After the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill in 1919 to provide for the construction of a new state capitol, the history and nostalgic memories of the old capitol (the state’s second) appeared in the press. Completed in 1888, its design was influenced by that of the national capitol at Washington, D.C., with a dome-topped central tower, 170 feet in height, which attracted tourists and others desiring an elevated view of Lincoln.
The Lincoln Sunday Star on July 4, 1920, noted nostalgically the graffiti left behind in the soon-to-be-replaced capitol, especially along the walls and steps leading to the tower. Love poems and initials carved within hearts were so plentiful that the Star expressed pity for “thousands of pilgrims, who have climbed the circuitous stairs of the present structure only to find that there was no wall space left on which to carve a name or an initial. Their inconsiderate predecessors had hogged the space.”
Not only romantic couples noted their presence in the old state capitol. “[T]he whole tower dome of the present building seems to have been constructed just as a place for visitors to leave their calling cards in Lincoln. Most of the names scratched or carved in full have out-of-town addresses attached. And most of the names are those of men. The girls are more modest and just leave initials.”
Perhaps the oddest thing to be found in the second capitol in 1920 was a colony of guinea pigs, reportedly being raised by the State Board of Health. The little animals were used in experiments relating to the treatment of smallpox, influenza, and spinal meningitis.
Workers began clearing ground around the second capitol several years later, in 1922. The old building was left in place and a new one begun around it. After this stage was completed, the old capitol was gradually torn down and the center of the new building, the present capitol, rose in its place. Read more about Nebraska’s third capitol online at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website, along with other articles from past issues of Nebraska History magazine. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications