.S. mint and offers free self-guided tours which will take approximately 45 minutes, during the Spring and Summer months there could possibly be a short wait.  As visitors tour the facility they will learn the history of the Mint and see the process involved in making U.S. coins from creating the coin designs to sculpting the molds to the manufacturing of the actual coins, visitors will be able to look onto the factory floor 40 feet below where one million coins can be produced in 30 minutes. 

US Mint Philadelphia 2 US Mint Philadelphia 4

Travel Note:  Adult visitors will be asked to provide photo identification, such as a driver’s license, for security purposes.  The United States Mint reserves the right to deny access to anyone at any time; in addition, members of the general public wishing to tour the facility may be subject to search by the United States Mint Police.  Photography, smoking, eating and drinking are prohibited.  Prohibited items include, but are not limited to, weapons and large packages.  All visitors are required to enter through a metal detector.

The History of Monograms

A monogram is usually created by combining or overlapping two or more letters. Monograms are frequently used for weddings by taking the first initial of the groom and bride’s names and combing them with the last name of the couple, this idea is still very popular in the southern states.  Major business companies use their initials to create an advertising symbol, a good example of this is the iconic double C used by the Chanel fashion design company founded by Coco Chanel.  In this post, I will discuss the history of the monogram and show several examples of historical monograms and the various ways that monograms can be used on household items, personal clothing or special celebrations.

The History of the Monogram

Centuries ago, the Greeks and Romans used monograms on clay coins as the barter system for purchasing goods and services which eventually led to a monetary system of trade.  During the Middle Ages, artisans would often use their monograms to sign their work and an example of this are the paintings of the famous Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn which can be identified to a particular period in his career by the monogram he used.  At the start of his career, he signed his pieces with a simple single letter R and in the following years as his career progressed he used the combined letters RH and then RHL.

Rembrandts monogram 2

Throughout the years, royalty and other members of the nobility have used monograms to mark their status in society.  Kings and Queens would use monograms to mark their personal property and household items, weaponry and armor, royal banners and coats of arms.

Shown below are several examples of these types of royal monograms:

Napoleon royal monogram on throne - France Percier et FontaineThe throne of Napoleon with his royal monogram

Queen Elizabeth II royal monogram on mailbox 1

The royal monogram of Queen Elizabeth II (ER II) on a British post box

Tsar Alexander III and  Maria Feodorovna royal  monogram on Main Gate at Hermitage

Tsar Alexander III and  Maria Feodorovna royal  monogram on the Hermitage gate in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Tsar Nicholas II royal monogram on Fabergé cigarette box

A Fabergé cigarette box that once belonged to Tsar Nicholas II with his royal monogram

Queen Victoria royal monogram on knickers 1

A monogram on a piece of clothing that once belonged to Queen Victoria

In the 18th century monograms were used to mark linens with the owner’s initials so as to properly retrieve the items from a laundering service in the larger cities or from a communal wash in the smaller villages.  The monogram was usually embroidered onto the item in white thread but red thread was also used since it was the most common and least expensive dye available, the dark color of the monogram made it easier to quickly identify.  Eventually more elaborate monograms were designed with flourishes and scrolls embroidered in beautiful colors of silver or gold thread used by the upper class.

Marie Antoinette royal monogram - goldwork

The embroidered goldwork royal monogram of Marie-Antoinette

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the more opulent and expensive monograms reflected a higher status, wealth and prosperity of the person.  It seemed that every household item from tablecloths and tableware to bed linens and towels to all variety of clothing could be monogrammed.  Royal wedding souvenirs also gained popularity during this time and items were monogrammed with the initials of the bride and groom, this started a popular trend for weddings which has continued into modern times.  

Prince William and Kate Middleton monogram on cake box

A cake box for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton with the intertwined initials of W and C

Monograms have also been used effectively by businesses and companies for marketing purposes throughout the years. The British Rolls-Royce Motor Company which manufactures high-quality vehicles is an example.  The Rolls-Royce logo consists of two letter Rs which represent the names of the owners, Charles Rolls and Sir Frederick Royce, who founded the company in 1906.

Rolls Royce

The Rolls-Royce Motor Company logo

Several companies have used a monogram incorporated into their logo and one of the first in the fashion industry was French designer Coco Chanel.  The Chanel logo was created in 1925 and consists of two interlocking and opposing letters C. 

Chanel logo

The iconic Coco Chanel logo on her classic handbag

Today, especially in the U.S. southern states, the tradition of monograms continues. Monograms are a great way to customize a variety of items from clothing and accessories to household items such as towels, napkins or bedding.  There are certain rules to keep in mind when purchasing monogrammed items.  In general the most common type is the three-initial monogram consisting of the last name initial placed in a large type at the center of the monogram, flanked by the first and middle initials in a smaller type.

Shown below are examples of monograms used on clothing:


A monogram used on the cuff of a man’s dress shirt

Boy shirt monogram 1

A monogram used on a boy’s shirt

Girl dress monogram 1

A monogram used on a girl’s dress

Shown below are some examples of household items with monograms:

Towels monogram 1

An example of a single initial monogrammed towels

Napkin monogram 10

An example of a monogrammed napkin

Monograms are also very popular for weddings and can be incorporated into many items such as invitations, aisle runners, reception, dance floors, wedding cake or perhaps even an antique handkerchief with a blue embroidered initial of the couple’s last name for the bride to carry as the “something blue”!  In general, for a monogrammed wedding item the first initial of the couple would be used with the groom’s first name located to the left and the bride’s first name to the right, the last name initial would be located in the center.  Monograms

Shown below are some examples of monograms used for weddings:

wedding invitation monogram 1 - Crane Engraved Royalty Alexandria Invitation with Gold Bevel

An example of a beautiful monogram on an engraved invitation

Cake monogram

A monogram of the bridal couple can be used on a wedding cake

Wedding reception monogram on dance floor 1

An example of a monogram used on a dance floor

Handkerchief monogram 1

A lovely embroidered handkerchief for “something blue”

Monograms can also be used for baby items or gifts for a christening or a special birthday celebration.  A monogram can be used for a birth announcement, a christening gown or various items of a layette such as a bib, diaper cover or other items of clothing.  A monogram can also be used on a silver spoon or silver baby cup with the child’s birth date also engraved on it and would make a very special baby gift.

Shown below are examples of monograms used for baby or christening items or gifts:

Baby announcement 1 - Crane Letterpress Monogram Birth Announcement with Border

An example of a monogram used for a birth announcement

Baptism gown with monogram

A monogram used on a christening gown

Silver baby cup with monogram

A monogram used on a silver cup makes a lovely baby gift