Thursday, July 2, 2020

July 2020


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter
The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XVII, Number 7                                                                  July 1, 2020

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner


HAPPY FOURTH: Jefferson Monroe Levy appeared at Monticello nearly every Fourth of July to celebrate Independence Day beginning soon after he bought the property in 1879 until 1923 when he sold it to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.On July 4th Levy typically would assemble his farm employees and guests and read the Declaration of Independence from Jefferson’s music stand on the steps of the East Front Entrance.

After 1889, Frederick Rhodes, the son of Monticello’s superintendent, built catapults and scaffolds for displays of fireworks. Often, a band came from Charlottesville to play patriotic tunes.

President Truman at Monticello, July 4, 1947

In the 1950s, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation began holding naturalization ceremonies every July 4th at Monticello. But because of the pandemic, this year’s Independence Day Monticello ceremony will not include the naturalization component—and it will be a virtual one. The festivities begin at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, and will feature remarks from the noted historians Annette Gordon-Reed (The Hemingses of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings) and Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power), along with the celebrated Spanish-American chef and philanthropist José Andrés.

Among other things Gordon-Reed will interview Velma Williams, a great-great-granddaughter of Peter Hemings, Jefferson’s enslaved cook and brewer. Fittingly, Velma Williams turns 100 years old on July 4.

The event will be live-streamed on Monticello’s website and its Facebook page. More details on Fourth of July 2020 at Monticello at  https://bit.ly/July4thMonticello

Monticello, by the way, reopened in June after having been closed to visitors due to the pandemic. To read about the new advanced safety procedures that are in effect, go to https://bit.ly/MonticelloReopening

THE CORRECT GIG: In last month’s newsletter I quoted from a letter that Frances Lewis (a niece of Jefferson Levy) wrote in the early 1960s describing her girlhood visits to Monticello around the turn of the 20th century. In the letter she described objects that were stored in Monticello’s Dome Room, including “a two wheeled gig that Thomas Jefferson rode in when he went to sign the Declaration of Independence.”

I wrote in the newsletter—as I did in Saving Monticello—that Thomas Jefferson, indeed, did drive that one-horse carriage (known as a gig or a phaeton) on two six-day journeys from Monticello to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775 and 1776. And that the gig remained unused and unchanged after it was stowed away upstairs at Monticello following Jefferson’s death, although its wheels and shaft had disappeared by the time Jefferson Levy had taken over.

While that was the state of our knowledge about the gig when I wrote the book in 2000, Monticello’s curatorial staff recently learned that the gig that Frances Lewis saw and wrote about is not the one that took Jefferson to Philadelphia.

Monticello’s curator Susan Stein emailed to say that the gig in the Dome Room in the early 1900s when Frances Lewis visited was made in the early 1800s when Thomas Jefferson was President.
“We hold the Levy family in eternal gratitude for their role in saving and preserving” the circa 1800 Jefferson phaeton, “even if it wasn’t exactly as advertised,” Emilie Johnson, a Monticello associate curator who discovered its true provenance, told me. Since the phaeton was made in 1802, she said, “it couldn’t have been the carriage that Jefferson drove to Philadelphia in 1775, but the association is certainly what saved it.


“The earliest mention of the seat as Jefferson’s Continental Congress conveyance I’ve found is in Benson Lossing’s 1853 article [in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine]” about his visit to Monticello. “Lossing actually sketched the seat for his article.” (above)

That gig/phaeton was built in 1802, Emilie said.

“We believe the chassis, or running body, was made on site at Monticello by blacksmith William Stewart and joiner James Dinsmore,” and that Jefferson “ordered the seat from Jones & Kain, a Washington D.C., carriage-maker, to whom he sent a sketch and extensive instructions. A copy of Jefferson’s requests for the seat exists at Massachusetts Historical Society, and I was fortunate enough to be able to identify it when I was researching the phaeton.”

Under Emilie’s direction, Monticello commissioned a reproduction of the 1802 gig in 2017 (below).
“Since we have the original seat, we were able to do paint sample analysis on it,” she said.
 “It was snazzy. Most of the seat was a rich green, framed by a thin silver bead, with evidence of red leather upholstery. With its curved footboard and sculptural springs, it must have made quite an impression coming down the road.”



