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Kansas State Capitol - Ad Astra

Ad Astra

Few things in Kansas history have created such a long-standing controversy as "finishing" the Kansas State Capitol dome. The story begins more than a hundred years ago. In 1889 a commission was appointed to consider some of the finishing details, such as sculptures and reliefs, for the capitol. A design competition was held in which seven sculptors competed for the honor of having their work selected to crown the dome. J.H. Mahoney of Indianapolis submitted the winning design: a bronze sculpture of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.

By 1901 a proposal was finally submitted to Winslow Brothers Foundry of Chicago to cast the 16-foot statue. The estimated cost was $6,950. Word soon circulated and many balked at the high price for what some considered such a non-essential item. Others criticized the idea of choosing to honor a Roman pagan goddess. Victorian sensibilities being what they were had many questioning her morals, in particular, her liaisons with her brother Jupiter. Public outcry tabled the idea and thus, the statue of Ceres was to remain just a small plaster model. The model itself would be moved around the building from closet to closet until it finally found a home in the collection of the Kansas Historical Society.

In 1984 the legislature appropriated funding for a yet-to-be determined statue but stipulated that it could not be a god or goddess. Late in 1988 a design competition was held from which three finalists were selected. Ultimately, Richard Bergen's bronze sculpture of a Kansa warrior succeeded in claiming the honor.

The title of the statue, Ad Astra, is taken from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera, which translates "to the stars through difficulties." The selection committee cited several reasons for choosing Ad Astra, principally the statue honored the state's American Indian heritage, created a unique and distinct profile, and conveyed the ideas of aspiration and inspiration.

The next step was to begin fundraising efforts to pay for the casting and the transportation of the statue from Salina to Topeka. The legislature paid to have the cupola on the dome reinforced to hold the extra weight of the statue. After 14 years the statue was finally cast in June 2002. The statue is hollow cast of silicon bronze, consisting of 95 percent brass and trace elements of silica, tin, manganese, and iron. It is quite sturdy and designed to sway no more than one inch in an 80 m.p.h. wind. Ad Astra is 22 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 4,420 pounds.

Before installation, the statue was carried by flatbed truck on a 3,000 mile journey to 35 cities across the state. This afforded the opportunity for many to see the monumental statue up close and even the opportunity to touch it. With the assistance of a huge 450-foot crane, Ad Astra was finally secured in place October 10, 2002.

The formal dedication took place November 4, 2002, with Governor Bill Graves officiating. Members from all four American Indian tribes including the Kaw or (Kansa) Nation participated in the ceremony by praying and singing blessings for the statue. Today you can stand in many locations in Topeka and see Ad Astra from miles away or you can get up close by climbing to the top of the dome and standing on the cupola's railed balcony 23 feet below the magnificent statue. Either way, you are a witness to the resolution of one of the lengthiest battles in Kansas history.


Entry: Kansas State Capitol - Ad Astra

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2009

Date Modified: June 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.