Reagan Statue Unveiled In U.S. Capitol A statue of President Reagan is unveiled in the Capitol Rotunda in the presence of former first lady Nancy Reagan and House Speaker Pelosi. The unveiling ceremony was poignant and sweet, but was not without its political moments.
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Reagan Statue Unveiled In U.S. Capitol

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Reagan Statue Unveiled In U.S. Capitol

Reagan Statue Unveiled In U.S. Capitol

Reagan Statue Unveiled In U.S. Capitol

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/104894702/104894688" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A statue of President Reagan is unveiled in the Capitol Rotunda in the presence of former first lady Nancy Reagan and House Speaker Pelosi. The unveiling ceremony was poignant and sweet, but was not without its political moments.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Today, a new statue stands under the dome of U.S. Capitol. It is a seven foot tall bronze likeness of America's 40th president, Ronald Reagan. As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, the unveiling ceremony today was poignant and not without its political moments.

ANDREA SEABROOK: The crowd in the Capitol Rotunda was a who's who of the Republican Party. Chairman Michael Steele pumped arms, Senator John McCain and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger mingled and all showed great reverence to the person who was closest to President Reagan: Former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Ms. NANCY REAGAN (Former First Lady): The statue is a wonderful likeness of Ronny. And he would be so proud.

SEABROOK: President Reagan died five years ago and his body lay in state here in the Rotunda.

Ms. REAGAN: You know, the last time that I was in this room was for Ronny's service. So, it's nice to be back under happier circumstances.

SEABROOK: House Republican leader John Boehner gave a speech full of longing. His lip quivered as he repeated the words President Reagan spoke when he commemorated the fallen serviceman at Omaha Beach.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Republican Leader): We will always remember, we will always be proud, we will always be prepared so that we may always be free.

SEABROOK: And although it was a sweet tribute, it was not without its politics. After all, this is Washington and Reagan himself was the consummate politician. Boehner took a moment in his speech to credit the former president with every job created in America, straight through the 1990s.

Mr. BOEHNER: And Reagan's economic policies inspired the largest peace-time expansion in U.S. history. The growth was predicated on free trade, low taxes, deregulation and curbing runaway inflation.

SEABROOK: On the other side, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lauded the former First Lady Nancy Reagan for a political stance that might have been a little poke in the eye to the doting Republican's present.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): Your support for stem cell research has made a significant difference in the lives of many American people. It has saved lives. It has found cures. It has given hope to people.

SEABROOK: But in the end the ceremony was a crowd pleaser.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentleman, the statue of President Ronald Reagan.

SEABROOK: Nancy Reagan pulled off the royal blue sheet that had covered the statue, revealing the man with that famous glimmer in his eyes.

(Soundbite of applause)

SEABROOK: She leaned forward and stroked his knee a bit. The Capitol Rotunda is home to statues of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Dwight Eisenhower among others. And now Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Reagan Statue Goes In Capitol — And One Goes Out

When a statue of former President Ronald Reagan was unveiled Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, it became one of 100 statues of distinguished figures in American history on display in the National Statuary Hall Collection. And by law, the likeness of another Californian got the boot.

A law passed in 2000 made it possible for states to substitute one statue for another, and California's Legislature voted in 2006 to bring in Reagan's likeness. Shown the exit was a statue of Thomas Starr King, an orator and Unitarian minister from San Francisco. He is credited with keeping California from becoming a separate republic during the Civil War.

History — and pragmatism — were behind the 1864 act that transformed the massive chamber into a statuary hall. Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol, said a new wing for the House of Representatives left a large empty space that lawmakers wanted to use to display art. The open expanse and numerous columns made it unsuitable for paintings, so lawmakers decided to turn it into a statuary hall honoring two people significant in the history of each state.

On April 19, 1864, Rep. Justin S. Morrill proposed the creation of National Statuary Hall. "His motivation was [that] there was this grand space with marble and columns, and it was a good way to recognize notable Americans," Malecki said.

Massachusetts and Vermont were the first to make use of the space, donating in 1876 likenesses of two of the nation's founding fathers. Massachusetts offered the marble likeness of Samuel Adams, and Vermont donated a marble image of Ethan Allen.

Originally, all of the likenesses were in the space dubbed Statuary Hall. But in the 1930s, lawmakers realized the space wouldn't be big enough to accommodate works from each state in the growing country. It was then that the history makers' likenesses were moved to locations throughout the Capitol — and eventually to the newly opened Capitol Visitors Center, said Malecki.

Now, Capitol guests regularly fan out in search of statues from their states. "The fact that there are people from the states involved in the history of [each] state makes [the collection] very popular," Malecki said.

Malecki said the statue of King Kamehameha I of Hawaii is among the collection's most unusual because of the gold cape he wears.

The 7-foot bronze likeness of Reagan, the nation's 40th president, was unveiled Wednesday morning before a crowd that included former first lady Nancy Reagan, and friend and former Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III.

At the dedication ceremony, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted that such occasions rarely include honorees' family members. "It's usually about history," she said.