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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 17, 2011

Photos: The Old Capitol dome burns; and the Old Capitol bell that was destroyed by the fire:

Rebirth of a landmark: 10-year anniversary of the Old Capitol Museum fire

Ten years ago, time stood still for the University of Iowa community. At 8:50 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2001, the Old Capitol building, Iowa's first state capitol and the UI's iconic first building, was devastated by a fire that destroyed the building's 160-year-old cupola, dome, and bell.

The Old Capitol Museum will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the fire with a special exhibit opening Sunday, Nov. 20, and a free brown bag lunch lecture presented by Shalla Ashworth, associate director of the Old Capitol Museum, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, in the Supreme Court Chamber.

Ashworth's lecture, "Rebirth of a Landmark," will recount her firsthand experience of the fire and the rebuilding process. The exhibit, located on the second floor of the museum, will provide an overview of events on the day of the fire and during the following five years of reconstruction. The display includes debris from the dome, a column showing the work that was being done prior to the fire, and the burnt bell, which was the only museum object damaged by the fire itself.

"The fire was a disaster that destroyed the original tower of a treasured landmark for the UI, community, and the State of Iowa," Ashworth notes. "But as with any disaster, the fire gave the Old Capitol Museum the opportunity to literally rise from the ashes and to move into the 21st century with new life."

The State Fire Marshall ruled that a torch or heat gun started the fire accidentally. Fortunately, the interior of the building escaped being burned because of a firewall that was installed under the tower during the 1920s rehabilitation of the building. The interior of the building suffered a great deal of water damage as well as soot and smoke damage. However, due to the efforts of the firefighters, much of the furniture in the building escaped severe damage. Some of the furniture pieces were warped and water damaged, but all were repaired and returned to the building upon completion of the restoration.

For more information on the Old Capitol Museum, fire, exhibit, or lecture, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: John Logsdon, Pentacrest Museums, 319-335-1082,; Steve Parrott, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0037, Writer: Ryan Lindsay