Here’s the link to a YouTube video with more info: https://bit.ly/GigPhaetonVideo

EVENTS: My scheduled live events for the spring and summer have been canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. To check out my scheduled late 2020 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks


If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to send me email at marcleepson@gmail.com  For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

GIFT IDEAS:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me. I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of brand-new copies of my other books.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

June 2020


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter
The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XVII, Number 6                                                          June 1, 2020

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

UNCLE JEFF: Jefferson Levy’s mother Fanny served as his unofficial hostess at Monticello soon after the life-long bachelor bought out his uncle’s heirs and gained control of the property in 1872. Following Fanny Levy’s death in 1893, Jefferson Levy’s sister, Amelia Mayhoff, took over that job.

As I noted in Saving Monticello, Amelia Levy had married Carl Mayhoff, a New York City cotton broker, in 1890. They lived most of the year in New York City on East 34th Street, the same block where Jefferson Levy lived. The Mayhoff’s son, Monroe, was born in 1897.

Sisters Agnes and Frances Levy with their cousin, Monroe Levy, on the lawn circa 1902

During the seasons when she was in charge at Monticello, Amelia Mayhoff arranged innumerable social events, with and without her brother present. She and her husband occupied a suite of rooms on the first floor. 

The other family members who spent the most time at Monticello were Jefferson Levy and Amelia Mayhoff’s brother L. Napoleon, his wife Lilian Hendricks Wolff, and their four daughters—Frances, Agnes, Florence, and Alma. The account I gave of their days at Monticello in the book was primarily based on a mid-1970s interview with Florence Levy Forsch—along with copies of hand-written letters her older sister, Frances Wolff Levy Lewis, wrote from Monticello in 1902 when she was nine years old.

Uncle Jeff

Just last week, Frances Lewis’ grandson Richard Lewis kindly sent me two pages from a short, unpublished memoir she wrote in the early 1960s, in which she remembers Jefferson Levy and visits to Monticello. Most of what she writes jibes with her sister Florence’s remembrances, as well as with all with the other primary-source materials about Jefferson Levy and Monticello during his ownership that I’ve uncovered. But the memoir also contains some observations that I’d not come across before.

Frances Lewis described her uncle as a “very tall and big man,” and said that her family visited “Uncle Jeff” regularly at his lavish New York City townhouse on 34th Street. She said that her Aunt Amelia “kept house for her family,” as well as for her two bachelor brothers, Jefferson M. and Mitchell Abraham Cass Levy.

She went on to give a revealing glimpse into Jefferson Levy’s early twentieth century lifestyle.

“On Sunday mornings,” she wrote, “we would be sent in to see Uncle Jeff, who would be lying on a big four poster bed, surrounded by the Sunday papers and there would be two big greyhounds stretched on the bed beside him.

The memoir confirms, as Fran Lewis put it, that during their childhood she and her sister Agnes “often were brought down to stay a few weeks in Monticello in the summer.” She said that her Aunt Amelia—who liked her nieces to call her “auntie”—presided over a household with a good number of African American “maids who lived in the old slave quarters, which were underground outside the main house.”

Today, those quarters, known as the South Wing, house several exhibits that document the lives of enslaved African Americans at Monticello. The lineup includes the spectacular digital exhibit on the life of Sally Hemings and the Getting Word project, which tells the history of Monticello’s enslaved people primarily through the oral histories of their descendants. There’s also the restored post-1809 Kitchen and Cook’s Room.

Fran Lewis describes her aunt Amelia as “a smart woman and a gracious hostess to many important people who came to visit Uncle Jeff and [who] gave many parties in the beautiful parlor where there was a large malachite table and many fine oil paintings.

“The floor was highly polished and we children were never allowed to enter that room except on one occasion when President Theodore Roosevelt came to visit [on June 17, 1903] and Agnes and I and Monroe were sent in to shake hands with him.”

Jefferson Levy, she said, “slept in Thomas Jefferson’s room,” known today as the Bed Chamber, which famously features Jefferson’s alcove bed. It’s conceivable that Jefferson M. Levy slept in the alcove bed.

