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!