Mike Hall: Color of Capitol can change, but remains green in print

Former C-J photography director Berne Ketchum weighs in on color

Mike Hall is a retired reporter and columnist for The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at mhall19@cox.net.

Most Topekans remember when the dome of the Kansas Capitol building was green.


Not so many remember it as a clean-looking green. It has been brown in recent years. And that has caused controversy within the walls of the venerable Topeka Capital-Journal.

Should the replica of the dome featured at the top of each day’s newspaper show a brown dome or a green one?

For help I called Berne Ketchum, the former photography director, now retired, who came up with the logo.

For those new to the city, a little background.

When a major restoration of the Statehouse began in 2001, planners envisioned cleaning up the stained green dome and making repairs to deal with some water leakage.

As the project progressed it was learned all the old copper needed to be removed and replaced.

It was then that we learned the green dome wouldn’t be green any more, at least not for a long time.

A news story in 2013 quoted officials as saying the dome would look like a new penny for a while, gradually oxidizing into a brown color that would last for about 30 years. Forty years out the dome is expected to turn green again.

With the medical industry’s continuing efforts to extend a person’s life span, I might live to see that.

What were the paper’s editors to do?

With each recent tweak of the look of the paper the decision has been to leave the dome green. Three successive publishers have supported that decision.

There are several reasons. First is this: most Topekans still think of the Capitol with a green dome. Second: it will be green again someday. Third (and most likely the deciding factor): green is prettier. It is eye-catching.

That is not a slight consideration. Modern Americans like things bright and lively. Such color decisions have an invisible impact, drawing your eye to the larger package.

Still, I have wondered over the years what Berne Ketchum would have to say on the subject.

When he retired in 2002 he returned to his hometown of Rowan, Iowa (population 157), and was no longer involved in decisions at The Capital-Journal. For a while he was busy serving as mayor of Rowan.

I decided, with this latest re-do of the paper, to call and ask him if he was taking a side in this debate over a brown or green Capitol dome.

“I don’t have any strong feelings about it,” he said. “I guess I’m leaning green. It’s tradition.”

There you have it – the word from the father of the dome logo has spoken.

Not an overwhelming endorsement, but at least he cast his vote with the majority.

After all, what does he care? There are no domes in Rowan – not of any color.

“Sometimes it’s a challenge just to keep the flat roofs on the houses,” he said.

He continues making live steam backyard railroad locomotives. Kathy, his wife and a former Capital-Journal reporter, was busy at a church quilting bee when I called Berne.

Contact Mike Hall at mhall19@cox.net.



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