Wednesday, November 4, 2020

November 2020

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVII, Number 11                                                     November 1, 2020

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

 

URIAH LEVY’s GRAVE: Uriah Levy died of pneumonia in New York City on March 22, 1862. His family buried him in Beth Olom Cemetery (also known as the Shearith Israel Cemetery) in Ridgewood, Queens.


Levy’s funeral, which was held in New York City on March 26, was described in detail in the New York Herald and New York Times. It was a Jewish funeral—with patriotic flourishes. Rabbi Jacques Judah Lyons of Shearith Israel presided. Three companies of U.S. Marines, a detachment of eighty sailors from the USS North Carolina, and the Navy’s Brass Band escorted the body from Levy’s St. Marks Place house to the cemetery, which had been used for burials of Shearith Israel congregants since 1851. Among the other notable people buried there are the poet and activist Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) and Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo (1870-1938).

Uriah Levy left specific instructions for the monument he wanted over his grave. He envisioned a full-length, life-sized statue of himself, either in iron or bronze, standing on a single block of granite sunk three feet in the ground. He was to be depicted in the full uniform of a U.S. Navy captain, holding a scroll in his hand. The scroll was to be inscribed: “Uriah P. Levy, Captain in the United States Navy, Father of the law for the abolition of the barbarous practice of corporal punishment in the Navy of the United States.”

But that was not to be, because Shearith Israel, the Sephardic congregation where the New York Levy family members worshipped, decided that statues of the deceased are not appropriate in Jewish cemeteries. The request for a life-sized statue, “caused the congregation some discomfort,” according to the Shearith Israel website’s Beth Olom Cemetery page. “While it is important to honor the wishes of the deceased, it is also prohibited by halakha [Jewish law based on the Talmud] to erect a statue in human form.” 

Instead, the marble monument features a flag-draped column adorned with a bas relief of a sailing ship and other naval and patriotic imagery. The epitaph, however, is nearly the same as what Uriah Levy wanted. It reads: “In memory of Uriah P. Levy, Father of the Law for the abolition of the barbarous practice of corporal punishment in the Navy of the United States.”



Uriah Levy’s singular gravesite (above) came to mind recently after Levy descendant Tom Lewis kindly sent me images of photos from a family album of an event that took place there on May 1, 1951. That afternoon several officers and twenty crew members of two Israeli Navy ships laid a wreath at the foot of the Levy’s monument. The ships—a frigate and a corvette, according to an article in the Shearith Israel newsletter—had arrived in New York Harbor the day before and had paid tribute earlier on May 1 to George Washington by laying a wreath at the Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village.


Shearith Israel’s long-time rabbi, the noted Sephardic scholar David de Sola Pool, presided at the ceremonies, addressing the sailors in Hebrew about Uriah Levy’s life. Dr. Pool also brought soil from Israel from a package that Uriah Levy had given to the congregation sometime in the mid-19th century. Soil from the package was added to the grave, the newsletter noted, as it had been for every other funeral of a Shearith Israel congregant. 


Also on hand at the ceremony were several Levy family descendants, including young Lewis Schlossinger, a third-great nephew of Uriah Levy (in photo below), who helped place the ceremonial wreath.

 


JEFFERSON LEVY IN JEOPARDY:  The TV quiz show, that is. A question (or rather the answer in “Jeopardy” parlance) on the show broadcast on October 5, 2020, described him as Monticello’s owner and a “19th C. rich guy.” Both of which are true.

Thanks to Levy family descendants Richard Lewis and Debbie Lewis for independently letting me know about it. 



Do you know the answer—I mean, the question? Hint: Don’t look in Saving Monticello as I didn’t mention it in the book. The first person to email me the correct question will receive… my eternal thanks.


EVENTS: My scheduled live events for the spring, summer, and fall were canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. I have just one schedule for November.


On Sunday, November 8, I’ll be officially receiving the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution History Medal at the Falls Church, Virginia, DAR Chapter’s 110th Anniversary Celebration and Community Awards Ceremony, which will be held virtually because of the pandemic.