On the other hand, a visitor to Monticello in 1900 wrote that Jefferson Levy installed “a gold Louis XV bed” on a “dais” in the Bed Chamber, upholstered in “damask, while voluminous blue damask curtains draped to each side fell from a gold coronet that hung from the ceiling.”

Fran Lewis said that her uncle had “many” greyhounds, including his favorite, Duke, who “always slept in Uncle Jeff’s room.”

Fran (who was known as Fanny as a child) described some of the farming operations at Monticello, including a “field with about 50 Shetland ponies and one Palomino, which belonged to Monroe, who would ride him around the back lawn.”

Frances Lewis at Monticello, 1959

Thomas Rhodes, Jefferson Levy’s overseer at Monticello, also ran a diary operation on the mountain. “There were cows,” Fran Lewis said, “and in the evenings we would go down the hill to watch them be milked, and even tried to do it ourselves.”

The children also occasionally played in the Jefferson family cemetery. “We would go down the hill and squeeze between the bars,” Fran Lewis wrote, “and play inside. Back at the house, the children “would chalk out a hop scotch” on the roof of the former slave quarters. When it rained, they scampered up one of the narrow staircases in the house to the top floor, and explored the Dome Room “where all sorts of things were stored, including a two wheeled gig that Thomas Jefferson rode in when he went to sign the Declaration of Independence.”



L. Napoleon Levy (wearing the dark hat) and his daughters Agnes, Alma (on the pony), Fanny, and Florence, with their cousin Monroe Mayhoff (holding the pony). The man on the right, identified as Willis, likely is Stanley Ferguson, a Monticello gatekeeper. Willis Shelton, a long-time gatekeeper, died in 1902. Photo courtesy of the Lewis family.


Jefferson, indeed, did drive that one-horse gig, which was built by enslaved people at Monticello, on two six-day journeys from the mountain to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775 and 1776. As I noted in Saving Monticello, the gig remained unused and unchanged after it was stowed away upstairs at Monticello following Jefferson’s death, although its wheels and shaft had disappeared by the time Jefferson Levy had taken over.


The house and grounds “were truly beautiful,” Fran Lewis wrote, “as Jefferson Levy spent large sums of money restoring the house and buying furnishings.”

That sentence is 100 percent accurate, and jibes with every other first-person account of Monticello during Jefferson Levy’s ownership.

EVENTS: My scheduled live events for the spring and summer have been canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. To check out my scheduled late 2020 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to send me email at marcleepson@gmail.com  For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

GIFT IDEAS:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me.  I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of brand-new copies of my other books. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

May 2020


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter
The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XVII, Number 5                                                                     May 2020

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

LEVY LAUNCHING: The United States Navy considers Uriah Levy a genuine hero. And rightfully so. Uriah Phillips Levy joined the Navy in 1812 at age twenty. He served with distinction during the War of 1812 as assistant sailing master of the USS Argus, which wreaked havoc with British shipping in the English Channel, capturing and burning more than two dozen ships.

He went on to have a fifty-year career in the Navy, the first Jewish American to do so. He rose through the ranks to become a Commodore, the Navy’s then-highest rank, becoming the first Jewish American Navy Commodore.

Uriah Levy also was primarily responsible for abolishing flogging in the U.S. Navy. He began a campaign to do so in the 1840s, which led to congressional action abolishing that antiquated, brutal punishment.

The Navy first formally recognized Uriah Levy—who owned Monticello from 1834 until his death in 1862—during World War II by naming a newly commissioned Cannon-class destroyer escort the USS Levy in 1943.

The USS Levy at sea in the Pacific during World War II
The Levy, dubbed a “sub-killer,” was launched at 1:45 in the afternoon of March 28, 1943, at the Port Newark Yards in New Jersey. “The swift and deadly ‘sub-killers’ are nearly as large as destroyers,” the New York Herald Tribune reported, “but of simpler construction and less heavily armed. They [weigh] 1,300 tons each and cost about $3.5 million each.” Their “armament includes guns heavy enough for surface engagements with submarines, anti-aircraft batteries, depth charges and torpedo tubes.”

Twenty years ago, while researching Saving Monticello, I discovered that Jefferson Levy’s sister Amelia Mayhoff, (and Uriah’s niece), hosted (“sponsored” in Navy parlance) the ceremonial launching. But I just learned some other facts about the ship and the Levy family from an article that Levy descendant Tom Lewis recently ran across and kindly sent to me.



