The Whispering Gallery, Statuary Hall Unveiled

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Transcript of The Whispering Gallery, Statuary Hall Unveiled

Preparation of Papers in Two-Column Format


Xholina NanoAmerican University 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC. 20016-8058,

Session II

April 27, 2012American University, Washington, DC12th Annual New Millennium Conference38Abstract Completed in 1807, Statuary Hall is one of the most historic chambers in the U.S. Capitol. Also known as the Old Hall, the impressive two-story, semicircular room was the meeting hall for the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 50 years. Modeling an ancient amphitheater, Statuary Hall was one of the earliest examples of Greek architecture in America. The Hall was damaged when British troops burned the Capitol in 1814 and was later rebuilt to its current state. The Hall presented acoustical obstacles that made conducting business difficult. The elliptical shape of the room and smooth curved wooden ceilings contributed to the interesting sound effects and large echoes. It has been stated many times that conversations of those standing in a far corner could be heard by others standing in the opposite corner. The science behind this sound effect can be explained by wave motion. Sound waves are reflected, refracted, and brought to a focus leaving the audience in the Hall experiencing a cacophony of sounds. A number of unsuccessful attempts to improve the acoustics in the Hall included hanging draperies and reversing the seating arrangement. This paper will explore the physics of sound waves and the architecture of Statuary Hall as it relates to acoustics.

Index Terms Absorption, longitudinal waves, reflection, reverberation, sound waves.IntroductionAcoustics can have a dramatic impact on the way sounds travel through a room. The shape of a room can facilitate the transfer of even the softest of sounds from one end to another. Bystanders in Statuary Hall experience an acoustical anomaly in which conversations are reflected along the surface of the elliptical ceiling and clearly heard on the opposite ends of the room. This effect has been present since it was built and played a large role in its future. HistoryStatuary Hall has played a large role in the history of the Capitol and in shaping history for future generations. President Monroe appointed Charles Bulfinch as architect of the Capitol in 1818 to replace Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Bulfinch rebuilt Statuary Hall between 1815 and 1819, which was originally designed by Latrobe [1]. The Hall remains a symbol for the country and a national landmark. As the Hall of the House, it was home of many important events. In 1824 the Hall served as the Chamber where the Marquis de Lafayette became the first foreign citizen to address Congress. Former Presidents James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Millard Fillmore all were inaugurated at the Hall [2]. John Quincy Adams has long been associated with the Hall and it was where the House of Representatives elected him President. After his presidency, Adams served as a Member in the Hall for almost two decades before suffering from a stroke in 1848. He died soon after the stroke and today there lies a brass plaque in remembrance of Adams marking where his desk was once located in the Hall (Figure 1). Many

