The Social History of the State of Missouri
The Missouri House of Representatives decided in 1935 to add a little flavor to the State Capitol. They commissioned Missouri resident/artist Thomas Hart Benton to paint a series of murals on the four walls of a large meeting room on the third floor in the Capitol's west wing called The House Lounge. The idea was to depict certain events, people and places that were part of the history of the state of Missouri. The work took two years and Benton received $16,000 for his efforts and was finally completed on December of 1936. The murals depict everything from the pioneer days, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, politics, and even throw a shout out to the novel Huckleberry Finn, which was written by Missouri native Mark Twain. The murals also capture a few notorious people and events in Missouri state history.
Frankie and Johnny
On the South Wall of the mural, Benton painted the city life of two of the bigger cities in Missouri: Saint Louis and Kansas City. Placed in the predominant position of top and center over the doors on the wall is the depiction of the famous scene from the Frankie and Johnny (or Frankie and Albert) murder ballad. The song was inspired by the events of October 16, 1899, when Missouri resident, Frankie Baker, shot and killed her alleged lover, Allen Britt. While the event really happened in an apartment in Saint Louis, the mural sticks to the facts presented in the song and places the crime in a barroom. Frankie Baker, wearing the red dress of some versions of the song, is seen shooting Allen as he sits at a table with another woman (presumably Alice Pryor or Nellie Blye).
The James Brothers
Politics, farming and the law are the themes on the East Wall of the mural and on the panel above the east wall door it depicts one of the most notorious gangs of Missouri history, the James Brothers. Two robberies of Jesse and Frank James are depicted here, including a bank robbery and the robbery of the Chicago and Alton Railroad. The railroad robbery occurred on September 7, 1881 and would be the last train robbery the gang undertook, which rewarded them with very little cash. Jesse James is front and center with gun raised and holding up a couple of men.
The Murals Today
After the debut of the murals, there was a great deal of controversy about how bold and vivid the depictions of everyday Missouri life were depicted. There were attempts to have the murals removed, but fortunately they survived, though time, the elements, and tourists all took their toll. In 1960, Benton and hired hand Sidney Larson began restoration on the murals and the room underwent some renovation itself with the additions of air conditioners and moisture controls. It was such a thorough overhaul that the saying goes that the murals will now outlast the building itself. Tours are given every hour on Mondays through Saturdays, with a few tours given on Sunday as well. Self-guided tours are also available with maps available at the Capitol Tour Reservation desk on the first floor. Check the official site below for more information.