Rev. Graham's statue comes to Capitol, but shuns the spotlight

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One benefit of covering Congress is that you get to see footage of the Capitol after hours.

But not always at their best.

That was the case a week ago on Friday. I was walking through the Capitol's Statuary Hall around 6:30 p.m. after my TV piece about a hearing in the House of Representatives and the public broadcaster aired. I was on my way home.

That's where I met Billy Graham.

Not the pastor, mind you.

But a two-meter high bronze statue of Graham.

BILLY GRAHAM STATUE TO BE UNVEILED IN US CAPITOL NEXT WEEK: 'GREAT HONOR'

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., the Noreth Carolina delegation and family members of Billy Graham participate in the unveiling of the statue honoring the Rev. Billy Graham in the National Statuary Hall at the Capitol on Thursday, May 16, 2024 . (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Graham was covered from head to toe in plastic wrap. A deep blue quilted blanket hugged Graham from his triceps to his shoelaces. Through the tight plastic you could barely make out Graham's face. But his nose and a strand of hair stuck out. The contours of Graham's face were visible. But almost as if there were no details.

Workers dropped the pedestal where Graham's statue would later stand a few feet away. It had a Bible verse stamped into the base.

“Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” read the Bible verse, John 14:6, and a simple, Christian cross.

Capitol officials erected Graham's statue at the edge of Statuary Hall, near a main thoroughfare on the way to the House chamber.

SON OF DEER. BILLY GRAHAM REFLECTS ON THE US CAPITOL STATUE IN FATHER'S HONOR

The workers would erect the statue right next to a likeness of Marcus Whitman of Washington State. Whitman is decorated with buckskins. Like Graham, Whitman also carries a Bible, as well as saddlebags. Whitman is known for his work as a physician and 19th century missionary, guiding people from the east along the Oregon Trail. The Cayuse Indians killed Whitman near Walla Walla, Washington, after he attempted to convert them to Christianity.

Each state will receive two statues in the Capitol collection. Graham's statue is one of two from North Carolina. It replaces one of North Carolina's late governor, Charles Aycock (D), who had ties to racists.

Lawmakers formally unveiled Graham's statue in an elaborate ceremony about a week after I first saw it.

“This is the main corridor through Congress and the Capitol. Literally millions of people will walk by it,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said at the statue's dedication. “I think it's a divine providence that it's here. I'm just saying I think this is the perfect place.”

Mike Johnson speaks at the unveiling of the Billy Graham statue

U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson speaks at the unveiling of a statue of the late U.S. Southern Baptist Minister Billy Graham (L) in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on May 16, 2024. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

“I hope that when the Member Congress passes by his statue, they will reflect on the standards of faith, ethics and decency that he embodied during his extraordinary life,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

But here's the problem.

Last Thursday evening I finished a live recording of Progressive House staffers demonstrating about Israel and headed out the door around 6:30 p.m. Once again, workers toiled around the Graham statue. Workers hoisted Graham's likeness off the base. It now stood in the middle of the Statuary Hall. But Graham's robes were different. A sheath of pillows wrapped the minister's body. Clear plastic covered the rest of the statue; it ran up from the knees and encased the head. A thick brown industrial strap held the plastic tightly, as if it were a package ready to be shipped from UPS. For some reason there was a brown piece of bent cardboard sticking out of the fuselage.

REV. BILLY GRAHAM HONORED WITH STATUE UNVEILED AT US CAPITOL

The packaging shroud was so enveloping that you couldn't tell that the outline of the figure was Graham.

I assumed they were adjusting the statue just after the ceremony.

The next evening – around 6:45 pm – I got off the air again and went home. This time I produced a TV piece about the raucous House Oversight Committee meeting and the GOP's efforts to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress. I walked through the Statuary Hall.

Bram was nowhere to be seen.

As fate would have it, Graham would not permanently occupy such a heavily trafficked spot in the House chamber. Both Johnson and Tillis were wrong in their hopes that lawmakers would take note of Graham's presence or Scripture as they walked to the House chamber for votes. It turns out that Graham's stay in Statuary Hall was only temporary. He was only there for the ceremony.

Statue

Artist Kevin Kresse is shown with a clay bust of Johnny Cash, April 23, 2024 in Little Rock, Arkansas. (AP Photo/Mike Pesoli)

Workers had moved Graham downstairs to where Aycock was standing. This is the crypt of the Capitol, directly beneath the Rotunda. Lawmakers don't walk past it that often. But visitors certainly circulate through the crypt if they are part of a formal Capitol tour.

Graham now stands on the north side of the Capitol, barely on the Senate side of the building. To Graham's right is a statue of Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Sherman was a congressman and senator. But Sherman is best known for his engineering of what has been called the “Connecticut Compromise.” That's where the founders agreed on a bicameral legislature. States would receive representatives in proportion to their population. But each state would have equal representation in the Senate. Immediately to Graham's left is a passageway that leads to the Senate Wing of the Capitol, but not to the Senate Chamber. Across the street from the entrance is a statue of John C. Calhoun, representing South Carolina. Calhoun served as a member of the House of Representatives and served as vice president under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

Statues from the Capitol collection may have their feet cast in bronze. But lately there have been a lot of images in motion. The Capitol just dedicated a new Arkansas statue two weeks ago: Daisy Bates. Bates was a civil rights leader and advisor to the Little Rock Nine. She succeeds Uriah Rose. Rose is known as a partner in the legendary Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. There, Hillary Clinton later became the firm's first female partner. Deputy Clinton White House Counsel Vince Foster also worked there. His body was later found in Fort Marcy Park, near Washington. Officials and a bicameral congressional investigation later ruled Foster's death a suicide.

Arkansas scores a second new statue in September: Johnny Cash. The country music legend will succeed the late Arkansas Governor James Clarke, who was associated with white supremacy.

ARKANSAS STATUES AT US CAPITOL ARE REPLACED BY CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER DAISY BATES AND SINGER JOHNNY CASH

Cash's statue will be located in the Capitol Visitor's Center, the gateway for most tourists to the Capitol. Cash is also the first musician in the Capitol collection. Bates' statue is located in Statuary Hall, directly across from civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Congress greenlighted Parks' statue. No state. The Bates statue is right next to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and one of two statues from Mississippi.

Since 2000, they have changed seventeen of the Capitol's hundred statues.

“My father would feel a little uncomfortable if he were here. Because he would want the focus to be on the One he was preaching,” Franklin Graham, Graham's son, said during the dedication ceremony.

Billy GrahamJohnny Cash

THE JOHNNY CASH SHOW – Aired: February 24, 1971. Rev. Billy Graham (left) appears alongside country legend Johnny Cash. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

So Graham is the rookie in the Capitol collection. But only until September.

But if it's late summer or early fall, I suspect I'll be leaving the Capitol around 6:30. Perhaps after live coverage of Congress struggling to prevent a government shutdown later that month. I'll come across a likeness of Johnny Cash, ready for devotion.

And at that hour on a Friday night, Cash won't be the “Man in Black.”

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It will likely be encased in a layer of thick, blue filling. Heavy straps secure a plastic exoskeleton around Cash's midsection. But in a few days, Cash will be standing. Ready to serenade the crowds of tourists visiting the US Capitol.

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