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October 16, 1998

Oklahoma has one of the few state capitols with classic architectural lines but no dome. To those of us who grew up with that image imprinted in our minds, it seems OK, but many others think it looks incomplete. Through the years numerous efforts have been initiated to raise funds privately for an addition of the dome or to have the legislature make an appropriation for that purpose. Neither of those objectives has been reached, so we try not to think about the problem. It's still there, we just ignore it.

There are Perry connections to this story, and they include two former governors. One is well remembered here but the other is not. All of this is part of preparations now under way for the Oklahoma Centennial Celebration in 2007. But first some background is needed to understand what's going on today. Why was the dome left off in the first place?

When the capitol was built earlier this century on the extreme north side of Oklahoma City, funding was a major factor. The people had been told that the cost of construction would not exceed $1.5 million but, as completion neared it looked like that amount would not be sufficient. In an effort to bring down the outlay, Gov. Robert Williams decided to scrap plans for the dome, even though the original plans called for it and the footings were poured to support it. Gov. Williams, who served 1915-19, thought that such an ornament would be an extravagance that Oklahoma did not need. The dome was dumped at his direction.

Other "excesses" also were tossed out. It was a time of major cost-cutting by our state's leaders. Five state-supported junior colleges were closed, taxes were raised and institutional appropriations were cut to reduce state indebtedness. The capitol was completed with virtually no ornamentation anywhere. In more recent years, the stately old building at NE 23 and Lincoln has been the centerpiece of a handsome complex of structures and it remains the state's No. 1 tourist attraction. Renovation of the capitol is in progress and many major steps toward that end have been completed. Some of these projects correct oversights or omissions in the original construction.

State Sen. Charles R. Ford of Bartlesville has chosen to do something to enhance the integrity of the Senate Lounge and other public areas of the Senate as part of this effort. The capitol is a popular attraction for visitors and it is open to the public even when the Legislature is not in session. Sen. Ford is putting together a voluntary program to create a series of oil paintings depicting historical events and places throughout Oklahoma. This is where our Perry community comes in.

Sen. Ford hopes to place an oil portrait of Henry S. Johnston, a pioneer Perry attorney, in the lounge with a memorial plaque noting that Johnston was the president pro tempore of the Oklahoma State Senate when the first Legislature met after statehood in 1907. He also was a key figure in the state constitutional convention in Guthrie and he went on to become Oklahoma's seventh governor, but Sen. Ford, a Republican, is honoring Johnston, a Democrat, because of his significant contribution to the State Senate. Sen. Ford is supported in his effort by State Sen. Robert Milacek, of Waukomis, another Republican. As you see, it is by no means a partisan project.

Several of the oil paintings already have been committed. The objective is to complete 18 paintings and two bronze statues in time for the State's Centennial. The artist's fees and associated costs for Mr. Johnston's portrait will be approximately $5,500, and that's where you and I come in. We can become active participants in this by sending checks payable to the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund to Charles Hall at Exchange Bank & Trust Co. in Perry. No legislative appropriation is being asked for the projects. All funds will be subscribed by private and corporate donors and each gift will be appropriately acknowledged.

The other Perry connection to the domeless capitol story is former Gov. Robert Williams, who made the decision to leave the topper off the building. Mr. Williams came to Perry at the opening of the Cherokee Strip on Sept. 16,1893. We don't hear much about his time in Perry, but according to Judge Ernie Jones' Early Day History of Perry, Oklahoma, R.L. (Bob) Williams stayed here "long enough to take a course in the finer points of legal ethics, traded his standard library of one volume of Oklahoma statutes for a ticket to Muskogee from whence he returned as Governor of the state and now (early 1930s) Federal Judge from the east side."

What a fascinating history our little town has!