DecodeDC takes you on a tour of the Senate with historian Donald Ritchie

Posted at 2:57 PM, Mar 26, 2015
For spring break, we are going to take you on the ultimate insider’s tour of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol. Your guide: Senate historian Donald Ritchie, who will retire in May after nearly 40 years in the Senate Historical Office.
The office serves as the Senate's “institutional memory,” according to its Website, collecting information on important dates, precedents and statistics. But it is so much more. Movie set designers, mystery writers and biographers have depended on Donald Ritchie to answer the serious and the trivial questions about everything from carpet color to whether this is actually the most do-nothing Congress.
We asked Ritchie for a tour of some of his favorite places in the Senate – and some of our's too – such as:
  • Lyndon Johnson’s Senate office, nicknamed “the Taj Mahal” for its ornate decorations.
  • The Old Senate Chamber, where the Senate met from 1810 to 1859. When senators first gathered there, there were 32 of them. By the time they moved out in 1859, there were 64 -- and no more room. It also is the room where abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner was severely beaten by a Southern lawmaker during the pre-Civil War debates over slavery.
  • The original Library of Congress – a small room that started as a law library. When the British set the Capitol on fire in 1814, they used the books in this library as fuel for the blaze. Thomas Jefferson sold his private book collection to the federal government to restock the facility and the rest is, well, library history.
  • The Senate bathtubs tucked deep in the Capitol. Marble soaking tubs date back to the 1850s and were a pleasure -- and hygienic necessity -- when senators would arrive after long, hot carriage rides.
So come behind the scenes with guest host Todd Zwillich and Senate historian Donald Richie on this week’s DecodeDC podcast.
And for a look at the some of the sites we visited, check out the slideshow below from our staff photographer, Matt Anzur. You also can see full size versions of the images on the Scripps Washington bureau Flickr page.
Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at