Move over just a bit, Ronald Reagan. You need to make room for Barry Goldwater.
For decades, the statues in the U.S. Capitol remained, well, stationary. But recently, more states are looking to substitute better-known figures for obscure ones. Some also want the National Statuary Hall Collection, a popular tourist attraction, to include more minorities and women.
Since the 19th century, each state has been permitted to provide two statues of notable citizens to the collection, dispersed throughout the Capitol and its new visitor center. But many of the honorees — say Nebraska’s Julius Sterling Morton — draw a “Who?” from passersby. (Answer: Morton is the founder of Arbor Day.)
When Congress gave states permission several years ago to replace statues, an anti-incumbent mood of sorts took hold.
Kansas was first, bringing in Dwight D. Eisenhower and evicting 19th century Gov. George W. Glick.
California followed in 2009, installing Reagan in place of a statue of Thomas Starr King, which had stood in the Capitol since 1931, but drew puzzled looks even from Californians. King, whose statue is now in Sacramento, was a Unitarian minister credited with helping keep California in the Union. Father Junipero Serra is the state’s other representative in the collection.
Other recent replacements include Alabama’s Helen Keller, depicted as a 7-year-old holding her hand under a water pump in a scene made famous by the movie “The Miracle Worker.” Keller replaced Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, an advocate of free universal education.
Gerald Ford replaced former Sen. and Detroit Mayor Zachariah Chandler as one of Michigan’s representatives.
Arizona plans to send a statue of Goldwater, the state’s longtime senator who died in 1998. Goldwater will join Reagan, perhaps a fitting placement for the two. Reagan’s speeches on behalf of Goldwater in the 1964 presidential campaign helped launch his own political career.
Ohio lawmakers are considering sending Thomas Edison, who despite being the Wizard of Menlo Park, N.J., was a native of the Buckeye State. Edison came out ahead of the Wright brothers, among others, in a 2010 vote cast by more than 48,000 visitors to Ohio historical sites and museums.
“I would hope that the greatest contributors to the history of the United States of America aren’t entirely constrained to the far past,” said Douglass W. McDonald, president and chief executive of the Cincinnati Museum Center and chairman of a commission to raise funds for the Edison statue.
Replacements must be approved by a state’s legislature and governor, and the state must pay for the statue and installment — usually by raising private funds. Statues also must be approved by a congressional panel and cannot exceed 7 feet in height, or 10 feet with the pedestal.
Iowa is sending a statue of Iowa-born Norman Borlaug, known as the father of the Green Revolution, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for developing high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat that brought agricultural self-sufficiency to developing nations.
The idea came from Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the Borlaug-founded World Food Prize Foundation, as he stood among the Capitol’s statues in 2007, when Borlaug received the congressional gold medal. Borlaug, who died in 2009, was of such stature in Iowa that “everyone could agree that maybe it’s time to make a change,” Quinn said. He will replace the likeness of James Harlan, a former senator and Interior secretary under President Andrew Johnson.
Similarly, Arizona State Sen. Adam Driggs was on a tour of the Capitol with his family when he stopped at the statue of one of his state’s representatives, John Campbell Greenway.
“I looked to the left, and there was Daniel Webster, from New Hampshire. I looked to the right, and there was Robert E. Lee, from Virginia,” he said, saying that most Arizonans probably don’t know who Greenway was.
“I was thinking, ‘No disrespect to John Greenway … but this should be Barry Goldwater here.’ … He was Mr. Arizona.” Once the Goldwater statue arrives in early 2013, Greenway — who in the late 1800s held executive positions in a number of Arizona mine, steel, and railroad companies — will be moved to the state Capitol.
Other newcomers expected to be headed to the Capitol include Amelia Earhart, from Kansas, and President Truman, from Missouri.
A proposal in Maryland to bring in a statue of Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who led others to freedom on the Underground Railroad, and remove a statue of John Hanson, first president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, has generated controversy.
Lynette Long, president of Equal Visibility Everywhere, a group that seeks gender parity in the symbols and icons of the United States, said that “it’s been a constant battle” to increase the representation of women, currently nine, in Statuary Hall.
Congressional legislation has been introduced to allow each state to place a third statue in the Capitol in an effort to make the collection more diverse.
“If you walked through the Capitol and looked at the statues, you would think all the heroes and leaders were granite white men,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said in introducing the Share America’s Diverse History in the Capitol Act earlier this year.