The article, in the Long Branch, N.J., Record, reports that the idea to name a ship in honor of Uriah Levy came from a veterans service organization, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, which lobbied the War Department to do so. It also notes that Tom Lewis’ grandmother Frances Lewis (referred to as “Mrs. Harold L. Lewis”) represented the family at the ceremonies.
The Levy went on to perform well during World War II. The ship served in the southern and central Pacific from August 1943 through the end of the fighting. Among its accomplishment of note, the Levy supported the invasion of the Marianas in the summer of 1944, and its officers hosted the surrender ceremonies of the Japanese Navy in the southeastern Marshall Islands at Mili Atoll.
  
BABBLING BROOKE: Sometimes during my talks on Saving Monticello I take a brief detour when I get to Maude Littleton—who led the 1911-18 campaign to take Monticello from Jefferson Levy—to talk about her husband, Martin Wiley Littleton.

A prominent lawyer and one-term Democratic Congressman from Long Island, New York, Martin Littleton (1872-1934) was a noted figure in his own right. His notoriety derived primarily from his skillful defense of the playboy millionaire Harry K. Thaw in the 1908 second round of the first media-celebrated American “trial of the century.”

Shaw had shot and killed the renowned architect Stanford White on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden. That sensationally sordid affair—the subject of E.L. Doctorow’s novel (and the film and Broadway show) Ragtime—centered on White’s affair with Mrs. Shaw, the famed model and actress Evelyn Nesbit known as “The Bird in the Gilded Cage” because her husband kept her away from society.

Knowing most post-Baby Boomers likely don’t know the name Evelyn Nesbit, I used to explain that she was the “Madonna of her time.” That’s given way to the Kim Kardasian or the Lada Gaga of her time.

Evelyn Nesbit, "The Bird in the Gilded Cage"

I flashed back to Evelyn Nesbite when I recently learned of a connection between Jefferson M. Levy and Frances Evelyn “Daisy” Maynard (1861-1938), another beautiful, flamboyant early 20th century woman. Born into British high society, she later became Lady Brooke and then the Countess of Warwick after her husband, Francis Grevile, Lord Brooke, became the 5th Earl of Warwick. Rumor had it that Lady Brooke inspired the popular song “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Bult for Two),” which burst on the scene in 1892 when she was 31 and one of London’s most famous and active socialites. Her media nicknames included “The It Girl,” “My Darling Daisy,” and “Babbling Brooke.”

Lady Brooke’s flamboyant lifestyle included open love affairs with several rich and famous Englishmen, including Lord Charles Bereford, a renowned British Navy admiral and member of Parliament. She had a ten-year affair with Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, who later acceded to the British throne as King Edward VII in 1901, ushering in the Edwardian Era.

Lady Brooke

What’s Lady Brooke’s tie to Monticello? Well, in 1907, at the height of her celebrity, she journeyed to the United States for a whirlwind of high-society activity. Lady Brooke spent most of that time in New York City, where she stayed with none other than Jefferson M. Levy, the big real estate and stock speculator—and very eligible bachelor—whom the Charlottesville Daily Progress described as her “legal adviser.”

In October, the Countess decided to make a trip to Monticello, her legal adviser’s country home in Virginia. Later that month Levy—a pre-jet jetsetter who hobnobbed with royals and other upper-crusters on two continents—hosted a dinner for the Bishop of London at Monticello. Among his guests was his house guest, the Countess of Warwick.

That’s the extent of our knowledge about the relationship between one of Europe’s most flamboyant socialites and one of America’s richest men. I will continue to search for more.  

EVENTS: Just one event in May. On Sunday afternoon, May, 3, I did a Zoom talk as a fund-raising benefit for the nonprofit Mosby Heritage Area Association, a historic preservation group that focuses on “preservation through education” in the Northern Virginia Piedmont where I live.
My scheduled live events for the spring and summer have been canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. To check out my scheduled late 2020 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks

Doing the Zoom talk in the shadow of the Bull Run Mountains

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to send me email at marcleepson@gmail.com  For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

GIFT IDEAS:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me.  I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of brand-new copies of my other books.