Figure 1 [3]Plaque of John Quincy Adams at Statuary Hall

historians believe that during session Adams would put his head down on his desk and would be able to hear the conversation of others standing on the other side of the Hall. Today, Capitol Hill tour guides will point to the spot of Adams desk and proceed to demonstrate the Hall's acoustics and its advantages for eavesdropping. Skeptics, on the other hand, argue that Adams could not have possibly discovered the acoustical anomaly since the Halls interior design was different from its current form. The poor acoustics in the Hall made it difficult to conduct business. The domed ceiling contributed to this, and draperies were hung in an attempt to muffle echoes. After many failed attempts to reduce the echo effect, the only solution was to build an entirely new Hall, one in which debates could be easily understood [4]. In 1850, a new Hall was authorized to be built as an addition to the Capitol building. The House of Representatives was moved into its present location in the new House wing in 1857. Once members of the House moved into their new chambers the fate of the Old Hall remained uncertain. One popular suggestion proposed to use the Hall as an art gallery. In 1864, Congress passed legislation sponsored by Representative Justin Morrill to invite each state to contribute statues of prominent citizens for permanent display in the room. The law led to the renaming of the Hall to the National Statuary Hall. By 1971 all 50 states had contributed at least one statue, and by 1990 all but five states had contributed two statues [5]. Artistic works intended for the Capitol extensions were put on exhibit; among these was a model for the Statue of Freedom, which rests atop the Capitol Dome. The legislation also provided for the replacement of the Halls floor, which was leveled and covered with the marble tile [6]. The floor modification, along with the replacement of the original painted wooden ceiling, eliminated some of the echoes that earlier plagued the room. Though the modifications were somewhat successful in reducing the excess noise in the Hall, there remained issues related to echoes in the Hall. Today Statuary Hall is one of the most popular rooms in the Capitol. It is visited by thousands of tourists each day and continues to be used for ceremonial occasions. Special events held in the room include activities honoring foreign dignitaries and presidential luncheons. The Hall serves as an icon of American government and known throughout U.S. history for its attributes and flaws. Its architectural design plays a role in its unusually acoustic properties. Architectural designIn Statuary Hall, the acoustic anomaly is most largely due to its architectural design. The Hall is an early example of Greek revival architecture in America. The shape and form was adopted from ancient Greek amphitheaters for the new legislative chamber, with a lantern in the ceiling to admit light during late sessions [7]. However, The Hall had one infamous flaw. As Members addressed the House, the sound of their voices echoed through the Hall. The high curved, smooth wooden ceiling prompted a cacophony of sounds.

Figure 2 [8]Present day statuary HallEvery noise reverberated several times throughout the room creating echoes, and conversations occurring across the room could be heard with alarming clarity, disrupting the conduct of business. The great Hall experienced structural modifications throughout its history. While most wall surfaces were made out of painted plaster, the low gallery walls and pilasters were composed of sandstone. Around the room's perimeter stand colossal columns of variegated Breccia marble quarried along the Potomac River. The Corinthian capitals of white marble were carved in Carrara, Italy. The chamber floor is laid with black and white marble tiles; the black marble was purchased specifically for the chamber, while the white marble was scrap material from the Capitol extension project, which included the new House of Representatives [9]. Later additions made in 1901, including a fireproof cast ceiling and a marble floor, eliminated most echoes. However, some very interesting acoustical effects can still be demonstrated today and explained by the ways that sound travels through the Hall. Physics of waves In order to better understand the Halls special acoustical effects, it is necessary to understand the properties of sound waves. The world is full of examples demonstrating wave motion. One encounters waves of different types every day. This paper focuses specifically on the notion that sound is a wave while also acknowledging other types of waves. Sound waves will be explored in greater detail in a subsequent section. Besides sound waves, one experiences radio and TV waves, water waves, waves in microwave ovens, and even earthquake waves. In each case, some sort of vibratory motion causes a wave.

Figure 3 [10]Painting of the old houseTypes of WavesA wave is a disturbance that travels through a medium by virtue of the elastic properties of that substance. A medium refers to a substance or material that carries the wave, such as air or water. Transverse and longitudinal waves are two types of waves. Transverse waves describe a motion where the direction of the pulse is at right angles to the direction of wave speed. Longitudinal waves are waves in which motion travels along the direction of the wave rather than right angles to it [11]. To help conceptualize the differences among types of waves it is best to use the example of the motion of waves within a rope and Slinky. When a rope is attached to a doorknob and moved up and down, a transverse wave similar to the second wave shown in Figure 4 is created. The disturbance caused by the up and down motion creates high and low points within the wavelength. The distance between the top of one crest to the top on the next is the length of the wavelength. Wavelength in a transverse wave is illustrated in the bottom of Figure 4. The crests are the highest point in the rope is and the trough is the lowest point below the equilibrium position [12]. There are also places along the rope where it is not displaced from its equilibrium position, referred to as nodes. Some examples of transverse waves include a violin string, or a string in a piano. The top half of Figure 4 illustrates a Slinky being forced back and forth in the same horizontal direction. By pulling it out straight and then hitting the end, its motion will result in a pulse moving along it to the doorknob. The back and forth motion produce a pulse different