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New York's Complex and Captivating Capitol: A New Documentary

New York's Complex and Captivating Capitol: A New Documentary

Image of H.H. Richardson's rendering of the Capitol Building | Credit: Emma Orsino and Joshua Stanley's "The Unhidden Treasure of the Capitol."

One of New York's most captivating stories is that of the home of its political "family": The New York State Capitol Building in Albany. In the years following the Civil War and its Union victory, the New York State government body burgeoned, and outgrew its then-extant offices. In 1866, the New York State legislature hosted a worldwide competition for the design of a new Capitol. What followed was a complex, protracted and expensive process that involved many different architects to complete the building we know today.

Emma Orsino and Joshua Stanley, high school students in Loudonville, N.Y., won a different kind of State-sponsored competition. The New York State Archives – a program established in 1971 to "care for and provide access to more than 200 million documents that tell the story of New York from the seventeenth century to the present" – funds an annual Student Research Award. Open to grades 4-12, the award seeks to "encourage students to explore the wealth of historical records held in historical records repositories in New York State." Emma and Joshua embarked on a mission to learn about and document the winding tale of the planning, construction, devastating fire and reconstruction of Albany's most famous landmark. The result was their award-winning film, "The Unhidden Treasure of the Capitol."

The video features commentary by those involved in its restoration, including Jim Jamieson, the recently-retired NYS Capitol Architect and Office of General Services Preservation Officer. The documentary notably provides close-ups of the quirky stone carvings found in the Escher-esque Great Western Staircase, also known as the Million Dollar Staircase: elected officials, relatives and friends of the stone carvers, interesting people that the carvers saw on the street, animals, leaves, ships, and other fanciful surprises. Watch the film (below), and if you're inspired to visit in person, consider taking a free tour of the Capitol's Hall of Governors, available Monday-Friday, and on select Saturdays.