Darren Wade, 52, is one of nine paid Capitol tour guides
Written by Aly Van Dyke
As published in The Topeka Capital-Journal
Lifelong Topekan Darren Wade, 52, has given tours of the Capitol dome for five years as a Kansas State Historical Society employee. He will be one of about nine paid tour guides this legislative session, and another six or so volunteers will be available to lead tours of the building and dome.
Although walking up and down 296 steps several times a day has kept him in great shape, this history buff loves every part of the job, from getting a laugh out of tour groups to meeting people from all over the world.
The Capital-Journal caught up with Wade last week to ask him a few questions about his job:
Q: What is your style when you give tours?
Wade: I like to make it fun for everybody and just try to use some humor through the presentations.
Q: What are some examples?
Wade: Well, on the seventh level there are these murals. One that has Art with a sketch pad on her lap and the face drawn there is of the retired school teacher who helped restore the murals in the 1970s. So I like to say that this retired school teacher left his selfie when he redid the murals.
The four murals that are up there are actually artwork that covers the original artwork. Originally, in the late 1800s, the Populist party was in power in the state, and they had hired an Italian artist out of Kansas City to paint 16 Grecian ladies holding hands up there.
The problem was, they were nude from the waist up.
Four years later, in 1902, that didn't set so well with Republicans, and they decided that they needed to be covered up.
On the next level up, I'll talk about graffiti that is up in the dome. I say we're not quite sure if the people were truly up there, like Batman, Superman, King Kong. It never fails. The kids never laugh, but I always get a chuckle out of the adults.
Q: What other graffiti is up there?
Wade: On the seventh level, between the inner and outer domes, there's graffiti all over the walls and bricks, but then there are some that even we don't understand.
Take Earl Pottsrath from Oshkosh, Wis. He was here Jan. 5, 1938, and he signed his name with a Miss C. Cloud of Topeka. We assume that Miss C. Cloud was either a fiance or girlfriend. I made personal assumption that Mr. Pottsrath was showing off.
If you make it up the top, going up the catwalk to the spiral staircase, look to the right and on a cross beam where he signed. He signed a second time above that, on one of the beams on the underside of the dome. Short of using a rope, we're not quite sure how he got up there.
Q: What's the typical reaction from tour groups?
Wade: Right now, all over just because of the renovation, people are just in awe of the overall appearance of the capitol.
As far as the dome goes, the best part is when they leave the seventh level and go up to the eighth level, which puts them above the inner dome. When they get up to that point, and see where they're headed, it's like, "We're going all the way up there?!"
A lot of surprise, anxiety. Of course fear. People gripping the hand rails. I just had one young lady crying at the top. Generally, about one-third don't make it all the way to the top.
Q: Why should people come take a guided tour of the dome?
Wade: Seeing the Capitol now that we've completed the 14-year renovation, it's been brought back to its original glory and looking a lot like it would have when it was completed back in 1903. Just the mere fact that it's been 140-plus years since they built the Capitol and it's still standing, that should be enough inspiration to come in and take a look. When we really look at it, the Kansas State Capitol belongs to the people of Kansas. It's our house. Why wouldn't you want to come look at your own house?