The DAR National History Medal goes to those who “promote American history on the national level,” and who have “significantly advanced the understanding of America’s past,” said Falls Church DAR Chapter Historian Jodi Gorsage, who kindly delivered the medal citation to me last week.

“We were proud to nominate Mr. Leepson—who has spoken to our chapter several times about his work—for this prestigious award, and were thrilled when it was announced that he would receive it.”

 


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.




Tuesday, October 6, 2020

October 2020

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVII, Number 10                                                     October 1, 2020

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

 

FROM THE LIBRARY: I’ve been to Monticello many times since 1996 when I first started working on the book that would become Saving Monticello. From that day to the present, it’s always a special feeling driving up the mountain from Charlottesville—especially in the fall and spring—and then entering the wooded grounds and making your way up to the house. 


I spent countless hours doing research at Monticello before the book came out, and did my first talk in the old Visitor Center in December 2001 soon after the book was published.   


Since then, I’ve done about twenty book signings in the Gift Shop and several other talks at Monticello, including one in the theater for the house guides and one in a large tent outside at the annual reception for Monticello’s contributors. 


Monticello’s fantastic presidential-style Jefferson Library—now closed to the public because of the pandemic—is a short drive from the house. I did a talk there in October (the best time of year to visit) 2012 on the Marquis de Lafayette, a great friend of Thomas Jefferson. 



My second visit to Monticello’s Jefferson Library came on September 23. I was honored to be asked to do a livestream Q&A about the Levys with my friend and colleague Susan Stein, Monticello’s long-time curator who has helped me with the book since I met her on my first research trip to Charlottesville twenty-three years ago. The good folks at Monticello streamed the 45-minute session live on their website, as well as on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. 


In case you missed it, the highest-quality version is on Monticello’s website at:  http://bit.ly/MontLiveStream


                                          The livestream from behind the camera


MONTICELLO’s RESIDENTS: A Charlottesville researcher, Sam Towler, has spent many years digging out primary-source material on the people who lived at Monticello for most of the second half of the 19th century. A few years ago Mr. Towler kindly sent me a 13-page manuscript in which he gives details about what he uncovered in local court, real estate, and other documents on virtually every person, including enslaved people, who lived at Monticello from 1853-83. That material recently has been digitized and is available to read online on the Center for Jewish History’s website. Here’s the URL: http://bit.ly/MontResidents 


Not coincidentally, the Center for Jewish History’s archives in New York City house materials on Uriah Levy and Jefferson Levy, both of whom lived in Manhattan. I spent the better part of two days in the archives when I did the research for Saving Monticello in 2000. It was there that I found that Jefferson Levy used a clipping service—a company he paid to physically clip out newspaper articles mentioning his name—and that someone had mounted the clippings in several bulging scrapbooks. There was no user guide, so I went to through every page looking primarily for material on his ownership of Monticello. 


New York City had probably a dozen newspapers and Jefferson Levy was a prominent political and business figure in the city. Suffice it to say there were many, many articles. Reading through them gave me a good picture of the man and his public lifestyle—and of his work repairing, restoring, and preserving Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

 

THE ORIGINAL TOMBSTONE:  The six-foot-tall obelisk tombstone that sits above Thomas Jefferson’s grave at Monticello today (below, left) is not the original one the family put up in 1833, six years after his death. That’s because almost immediately after it was erected, visitors to the graveyard helped themselves to souvenir pieces of the tombstone—something known as “chipping,” which was not uncommon in the 19th century.  

The original’s much-smaller headstone was damaged so extensively that by 1841 Uriah Levy had it taken from the graveyard and mounted it on a wall in the Entrance Hall of Monticello for safekeeping. Later, Jefferson’s grandson and the co-executor of his estate, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, took the tombstone to his Edgehill Plantation nearby. The current granite tombstone at Monticello was purchased with funds Congress appropriated for a new monument in 1882 and put in place in the family-owned graveyard in 1883.

