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Giving a Tour of the Capitol

NAME: Richard Poland | AGE: 46 | HOMETOWN: Lufkin | QUALIFICATIONS: Has been a tour guide at the state capitol since May 1986 / Became the director of tours in 1998 / Earned a liberal arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a certification in public management from Texas State University

By July 2011Comments

Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

● When I started working as a tour guide, it was a part-time job for college kids. Today it’s much more competitive. We have guides who have earned advanced degrees in history. One guide worked in the architect’s office at the U.S. Capitol, and another teaches American history at Austin Community College.

● We have different tours for different school groups, one for kindergarten and first grade, one for second and third, and so on. We try to incorporate different things the kids are supposed to learn for the TAKS test. With the kindergartners, we give them the basic visual references. With the older kids, we explain the history and the lawmaking process.

● A popular question from visitors is about the children pictured in the legislative composites. Each session, the House and the Senate make large composites of members’ portraits, and they always include head shots of the members’ children and grandchildren. Everybody sees those kids and wonders what’s going on.

● It’s a myth that Texas has the tallest state capitol. It is taller than the U.S. Capitol, but the tallest state capitol is in Louisiana, though that building looks more like the UT Tower.

● I gave a tour to Lady Bird Johnson once. Or, really, she showed a friend around and I went along to answer any questions. When they saw the large portrait of President Johnson in the Senate chamber, she told her friend about being at the painting’s dedication. That was a great moment.

● A lot of people ask if there’s a place in the rotunda where they can whisper and still be heard by someone on the other side. There isn’t, but there is a perfect echo in the center of the rotunda. As a matter of fact, I’ll walk through there sometimes and forget about it while I’m talking and then boom!

● We have guides who can give tours in Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Papiamentu. That’s what they speak in Curaçao.

● The underground Capitol extension has an open-air rotunda where, each session, officials from Nolan County hold a mini Sweet­water Rattlesnake RoundUp. A lot of people are crazy for that, but I think it’s good that it’s held outside.

● The entire building has been restored since I started working here. The tour guides’ office was the old treasurer’s business office, and we have original desks and a re-creation of the black-and-white-checkered tile on the floor. They even put bars up because that is where the state used to keep its money.

● There’s a spot in the extension where most of our guides end their tours. You can look back through the sky- light at the dome and see the Goddess of Liberty statue on top. That’s my favorite view.

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