Saturday, September 2, 2017

September 2017

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

Volume XIV, Number 9                                                                     September 1, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE:  Back in the spring my wife Janna and I planned a trip to Charlottesville, one of my favorite places on earth, to see Lyle Lovett. He was playing (with his Large Band) on Wednesday evening, August 16, at the Pavilion on the downtown mall.

We’d done it before and always had great times, eating dinner downtown beforehand, seeing the concert, spending the night, and then driving home to Northern Virginia in the morning. After we learned of the horrific events of Saturday, August 12, we didn’t know what to expect when we arrived.

To our surprise (and delight) when we drove into town at around 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon things seemed calm and normal. Still, the concert was just two short blocks from where the unspeakable happened, and it was sobering to walk the downtown mall fourdays afterward.

The good news is that the concert was great, with Lyle Lovett expressing his admiration for the people of Charlottesville and performing four gospel songs (with an added church choir from Richmond) all of which resonated poignantly with everyone in the crowd.




I took the picture above of the Rotunda along the Lawn, the Thomas-Jefferson designed space on the grounds of the University of Virginia, at around 6:30 a.m. on Thursday during my morning walk. As I walked through downtown C’ville and the grounds, I couldn’t help but breathe deeply and appreciate the stillness and calm—and at the same time recall that just five days earlier men wearing Nazi regalia marched in my steps shouting venomous racial and anti-Semitic slurs. And that one of them killed a woman right there on the downtown mall.  

Alan Zimmerman, the president of Charlottesville’s Congregation Beth Israel, which is two blocks from the downtown mall, described the scene in front of the temple in a letter to congregants. Here are excerpts:

“On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. … Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

“For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Seig Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.”

The entire message is on line at http://bit.ly/BethIsraelCville



THE WASHINGTON POST:  The morning before we left for Charlottesville, I had an email from Rachel Siegel, a reporter at the Washington Post. She said she wanted to ask me some questions about the Levy family, Monticello, anti-Semitism, and Charlottesville. I told her I’d be happy to do an interview, and suggested she get her hands on Saving Monticello, which she did.

As she was on deadline, I took the call in the car driving to C’ville. We spoke for a good half hour. She had gone through the book and asked good questions.

The following Wednesday her excellent article, headlined “Neo-Nazis Rallied Around Jefferson’s Statue. But it Was a Jewish Family that Saved Monticello,” appeared in the online Post; the following day the article was on the front page of the print edition’s Metro page with a slightly different headline: “Who Saved Monticello? A Jewish Family.”

Rachel Siegel did a fine job. The quotes she used from me were accurate and in context. You can read the article at http://bit.ly/MonticelloSaving



LEVY OPERA HOUSE: The night of the concert on our way to dinner, we saw the Robert E. Lee statute (all was quiet there) and then walked a few blocks up to High Street with our Charlottesville friends Amoret and Mike Powers and over to take a look at the Levy Opera House 350 Park, near the corner of Park and High Streets.

Jefferson Levy, an extremely active real estate and stock speculator, acquired the building in 1887, eight years after he had bought out the other Uriah Levy heirs and gained control of Monticello. The Opera House—Charlottesville’s former City Hall—was his first significant purchase of property in the city. He would buy (and sell) more than a few other buildings in town in the coming decades.

When Levy bought the large, three-story Georgian style brick structure built in 1852, it was still known as Town Hall. The building was used as a gathering place for local groups, traveling, and touring theatrical companies. By the mid-1880s, though, it had fallen into disuse.

As I wrote in Saving Monticello, Jefferson Levy remodeled Town Hall and in 1888 renamed it the Levy Opera House. He enlarged the stage and put in a new orchestra pit with dressing rooms below, inclined the floor to improve sight lines, and installed a horseshoe-shaped gallery, new opera chairs and two boxes on the sides of the stage.

The Levy Opera House hosted the first symphony orchestra that played in Charlottesville, the Boston Symphony, which came to town in 1891. That year Jefferson Levy leased the Opera House to Jacob (“Jake”) Leterman and Ernest Oberdorfer, sons of the founders of Charlottesville’s German Reform synagogue. Leterman and Oberdorfer brought in other symphony orchestras, minstrel shows, and various types of theatrical productions.

In 1907, Levy leased the building to the Jefferson School for Boys, a small boarding and day prep school, for $400 a year. An addendum to the lease stipulated that if any theatrical performances were given in the Opera House, it “shall be advertised as the Levy Opera House,” and that Jefferson Levy retained the right to his box there. The school moved out in 1912.

Two years later Levy sold the building, and it was subdivided into apartments. It was subsequently remodeled into office space.


EVENTS: Here’s a rundown on my September speaking events, including talks on Saving Monticello and my new book, Ballad of the Green Beret. For info on Ballad, please go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad


·    
S   Saturday, September 9 – Talk on Ballad of the Green Beret and book signing at the monthly meeting of DAR Providence Chapter, Fairfax Station, Virginia
·  Tuesday, September 12 – Leading a 7:00 p.m. discussion on “World War I and America” at the George C. Marshall International Center in Leesburg, Virginia. Sponsored by the Marshall House and the Loudoun County Public Library. Open to the public. For info, call 703-777-1301
·   Thursday, September 14 – Washington Metropolitan Oasis Center, Bethesda, Maryland, 1:00 p.m. talk on Saving Monticello and book signing. For info, call 301-469-6800.
·    Thursday, September 28 – Arlington Central Library, Arlington, Virginia. 7:00 p.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret and book signing. 1015 No. Quincy St. Arlington. Free and open to the public. For more info, call 703-228-5990 or go to http://bit.ly/2BalladArlington


If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com

For details on other upcoming events, go to http://leepsoncalendar.blogspot.com


GIFT IDEASIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed, and Ballad of the Green Beret.   

