U.S. monuments invoke nostalgia, tears

History, beauty combine to overwhelm senses

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Growing up, I got used to seeing the U.S. Capitol on the evening news, usually rising majestically behind Dan Rather as he reported on some national crisis or other. Over the years, its domed-and-colonnaded form has assumed almost mythical proportions. It is, after all, the focal point of the world's most powerful nation. Yet when I finally visited Washington, D.C., in my thirties, I was a little let down to find that the Capitol, too, was a merely mortal and somewhat tired-looking building – one with crooked light switches, runs in the paint, blocked-up windows, and all the other infirmities of an aging structure occupied and continually modified by humans. That visit made me realize that the real emotional power of man-made structures – even monumental ones like the Capitol – lies not so much in their physical splendor as in the record of human events they represent. Of course the Capitol is physically impressive. Yet what really transcends all that marble and mo...