Josh Shaffer

Shaffer: What $17, per person, gets you on the NC Capitol tour

A view inside the rotunda of the NC Capitol in Raleigh. On two days this summer, the state will allow tours of the “secret” areas of Raleigh’s domed landmark, costing $17 a person.
A view inside the rotunda of the NC Capitol in Raleigh. On two days this summer, the state will allow tours of the “secret” areas of Raleigh’s domed landmark, costing $17 a person. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

On rare and special days, the state lets swing wide the illustrious doors of the N.C. Capitol, inviting people to tour the hidden staircases and secret chambers, including the governor’s suite and the attic.

The price to view this public building, symbol of our state, landmark whose copper dome kindles the fire of our Tar Heel spirit, is $17.

Per person.

In advance.

To see a public building. And get this: This year, ticket prices rose 13 percent.

I’m trying to think of something that costs more in Raleigh, and I’m going to conclude that this privileged glimpse at history ranks among our most expensive forms of fun – barring, say, a symphony, a ballet or a night with the Rolling Stones.

Adventure Landing costs $14.99 if you buy tickets online, and they’ve got go-karts. Good seats at a Durham Bulls game can be had for $9.99. A 45-minute stroll through the Joel Lane Museum House, accompanied by a costumed guide, requires $8 for admission. Students half-price.

But wait, you’re saying. What do you get at the Capitol for a ten-spot, a five and two ones? Way more than you do on normal days, right, when admission is free?

First of all, you get exclusivity. These tours are small, and you can only go if you’re older than 10 and don’t mind tight spaces. But for at least an hour, you’ll get to see part of the governor’s office, the old state treasurer’s office, including the walk-in safe, and the “secret rooms” above the House chamber.

Just an FYI: You can see pictures of the “secret rooms” online, and from what I can tell, you’re pretty much checking out the stuff legislators left behind when they moved across Jones Street 50-odd years ago. Not that I don’t enjoy a good romp through historical clutter.

You’ll also get to go behind the ropes that normally bar entry to the old chambers. So for all of us who’ve toured the Capitol under normal, free circumstances and pined for a chance to walk a few feet farther in our forebears’ footsteps, this is it.

But Josh, you’re saying. Why are you being such a jerk? Isn’t there an explanation for this astronomical ticket price, and is it really worth all this snark?

You tell me.

I got an email from Terra Schram, site administrator at the Capitol, who informed me thus:

“While the vast majority of our tours and programs are free of charge, the Capitol, like our fellow State Historic Sites, has been directed by the legislature to become more self-sustaining and less reliant on state appropriations. Charging a fee for these special tours allows us to follow the mandate of the General Assembly while remaining true to our core mission of preserving the Capitol and educating the public about the building and its functions.”

This began, she continued, in 2011.

“I can't speak to how other attractions price their offerings, but we think this is a fair price for a unique experience.”

So there you have it. Austerity measures. No free tours.

If you take this backstage swing through the Capitol, maybe you’ll spot a legislator or two among the artifacts. If they’re shy, you could always write them or visit their modern digs across the street. They have some secret rooms there, too, but as far as I know, admission to that building is still free.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

Details

The state’s “Under the Dome Discovery Tour” features glimpses of normally closed areas of the state Capitol on July 25 and Aug. 29. Admission time is 10 a.m. and noon on both dates. Tickets are $17. Reservation can be made by calling 919-733-4994. Participants must be at least 10 years old and be comfortable climbing stairs and being in confined spaces.

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