Jefferson’s descendants donated the original tombstone to the University of Missouri in 1885. Exactly why they chose the university is not known, although it could be tied to the fact that MU was the first university founded in the territory acquired by Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.

The original tombstone (below, right) was in the news last month when the University of Missouri added a clear acrylic cast to it to prevent being damaged by 21st century vandals. “This is Jefferson’s original tombstone, and it was entrusted to the university,” a university spokesperson said on September 20. “We have a responsibility to ensure it is preserved appropriately.”

You can read more details on the tombstone in a 2013 Smithsonian magazine article at https://bit.ly/SmithsonianTomb

 EVENTS: My scheduled live events for the spring, summer, and fall were all canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. I have no scheduled events for October. 

GIFT IDEASWant 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.


Thursday, September 3, 2020

September 2020

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVII, Number 9                                                             September 1, 2020

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


MOSES AT MONTICELLO: Moses Ezekiel, that is. The notable Jewish-American sculptor paid a visit to Monticello on August 7, 1900, twenty-one years after Jefferson Monroe Levy had gained control of the property and had repaired, restored, and preserved it. He had an early dinner there with Jefferson Levy’s sister Amelia, her husband Carl Mayhoff, and other Levy family members. 

I learned of that while researching Saving Monticello in 2000 at the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia, from a newspaper article in the Charlottesville Daily Progress. The article contained just a few words about the visit: that Ezekiel “was charmed with Jefferson’s home and wandered about the historic old place with the true love and interest of a true genius.” 

Because of that not-especially-enlightening information—and because at the time I was unaware of Ezekiel’s prominence—I didn’t mention his visit in the book. In 2007, I learned of Moses Ezekiel’s life and work, and wrote a feature article about him in Civil War Times magazine. And, just recently, I learned details of Ezekiel’s 1900 Monticello excursion from Robert Gurval, an Emeritus Professor of Classics at UCLA. Professor Gurval, who will be doing a talk on the sculptor at the University of Virginia, kindly sent me an excerpt from Ezekiel’s memoirs, in which he offers his impressions of the Monticello visit.

Moses Ezekiel, who was 65 years old when he visited Monticello, had a remarkable life. He was born in Richmond, and attended the Virginia Military Institute, that august institution’s first Jewish cadet. He took part in the Civil War Battle of New Market as a cadet. After graduating from VMI in 1865, he moved to Europe where he would become a world-renowned sculptor. 


Working from his studio in Rome, Ezekiel—who remained devoted to the Confederate cause his entire life—created scores of bronze and marble sculptures for public venues and private collections in the U.S. and Europe. That included an elaborate, 32-foot-high bronze, the only monument to Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. 

His other works include a bronze Stonewall Jackson sculpture in Charleston, W.Va. (a replica stands on the VMI parade grounds) and the bronze of Thomas Jefferson that’s in front of the Rotunda on the University of Virginia grounds. (left


“As I had never been to Charlottesville, Virginia, I felt a desire to see the home of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello,” Ezekiel wrote in his memoirs, “and also wanted to see the University of Virginia and the campus, which he had built. I expected some day to put my Homer group on the campus and wanted very much, if I could afford it, to present the University with a bronze monument of Jefferson.” (Today, the Ezekiel bronze Homer, depicting him seated in the company of a young attendant, is at the foot of the Lawn behind the Rotunda at U-Va.)

When Moses Ezekiel arrived in Charlottesville he checked in to the old Hotel Clermont downtown (right) near the train station.  


“They gave me room number seven,” he gushed in his memoirs, “and it was the seventh of August when I arrived!”

After having lunch at the hotel, he wrote, he “drove in a buggy over the old country shady road to Monticello and crossed over an old crooked, rickety wooden bridge, which spanned a small creek. On the roadside was a wooden trough into which water was trickling down from the mountains. We stopped there to water our horse and then started to mount up to Monticello.”

