Capturing all 50 capitols on film

Alaska capitol made photographer's list complete

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Betty Lawrence has heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing and strolled in the mist of Niagara Falls. She's learned the battle of Bunker Hill actually was fought on an adjacent rise in the landscape. She's seen the street lamps shaped like chocolate kisses in Hershey, Pa., and descended a 400-foot ladder into a cave near Mt. Rushmore.

Along the way, she's taken more than 3,000 photos of capitols. Alaska's is now one of them.

Her son, James Harris, and her daughter, Mischelle Lawrence, celebrated their mother's pastime and her 71st birthday by providing an airline ticket for her to fly her from her home in Huntington Beach, Calif., to Juneau. She arrived Saturday and photographed her 50th and final state capitol Monday. Her children, both realtors and residents of Maui, Hawaii, arrived via cruise ship and hooked up with Mom for the occasion.

Mischelle began to drop hints about a year ago. "She said, 'Are you working on your capitals list? Do you have your capitals list together?' " Lawrence said.

When she had her first glimpse of Alaska's Capitol, she noted its columns. "It's one of the few un-domed capitol buildings," she said. "You can't imagine how thrilled I am!"

She flipped through an album of capitols with golden domes, capitols with domes topped with gilded steeds and capitols with uncompleted domes.

"I have been to New Zealand and Europe, and I can't remember any of it unless I look at my pictures because I've seen it all through a lens," Lawrence said.

Her plan is to compile her knowledge and photos of capitols in a children's book, "with a smattering about each state."

She began collecting capitols in 1992 during a seven-month motor home tour of Western states with a friend. In 1993, they toured the Midwest. And in 1996, the pair took another leisurely seven months and did "the other half" of the country, Lawrence said.

"I now know we live in the best country in the world. Everywhere, people were friendly and smiling. Only the pheasant that went through our windshield in Oklahoma wasn't smiling," Lawrence said.

When she cataloged her prints, she realized the developer had lost five rolls, so, a little backtracking may be necessary. She may fill in those gaps by having stills made from the videos she also takes.

Before her retirement, Lawrence worked in the collection of unpaid debts. She was Oregon's top collector, filing "more suits than anybody," she said proudly.

While her kids were growing up, she drove for 25 years for Hertz, covering six Western states, on an on-call basis. "I would pick up rental cars that needed to be returned. I would just grab the baby my kids were nine years apart and we'd travel."

Lawrence rides her bike 30 miles a day on Huntington Beach's trails, stopping for breakfast along the way.

"It's hard for me to keep still," she said.

She also drives seniors to medical appointments and works as an extra in movies and commercials.

Retrieving rental cars for Hertz stirred her zest for travel, but she feels that zest also has a certain genetic component: "My Dad was raised in Britain, became a ship's steward and traveled around the world seven times. My Mom always wanted to travel. So I think I was just born with wanderlust."

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