A Hall of Heroes

What to do with an empty room? After the House moved to its new chamber in 1857, its former hall filled with peddlers hawking everything from gingerbread cakes to mousetraps. History-minded citizens and members of Congress deplored its sorry condition. Some suggested rebuilding the room into offices. Others advocated a fine-art gallery.

Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont proposed converting the chamber into a National Statuary Hall, displaying figures of notable Americans. States would be asked to donate two bronze or marble statues of deceased men or women worthy of commemoration. A new marble floor would help the room play this new role. President Abraham Lincoln signed Morrill’s proposal into law on July 2, 1864. The tradition continues today, though statues now are distributed throughout the building.