At Monticello’s old gatehouse entrance, he wrote, “a bright mulatto girl opened it for us, and then we went up a long road, flanked with irregular blocks of sandstone which held up the turf and the trees on either side, until we reached the old cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried. Over his grave is a granite shaft, for which, I understand, our government paid ten thousand dollars; it is worth about one thousand, I should think.” 




From the family cemetery, Ezekiel “went up towards he dome-roofed house, an old colonial building, with immense composite pillars on the porch [on the West Portico entrance, left] holding up the big wooden cornice. A beautiful green sloping lawn leads up to the house, and two marble statues lend an air of refinement to the place as they were placed, I suppose, by Jefferson under the trees.” The statutes actually were “placed” there by Jefferson Levy.

The view of the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ezekiel said, “in the distance is very beautiful from this green sward. There is an air of refinement about it all which is almost indescribable.”

As he came near the house, one of Jefferson Levy’s employees—likely Willis Sheldon, the long-time gatekeeper—described by Ezekiel as “an old white-haired, white-bearded jet-black Darkie,” greeted him.

The sculptor then recreated the ensuing conversation. Warning: the dialogue is cringe worthy to 21st century ears:

“You’s welcome, sah! Yes sah! Yes you walk up dem marble steps, tell you comes to de pooch ob de mansion. De family whar libs here now is at dinner, sah, but I reckon dey’ll be monstros glad to see you all de same.”

The “old man,” Ezekiel said, “seemed really to be one of the relics of the olden days and in his poor way tried his best to keep up the reputation for hospitality which Monticello was famous for in Jefferson’s time.”

Jefferson Levy’s brother-in-law, Carl Mayhoff (who husband of JML’s sister Amelia) “came at once and begged me to join the family in the dining room, where I found them all seated.” That was the highlight of his Monticello visit. “So here I found myself at last, in the dining room of Thomas Jefferson! It was filled with so many memories that I paid but scant attention to anything but the room itself.”

“On the right of it, I saw an octagonal room, which was his coffee room once. It has two brackets between the windows and two niches in it. I found on one bracket a bust of Benjamin Franklin and in one niche a poor copy of the statue of Sophocles, the famous statue… in the Lateran Museum.

Ezekiel wrote that the house contained “very little furniture that ever belonged to Thomas Jefferson. The new furniture that has been placed there has nothing whatever to do with his epoch.” Which is not true, as Jefferson Levy did indeed have Jefferson-era pieces in the house.

Ezekiel noted “a number of modern paintings on the walls. Family portraits are mixed in with the old pictures, and this gives a strange incongruity to the whole place. I found an American eagle modeled on the ceiling of the hall, with eighteen stars around him. This was evidently a work done under Jefferson’s direct supervision and was very well done, indeed. There was an old plaster bust of Jefferson himself, evidently a good likeness.”

Ezekiel “took a great deal of interest in going through the old servants’ quarters,” he said, during his stroll around the grounds after dinner, which he described as “a long range of one-story rooms with an arched tunnel for their connection with the house.”

He then departed and drove back to Charlottesville.  

EVENTS: My scheduled live events for the spring and summer were all canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. But I do have two events this month.

On Wednesday, September 23, I will be taking part in a Q&A about the Levys and Monticello starting at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time from inside the house. It will be streamed live on Monticello’s website and Facebook page, as well as on YouTube. To tune in. go to https://bit.ly/MontLiveStreams, http://bit.ly/FBMont, or http://bit.ly/MontYouTube


On Thursday, September 24, I’ll be doing a talk on the history of the American flag based on my book, Flag: An American Biography, and a book signing in a fund-raising event for the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area Association, outdoors at Stoke Farm in Middleburg, Va. For more info, go to https://www.piedmontheritage.org

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.


Sunday, August 2, 2020

August 2020

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVII, Number 8                                                               August 1, 2020

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



 OPEN: My old friend and colleague, the writer and documentary filmmaker Steven Pressman, paid a visit to Monticello in late July with his girlfriend Lisa Stark. I asked Steve if he’d give me a report as I have not been on the mountain since the reopening, and he graciously agreed.

