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10 Facts About the U.S. Capitol Building

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I admit it: I'm reading the new Dan Brown book. I feel like I should be a little bit embarrassed, but it's the fastest-selling adult novel of all time, so obviously I'm in good company. In case you're not familiar, The Lost Symbol involves the typical Robert Langdon-style hunt for clues and symbols through a bunch of familiar, historic places, including the U.S. Capitol Building. I know Brown is known to take some liberties with history, so I thought I'd look for some of the Capitol's more interesting features for myself.

1. The Capitol was built after Thomas Jefferson held a design competition to elicit entries from some of the finest architects in America.

The prize was $500, but the only one of the submissions that even came close to earning it was one by a French architect. His design would have been too expensive, though, and so the search continued. Finally, a late entry by William Thornton did the trick. Washington and Jefferson both raved over it, and the design was chosen.

subway

2. The Capitol has its own subway.

And I bet it doesn't smell like subways usually smell. It's been there in some variation since 1909 and carries politicians from House and Senate office buildings to the Capitol.

3. George Washington himself laid the cornerstone for the Capitol on September 18, 1793, and, as Dan Brown said, it was a Masonic ceremony.

WASHINGTONStomb

4. At one point, there were plans for the first president to be buried under the Capitol building in an area called the Crypt.

Designers even received permission from Martha Washington to do so. When the time came to move the body from Mt. Vernon to D.C., plans fell through because Washington's will specified that his final resting place should be Mt. Vernon. The Crypt is now used to keep some of the National Statuary Hall Collection and to house a gift shop. And you can still see where the tomb was going to go — that's it in the picture above.

5. There used to be a law in place that restricted any building in D.C. from being built taller than the Capitol.

It could be equal to the Capitol in height, but no higher than. Passed in 1899, this law didn't last long. It was amended in 1910 and now the Capitol is only the fifth-tallest building in the District of Columbia. It's shorter than the Washington Monument, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Old Post Office and the Washington National Cathedral.

STATUE

6. The statue that sits atop the dome is called the Statue of Freedom.

If she ever fell off, someone below would be in trouble. At 15,000 pounds, I bet the old gal would do more than a little damage. She's 19-and-a-half feet tall and stepped down from her pedestal for the first time in 1993 for a much-needed restoration (pictured above). Hey, you'd need some spackling too if you were 130 years old.

7. If you've ever thought that the Capitol seems to be backward, you're not alone.

Many people have wondered why the building faces away from the Mall instead of toward it, like most other important buildings and monuments. The reason, according to the Capitol website, is that the east side of the Capitol is the only one with level ground for a proper entrance, so the Capitol and the statue on top face east toward the people who are entering it.

8. The Architects of the Capitol oversee the maintenance, operation and preservation of all of the Capitol buildings and grounds.

Only 11 men have ever served in this position, starting with William Thornton in 1793. The current Architect is Stephen T. Ayers.

9. The Capitol didn't fare too well during the War of 1812 and nearly burned to the ground.

It would have been just ashes if a well-timed storm hadn't put the fire out. The building was pretty well gutted, as was the Library of Congress.

Bulfinch

10. The famous dome we know today wasn't added to the building until the 1850s

under the watch of Architect Thomas U. Walter, the fourth Architect. The picture shows the first dome, which third Architect Charles Bulfinch added. This was due to some pretty extensive additions to the Capitol. Although rebuilt after the War of 1812 fiasco, politicians quickly outgrew their workspace as states were added and more representatives filled the building. As the Capitol building was extended to make room, the Bulfinch dome looked out of place and disproportionate. The construction of the new dome took 11 years (Lincoln was sworn in under a half-finished dome) and nearly nine million pounds of iron.

So, it would appear that Dan Brown was accurate about a couple of things (I won't spoil it in case you're waiting to read it). Anyone else reading it? What's your opinion?

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10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes
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The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.

1. THEY’VE BEEN AROUND SINCE THE 17TH CENTURY.

While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.

2. A GERMAN IMMIGRANT BROUGHT THE TRADITION TO THE STATES.

It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.

3. THEY HAVEN’T ALWAYS BEEN STRIPED.

Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.

4. THEY’RE A (RELATIVELY) VIRTUOUS HOLIDAY TREAT.

Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.

5. THEY DON’T ALWAYS FIT ON A CHRISTMAS TREE.

The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.

6. EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN WAY OF EATING THEM.

Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.

7. MORE THAN A BILLION ARE MADE EACH YEAR.

According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?

8. A PRIEST PLAYED A MAJOR ROLE IN THE CANDY’S MOVE TO MASS PRODUCTION.

Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.

9. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN (ODDLY-TIMED) HOLIDAY.

December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.

10. THE PROCESS FOR MAKING THEM BY HAND IS MESMERIZING.

Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

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10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films
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1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.

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