One Year Later, Congress Weighs How to Memorialize Jan. 6 at the Capitol

“I’ve still lacked the words to be able to describe to my kids what happened that day,” Mr. Kim said in an interview. “When we go through collective trauma, it’s often helpful to have some kind of collective outlet in which one can reflect on this and think through this. I find it to be just a missed opportunity for us to pay tribute to this building.”

For all of its grandeur, the Capitol is far more functional than a traditional museum. Most of its artifacts are on display, and several — from the gavels to the desks — are used on a daily basis. Many of the building’s tragedies and conflicts are not prominent for the casual visitor. The 1814 siege, when the British burned the Capitol, is marked by a ceiling painting in a first-floor hallway. A drawer in the Republican leadership desk remains damaged by bullets fired by Puerto Rican nationalists in the House chamber in 1954.

Even the acknowledgment of how the Capitol was built — a single block of sandstone to commemorate the work of enslaved African Americans — came over a decade after evidence of their work was unearthed. On rare occasions, Congress has approved individual plaques, including the one honoring the officers killed in 1998.

After the riot, three curator offices responsible for caring for the furnishings, paint and architecture of the Capitol quickly pivoted from their usual preservation work and the pandemic challenge of keeping hand sanitizer fingerprints off the historic furnishings to dealing with the devastation wrought by the rioters. They pooled resources to assess the damage, taking note of the pH balance left by fire extinguisher residue that could permanently harm sculptures and paintings, and swept away the rubble.

Farar Elliott, the House curator, told a House panel in February that millions of dollars would be needed to address the damage, including treating and cleaning the objects in the Capitol’s historic collection.

“And then, after that, take stock of what are the artifacts that tell the story of the people’s house right up through today,” she said.

Among the unanswered questions about how that story will be told is what Capitol tour guides will be instructed to say about Jan. 6. While guides undergo extensive training, there is no formal script, allowing them discretion in what they tell visitors as they guide them through the Rotunda, the Old Senate Chamber, Statuary Hall and other parts of the building.

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