“I’ve visited Monticello several times over the years, but I particularly wanted to go back now because of a new policy that allows visitors to take photographs inside the house,” Steve said.

“One of the tour guides said the new photo policy had been under consideration even before the pandemic, but I’m guessing the timing also was designed as an added encouragement for folks to come to Monticello now that the house has been reopened to visitors.” 

Steve and Lisa

Photos aside, Steve said, “I was really impressed with the manner in which Monticello has reopened—especially given the need for social distancing and other necessary precautions required in this Covid environment. Despite the 90-plus-degree weather, I was only too happy to comply with a strict mask-wearing rule. I have great empathy for the Monticello employees stationed outside at the Visitor Center who, likewise, were masked up as they greeted visitors in the sweltering summer heat.

“The safety procedures also include strict limits on the number of people allowed into the house at any given time—limits that also apply to the shuttle buses that took us from the Visitor Center up the mountain to the house. 

“Inside the house, visitors are now permitted to wander through the public rooms on their own. In other words, no groups huddled together in the company of a tour guide. This made it much easier to walk through the house and maintain adequate distance from others, especially given the small number of overall visitors allowed inside at any given time. The added benefit, of course, is a greater sense of intimacy and relative solitude while inside the house.”

Monticello, Steve said, “has occupied a special place in my heart for years and years, and I'm grateful to the staff there for the care and thoughtfulness that has gone into its reopening in the midst of the pandemic. I’m already thinking of making plans to return again in the fall—not only because the weather will mercifully be cooler, but the house and surrounding grounds will be even more spectacular with fall colors.”


You can get details on the visiting procedures now in place at Monticello at this page on the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s official Monticello website: https://bit.ly/MontReopening  To order tickets online, go to https://bit.ly/MontTickets

If you’re sticking close to home, there are two ways to take virtual tours of the house and gardens at Monticello. As in the past, the Monticello website offers a self-guided tour. And now, because of the pandemic, the Foundation has begun offering a one-hour guided intimate virtual tour. For info on both ways to see Monticello from home, go to https://bit.ly/MontVirtualTours


LIVE-STREAMING: Another way Monticello has positively responded to the pandemic is through its new livestreaming programming from the Mountain via Facebook, the Foundation’s website (Monticello.org), and YouTube. The livestreams, which began April 21 feature Bill Barker, the great Thomas Jefferson interpreter, as well as other experts on many aspects of the house and Thomas Jefferson. For more Monticello livestreaming info, including videos of the previous programs, go to https://bit.ly/MontLiveStreams

This Just In: We just confirmed that I will be doing a livestreaming Q&A on the Levy Family’s stewardship of Monticello from Monticello on Wednesday, September 23, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. More details in next month’s newsletter. 


DOCUMENTARY NEWS: Did I mention that Steve Pressman is a documentary filmmaker? His first film, 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, premiered on HBO in 2013. In it, Steve tells the little-known, amazing story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who traveled to Nazi Germany in 1939 virtually on their own and spirted 50 Jewish children out of the country and into safety in Philadelphia. 


His new doc, Holy Silence, focuses on Pope Pius XII, Hitler, and the Holocaust. The film in particular concentrates on American officials—from priests to presidents—who worked behind the scenes to influence the pope to take a stand against Hitler and fascism. More info on that film at http://www.7thart.com/films/Holy-Silence

News Flash: I am extremely happy to report that I have been working with Steve on his next film, which will tell the story of the Levy family and their stewardship of Monticello. The good folks at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation have agreed to help with the doc. Steve and his small crew started production last fall. The pandemic has put a hold on things, but production will pick up once life returns to what will pass for normal. Stay tuned for updates.

EVENTS: My scheduled live events for the spring and summer have been canceled or postponed due to the pandemic.

But I will be doing a Zoom talk for the New Market, Virginia, library on Saving Monticello on Saturday, August 8, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, featuring my PowerPoint with rare vintage photos of the house and grounds. It’s free and open to the public. To register, go to  https://bit.ly/SMTalkRegister

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.


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.