Book Explores Capitol Hill Tales

Posted July 29, 2003 at 12:51pm

Capitol Hill staffer Jim Berard exposed skeletons in closets all over Capitol Hill this week when he released his second book, “The Capitol Inside & Out: Stories of the People and Events that Give Life to Washington’s Most Historic Building.”

The book is his response to the avid readership of his first book, “The Flying Cat and Other Stories of the Washington Monument,” and continues Berard’s effort to reveal the secrets and confirm the myths that have drifted through the hallowed Congressional halls for centuries.

“The Capitol Inside & Out” explores the urban legends passed down from Member to aide to tour guide, Berard said, disproving the doubtful and verifying the accurate. The 160-page book with 133 pictures overflows with snippets of the Capitol’s history, from statuary stories to terrifying tales of demon cats and haunting lawmakers as well as helpful items such as “A Capitol Chronology,” navigational directions for getting around the Hill and the how-to’s of contacting individual Members.

The book, with introduction written by former Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D), is laid out with the simplicity of a “Capitol Hill for Dummies” tell-all that Berard thinks will be helpful to Hill interns, staff and visitors. “It will be very useful for staffers and interns who give tours,” Berard said. “It contains stories of the rooms and the art that they can show people, but it also gives the reader a look into the rooms that they are no longer allowed to go in.”

Berard has worked on the Hill for 16 years and is currently the communications director for the Democratic leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He volunteers as a tour guide for the National Park Service, providing tours of the Washington Monument, and the Meridian International Center, leading visiting dignitaries on tours of the Capitol.

It is Berard’s volunteer position that led him to pen both books. “I would lead tours every weekend, telling stories of the Washington Monument and the individual buildings of the Capitol,” he said. “People would want to hear about the ghosts, fights and the duels … and later they would say, ‘There should be a book about this stuff!’”

Berard began sorting through his list of Capitol Hill stories. After researching, interviewing and taking countless tours, he compiled a list of tales that fall into various chapter titles through the book, including: “Ghosts”; “Canings, Gunfights, and Fisticuffs”; “The Capitol Underground”; and “Congress: The Ordinary and the Extraordinary.”

Along with the novelty bits, he included chapters of attacks on the Capitol. “It also talks about the fires and the bombings,” Berard says of his chapter “Terrorists Attack.” “It’s the stuff that people want to know but that doesn’t make it into a lot of other books — the negative stuff.”

Berard also chose to include tales of individuals and their stories of the Capitol. “You can’t separate the Capitol from the institution of Congress because it was built to function as a home,” Berard said. “You can’t tell a story without the people — cops, cleaners, us mere staff,” he added, chuckling.

“The Capitol Inside & Out” is teeming with tidbits on every page, but Berard is careful to clarify that it is hardly a complete history of the Capitol. “It is by no means comprehensive,” he said. “It’s an entertaining overview for people who want trivia, but it’s also educational. Those who read it will learn something about the Capitol.”

McCarthy quipped, “Yes, it’s historical … but it’s also got some very good things in it.”

Berard tells the unusual tales with a careful effort to verify his stories. Searching the Library of Congress, the D.C. Public Library and historical society archives, he aimed to find collaborating sources. “I have two or three sources for everything,” Berard said. “But, there’s always that one guy who sees some remarkable thing that you just can’t leave out.”

“The Capitol Inside & Out” is available through EPM Books (800-289-2339) and is expected to hit Senate gift shop bookshelves and the Trover Shop by the end of the week.