Giving The U.s. House Of Representatives A Human Face (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Giving the U.S. House of Representatives a Human Face

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:07:43
But first, a quiz, what do the following objects...

MS. FARAR ELLIOTT

13:07:47
So let's take a look at some of the stuff we have down here.

SHEIR

13:07:50
...have in common?

ELLIOTT

13:07:52
Okay.

SHEIR

13:07:52
A baseball trophy...

ELLIOTT

13:07:53
What is this a two-foot tall trophy?

SHEIR

13:07:56
Double-tiered...

ELLIOTT

13:07:56
Double-tiered with eagles all around it, a big baseball guy on top and an urn...

SHEIR

13:08:01
A wooden gavel...

ELLIOTT

13:08:01
It's a light-colored wood, probably maple.

SHEIR

13:08:04
...and a menu from 1933...

ELLIOTT

13:08:05
And let us look at the cold meats and sandwiches section. Sometimes it is fun just to look at them because you think, what are pin-money pickles? It beats me.

SHEIR

13:08:13
Well, the answer to the question of what these objects have in common, I mean, not to what pin-money pickles are, lies with this woman. Her name is Farar Elliott and she's in charge of these three items and roughly 3,997 more as the curator for the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. The very first curator, in fact, since 2002 Elliott's been tracking down and conserving and preserving art and artifacts associated with the history and heritage of the federal government's lower legislative body.

ELLIOTT

13:08:43
There have been over 11,000 people who have served in the House, that's a lot. So I think one of the things that is the most exciting about what I do is to put a human face on the House of Representatives.

SHEIR

13:08:55
One way is by putting these items on view in the Capitol Building, whether, say, on the wall of a committee hearing room...

ELLIOTT

13:09:02
You are likely going to see lots of portraits from the House collection that documents all the people who have served.

SHEIR

13:09:07
...or in a display case at the Capitol Visitors Center.

ELLIOTT

13:09:10
One thing you'll see is a voting box when members go to vote via electronic vote and you can sort of see exactly how it works. There's a little fake card in there sticking out.

SHEIR

13:09:20
Now that baseball trophy we mentioned with its fancy double-tiers, its eagles, and its urn...

ELLIOTT

13:09:25
We were fortunate enough to have this and it's one of my favorite things.

SHEIR

13:09:28
...isn't actually on public display right now. Elliott and I are looking at it in the collection storage room in the basement of the Capitol Complex.

ELLIOTT

13:09:34
This was donated to us by former Congressman Mike Oxley. He managed the very successful Republican baseball teams for years.

SHEIR

13:09:42
The successful Republican team from Series Ten of the Annual Congressional Baseball Game. This year's game was held just this week and when you look at this trophy, it's hard not to see that human face that Elliott talks about.

ELLIOTT

13:09:54
And especially with kids, when they see some of the artifacts we have, like a baseball trophy from the Congressional Baseball Game, they imagine, oh, this is a bunch of people who are like me. They play sports, they read books, and they get nervous before they give speeches.

SHEIR

13:10:07
And they eat. Remember that 1933 menu with its pin-money pickles?

ELLIOTT

13:10:12
And there are a number of other strange things, like a Fleischmann's Yeast Cake. It cost 5 cents to buy a Fleischmann's Yeast Cake.

SHEIR

13:10:18
It's from the House of Representative's restaurant. And while items like the simple folded piece of paper are, yes, fun and curious keepsakes...

ELLIOTT

13:10:25
Believe it or not, we use them for research.

SHEIR

13:10:27
As she and her team did just recently when a member of the public called enquiring about the fate of a certain sandwich.

ELLIOTT

13:10:34
If you look back into history, this one little line that says club sandwich 50 cents, you will find that just three years before there was a huge fight in the House of Representatives about the club sandwich.

SHEIR

13:10:46
See, a House committee had been investigating a deficit at the House restaurant and House members started wondering if the eatery wasn't maybe overcharging for the club.

ELLIOTT

13:10:56
And a congressman, who took issue with someone saying his committee didn't know how to run a restaurant, went down on the House floor with two club sandwiches in his hand, one from the House restaurant and one from a local sort of cafeteria chain and he said, look at the size of this piece of chicken and compare it to this piece of chicken. In our restaurant and with our larger piece of chicken, a large piece of toast, more mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce, we get only five cents more.

SHEIR

13:11:19
As the debate raged on, Elliott says the House actually enjoyed quite a laugh.

ELLIOTT

13:11:23
William Bankhead, who later became Speaker, asked about ham sandwiches for those of us who can't afford club sandwiches. John McCormack from Massachusetts said, when are we going to be able to get some real Boston baked beans?

SHEIR

13:11:35
But 80 odd years later, when this person called and asked Elliott and her team how it all panned out...

ELLIOTT

13:11:40
Because we were fortunate enough to have something like this, an early menu from the House restaurant, we can find that, in fact, the club sandwich survived its difficult times on the floor of the House.

SHEIR

13:11:51
These days, of course, you'd be hard-pressed to find a 50-cent club sandwich anywhere, let alone in the House restaurant, so clearly this menu is a relic much like two other items in the House collection.

ELLIOTT

13:12:03
And let's go take a look at these.

SHEIR

13:12:04
We're looking at a pair of ornately carved chairs, each with a sprung horsehair seat. Back in 1857, members sat in these chairs in the House Chamber and that's where they did all their work.

ELLIOTT

13:12:15
It wasn't until 1908 that members of the House had offices at all and if you don't have an office, you can't have staff so they really were doing it very much on their own.

SHEIR

13:12:23
But some objects in the House collection are a little more timeless.

ELLIOTT

13:12:27
I also have here something that relates to Nicholas Longworth.

SHEIR

13:12:31
Longworth was the Republican speaker of the house from 1925 to 1931 and the object Elliott is showing me now is that wooden gavel, the maple one we mentioned earlier.

ELLIOTT

13:12:41
The Senate has a little, delicate, ivory knocker that they just knock and get everyone's attention. But the House, a more raucous institution, has a nice big gavel and this one is from Nicholas Longworth.

SHEIR

13:12:56
Now, the Longworth gavel does look like it has seen better days.

ELLIOTT

13:12:59
It's got sort of dirt marks on it, ink marks on it. Nicholas Longworth has signed it and someone put scotch tape over it, which is probably not the best thing to do.

SHEIR

13:13:09
But it also looks a lot like the gavel you see in the House today. And that's the thing. As Farar Elliott conserves and preserves all these items in the House collection, she's reminded that even if the way Congress does things has changed...

ELLIOTT

13:13:23
The essence of what Congress does has not changed. The older we get in terms of our artifacts, the closer we get to the essence of what Congress is about.

SHEIR

13:13:32
And as we well know, more often than not, that essence includes conflict, what can seem like a never-ending debate as people and parties go head to head duking it out. But in spite of everything that essence still remains, timeless. If only we could say the same for those pin-money pickles. To see Longworth's gavel, Oxley's baseball trophy, the 1933 menu and other curiosities from the House of Representatives collection, visit our website, metroconnection.org
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