The History Of The Capitol Hill Building’s “Elf” Doors

Capitol Hill is the largest historic residential neighborhood in Washington D.C., the United States capital. Being one of the oldest neighborhoods, Capitol Hill is rich with monuments and museums which are most instructive, should you decide to spend an afternoon or two walking around the historical buildings.

The Capitol Building sprawls on the crest of the hill. Its construction completed in 1800, it is now the home of the United States Congress. While visiting the Capitol you may expect to find neoclassical grandeur, majestic pieces of art, and of course, politicians, but the building has one feature that is most unexpected.

There are small doors everywhere throughout the building. They obviously aren’t made for people, as they are very tiny: not even a very small man would fit through them. Still, they are omnipresent and they come in different colours.

The conundrum

Independent Journal Review reporter, Rebecca Rainley, took a photo of one such little door and shared it on her social media. This of course sparked the interest of her followers, most of which jumped to the only logical conclusion: elves! These doors are so small because they are meant to be used by elves!

One follower wrote: “True story: they had these doors installed for the Keebler Elf. Now that he’s not in the Senate anymore, who knows what they’ll be used for.”


Unfortunately, the real reason is much less fantastical and much more ordinary. Rebecca and her team at the IJR did some research and came up with disappointing results which included no elf-lore whatsoever. However, they did come upon the truth.



The story

The year is 1851, it’s Christmas Eve, and a fire is tearing through the Capitol Building. The edifice is the home of the Library of Congress, the sanctuary of priceless historic collections and invaluable documents, including Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection of written work. Security guard John Jones notices the fire. He rushes to the library, but he has no key! He breaks down the door, but it is pointless: there is no water close-by that he can use to quench the flames. So, John rushes downstairs desperately searching for water, but, alas, it is too late! When he comes back the fire has already destroyed the two-story library.

The aftermath

The damages of that night were immense. The fire was finally put under control thanks to the combined efforts of seven fire stations. But two-thirds of Jefferson’s personal collection had been consumed, and more than 35,000 other volumes of prized materials.

An investigation was conducted into the origins of the fire. In the end it was determined that the cause was a faulty chimney flue. However, Jones claimed that an easier access to water would’ve allowed him to save the Jefferson collection.

This is where the tiny doors come in. The Army Corps of Engineers took note of Jones’s report, and installed water faucets throughout the entire Capitol Building. They constructed the diminutive doors to conceal the newly-built and easily-accessible water sources.

Today, however, the faucets serve a double purpose. They are still a fire-safety measure, but they are also (and more commonly) used by the cleaning service to refill mop buckets.

And that is the history of the Capitol Building’s elf doors.

Source: Tiphero