After 200 years, N.H. State House is a place for the young and old

  • Students from Stratham Memorial School listen to Virginia Drew as they start their tour of the State House on Thursday, May 30, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Stratham Memorial School look up at the dome and listen to Virginia Drew as they start their tour of the State House on Thursday, May 30, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Students from Stratham Memorial School tour the Hall of Flags on Thursday,  GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Stratham Memorial School listen to Virginia Drew as they start their tour of the State House on Thursday, May 30, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Stratham Memorial School students look up at the State House’s golden dome before their tour of the State House on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Stratham Memorial School listen to Virginia Drew as they start their tour of the State House on Thursday, May 30, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Stratham Memorial School listen to Virginia Drew as they start their tour of the State House on Thursday, May 30, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Residents of Vintage Hill listen in the State House on Thursday, May 30, 2019. JAKE SHERIDAN—Monitor staff

  • Virginia Drew talks to students from Stratham Memorial School at the Hall of Flags at the State House on Thursday, May 30, 2019. JAKE SHERIDAN—Monitor staff

  • Residents of Vintage Hill take a tour of the Hall of Flags in the State House in Concord on Thursday. JAKE SHERIDAN—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/1/2019 10:55:25 PM

As debate over the death penalty raged on inside the New Hampshire State House, Virginia Drew stood outside and waited for a yellow school bus to unleash 50 fourth graders. Drew, the director of the State House Visitor Center, wasn’t preoccupied with politics.

“Did you hear what’s happening?” Drew hollered to a friend. “Besides political stuff... historically.”

Drew was referring to the bicentennial anniversary of the State House’s construction, “a big, big deal” to her. Ahead of the 200th birthday celebration, Drew celebrated the building with the fourth graders of Stratham Memorial School and the senior residents of Vintage Hill assisted living community of Pittsfield.

Young visitors

As the students walked past the State House’s portico, the fourth-graders in Ms. Ganier and Ms. Hazeltine’s classes struggled to silence their approval. According to the kids, the building appeared “so big,” “so cool,” and “so pretty.”

At the granite steps of the State House, Drew hypnotized the energetic fourth graders with two slow claps and three fast ones. As Ms. Hazeltine told a boy to stop climbing on the statue of Daniel Webster, Drew laid out her rules: no running and use “inside voices.”

“And if you have a question, how will you show me?” she asked. Fifty little arms shot up.

As Rep. Patrick Abrami and Rep. Debra Altschiller talked about their committees, the 9- and 10-year-olds sat on the floor, constantly readjusting themselves. Drew asked them what a bill is.

“When you have to pay for something you bought,” answered a boy in the second row.

“Yes, but it’s also something else,” she responded.

“It’s like when you write down what should be a law, like an idea,” tried one girl.

Drew enthusiastically accepted the answer and began pitching her own bill.

“Do you feel like you have enough time for recess?” she asked, eliciting a tentative “no” from the class. “How many of you like gym class?” she asked next, striking a nerve with the boys. “And do you ever need more time to finish an art project,” she added, gaining a sigh of understanding from the girls.

With the crowd in her hands, Drew presented her bill: one more hour of school, with added time for “specials” and recess. The kids got in a straight, single file line on the right side of the hallway and headed for the house chamber to go vote.

“I mean, I like school, but I don’t really want more school,” said fourth-grader Laney Woodard as she walked through the halls of the State House. “Unless we got to do more art.” Her friends agreed.

Drew silenced the students as they walked past the Senate, where death penalty debate was ongoing. Inside the House chambers, Drew explained the electric voting system as the kids sat down.

“Don’t touch the button,” added Drew.

As the tour guide talked about house decorum, a brave girl quickly tapped the voting remote in front of her. Finally, Drew’s bill came to the floor. With inflated rhetoric and overflowing hand movement, the first five speakers spoke in its favor. Drew reminded the group that they could disagree. Jonah Timmerman, a fourth grader whose tie made him look like a budding politico, led the dissent.

“It’s important you get the recommended ten to twelve hours of sleep,” he told his friends from the House floor, pointing his finger towards the ceiling as he spoke.

After a dozen impassioned speeches, a voice vote was too close to call. Drew asked the aye’s to stand, then the no’s. The bill failed, 28-18. The group moved on to the governor’s office, where a pre-recorded Chris Sununu welcomed them. The fourth-graders struggled to pronounce the governor’s name. Drew pointed to a portrait of Jeanne Shaheen and asked the group who it was.

“Hillary Clinton!” answered a girl.

The class marched downstairs to the hall of flags. Drew promised a bathroom break and then gave a redacted history of the tattered Civil War flags that lined the room.

“Monday, you had a day off,” Drew said. “It was Memorial Day, a day to remember our fallen soldiers. Here, it’s always Memorial Day.”

Drew pointed out the chair left empty to honor POWs, then explained what a POW is. The tour ended and the class went outside to eat on the grass. Leaving the State House, Cooper Coate, who was elected class representative on a platform of reforming Stratham Memorial pizza options, said that he wished he could pass a law to require seatbelts for everyone, including parents. Coate’s classmate Chloe Soper, said she would pass a law to end the death penalty.

“No one deserves to die,” said the fourth grader as she chased her friends outside.

Vistors of another generation

Three hours later, the residents of Vintage Hill were next in the visitor’s center. Unlike the Stratham students, they stood as they listened.

“Where you are, you’re in the 200 year old part of the room,” said Drew to the group. “We’re a little younger on this side.”

Drew failed to tell the group to refrain from running, but promised the seniors they would be sitting soon. After giving a detailed history of the State House’s construction, she led them outside, pointing out a picture of Allen Shepard, of Derry, who was the first American in space.

“That’s our man,” said Paul Riel, a resident of Vintage Hill.

In the hall of flags, Drew gave the older group a more blunt version of history.

“They’re bloodstained,” said Drew, pointing to the war torn flags. “Some of these poles were the last things held in our men’s hands.”

She moved on to the WWI flags, then WWII. Riel, a WWII veteran, perked up.

“I just got honored in Pittsfield for being the oldest one: 96, and going for a hundred,” said Riel.

Drew showed the Vietnam flags next, and Florence MacRay, another resident, said her brother served there.

“Do we have any Korean War flags?” asked Bill Roberts, who said he served there in the Air Force under Curtis LeMay and was disappointed by the answer.

After a quick elevator ride, the group sat in the House, where MacRay adjusted her glasses and moved in close to get a better view of the voting button. Margaret Waterhouse, another tour guide, explained how debates work.

“Does anyone ever say, ‘Will you shut up!’?” asked MacRay.

Outside the governor’s office, Waterhouse told the group to peek out the window at the State House’s golden dome.

“That’s all gold leaf,” she said. “And you folks paid for it.”

As the group moved towards the elevator to head back to Vintage Hill, Sherry Roberts waited behind and looked at a portrait.

“I like the pictures,” said Roberts. “I like seeing the history from way back.”




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