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The Library of Congress: Where Gumbo Was (#65)


Roderick Simpson seems to always know where TravelGumbo is...the Puzzlers have had a hard time hiding from him, and once again he's found the answer. He's so good at it, we've invited him to join the crew of Puzzlers...


The Library of Congress (in reality, if not title, the national library of the U.S.) is housed in one of the most ornate Beaux Arts buildings in Washington…or possibly anywhere. The puzzle picture is a look up into its dome and skylight from a gallery above the main reading room. The ornate reading room is one of the highlights of a visit to the building, whether as a scholar to use the collection or a visitor to look down from the glassed-in gallery.




The library wasn’t always so well-housed. It started as a small collection of “useful works” in the Capitol, mainly for use by members of Congress. In 1814, when British troops burned the Capitol and the White House, the library went up with it.




To rebuild the library, Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection of over 6000 books, for about enough to wipe out his debts. The collection grew over the years, but another fire in 1851 destroyed a lot of it, including most of Jefferson’s books. The regrowth started again, and got a big boost not only from public campaigns to replace books, but from a law requiring that two copies of every book, map, illustration or diagram published in the U.S. be deposited there.




By the 1890s, it had completely outgrown its space and become one of the world’s great libraries, and with popular support (and not a little graft) the huge and ornate Jefferson building was put up, with several stories of underground storage as well as the building you see below.




In the end, the building proved not enough; with 32 million books, 61 million other items and a vast store of digital information, the library now includes the John Adams Building, the Madison Building and a Virginia campus for its film and book preservation operations. It includes exhibit spaces in all the buildings, and the Folger Shakespeare Library…but the beating heart of the Library is the Jefferson Building and the main Reading Room.



Of course, the Library of Congress name reminds us it still has a big role as the research arm of Congress and other government branches. No accident, then it's located where it is, just across the street from the Capitol, and down the street from the Supreme Court. In fact, it's connected by a tunnel to the Capitol!







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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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Quite possibly for the same reason I've missed so many NYC spots...I lived for three years two blocks from the Washington Heights campus that includes the Hispanic Society Museum, the Audubon Museum and at that time the Museum of the American Indian. I always planned to go "some weekend soon..."


I didn't go to the Library of Congress when I lived in the area in the early 60s; our visit earlier this month came about because a Catalan friend of ours who teaches in NY had taken her visiting parents there a few weeks ago and raved about it!

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Last edited by PHeymont

I have been there, I'm now reluctant to admit, used the library for some research.  I obviously failed to look up.  Recognizing the era of the decoration, I guess, is something, but a lesson in not drawing too many conclusions.  I obviously need to go back and pay attention to the building, as well as the contents.

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