Friday, August 4, 2017

August 2017

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

Volume XIV, Number 8                                                                     August 1, 2017

SEQUESTRATION: On August 30, 1861, the Confederate Congress passed a bill called the Sequestration Act. It called for the confiscation of all property owned by northerners in the eleven Confederate states, and the sale of that property to southerners.

In the law’s words, all “lands, tenements and hereditaments, goods and chattels, rights and credits… held, owned, possessed or enjoyed by or for any alien enemy since the twenty-first day of May, [1861]” would be “sequestrated by the Confederate States of America” and be made available to “any true and loyal citizen or resident” of the Confederacy.

Monticello and all of its adjacent Virginia land certainly fit in that “alien” category as its owner Uriah Levy was a resident of New York City—and was serving in the U.S. Navy. As I wrote in Saving Monticello, proceedings began to sequestrate Monticello on October 10, 1861, “as the property of an alien enemy,” according to an article in the Richmond Examiner.



Monticello “has been confiscated,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper of New York City reported, “with all its lands, negroes, cattle, farming utensils, furniture, paintings, wines, etc., together with two other farms belonging to the same owner, and valued at from $70,000 to $80,000.” The National Republican (a pro-Lincoln paper) of Washington D.C., put is less delicately, as you can see in the "Sequestration of the Monticello Estate" clipping above.

Uriah Levy fought the sequestration order. After he died on March 26, 1862, the executors of his estate kept up the fight. Meanwhile, The National Republican also claimed that the house was occupied by Uriah brother, Jonas Levy, “who is alleged to be disaffected towards the Confederate Government.”

That was not true. Jonas Levy was, in fact, was cozying up to the Confederate government. He filed a petition asking for a “modification of the sequestration law” to allow him—a resident of the Confederacy, he said—to inherit Monticello.

“I am a loyal citizen of this Confederacy,” Jonas Levy said, in claiming to be his brother’s only heir living in the South.

The petition was denied.

The sequestration order finally was approved in the fall of 1864, and Monticello was sold by the Confederate government on November 17 to colorful Lieutenant Col. Benjamin Franklin Ficklin (below) of the  the 50th Virginia Regiment for $80,500 in Confederate money.



Ficklin, as I wrote in the book, led an amazingly varied and adventurous life. A noted prankster at the Virginia Military Institute, he fought in the Mexican War, taught at a boys’ school in Abingdon, Virginia, and in 1860 came up with the idea for a fast new overland operation that would deliver mail and news between St. Joseph, Missouri, and San Francisco.

The company he worked for called it the Pony Express and gave Ficklin the job of organizing the huge operation. He set up 190 relay stations along the nearly 2,000-mile route, bought 500 horses, and signed on eighty riders.

Shortly after the war ended, Ficklin was in Washington, D.C., where he was arrested—wrongly, it turned out—on April 16, 1865, for being involved in the assassination of President Lincoln. He died at age 44 in 1871 while dining at the Willard Hotel in Washington when a fishbone lodged in his throat and the doctor who tried to remove it severed an artery.

That was six years after Ficklin had had to give up Monticello after owning it for only a few months. The estate then returned to the Levy family.


EVENTS: My new book, Ballad of the Green Beret, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, has been getting some buzz since it was published May 1. For info, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad
I have one in-person event in August:
  • Saturday, August 12  – I’ll be signing books at Vietnam Veterans of America’s National Convention at 11:00 a.m. at the Sheraton in downtown New Orleans.

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com
For details on other upcoming events, go to http://leepsoncalendar.blogspot.com


GIFT IDEASIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed, and Ballad of the Green Beret.   

Monday, July 3, 2017

July 2017

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

Volume XIV, Number 7                                                                     July 1, 2017

FOURTH OF JULY 1826: With Independence Day on the horizon, here’s what I wrote in Saving Monticello on that remarkable day in American history: July 4, 1826, the nation’s fiftieth birthday. The first paragraphs are the first words in the book.

July 4, 1776, the day the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence marking the beginning of the end of the British Empire, King George III wrote in his diary: “Nothing of importance happened today.”

On July 4, 1826, as people across the United States joyously celebrated the young nation’s Independence Day Jubilee, several matters of great importance took place.

At ten minutes to one in the afternoon in his bed at Monticello, his beloved home in Central Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Thomas Jefferson died. The nation’s third president was 83 years old and had been in ill health for most the previous twelve months.

Later that day, in one of the more remarkable coincidences of history, Jefferson’s fellow founding father John Adams died at his farm in Massachusetts. The nation’s second president’s ironic last words were: “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”



On June 24, 1826, Jefferson had called for his physician, the British-born Dr. Robley Dunglison of Charlottesville, who came up to Monticello and stayed there, attending the dying Jefferson's during the last week of life. Jefferson’s daughter Martha Randolph sat at her father’s bedside during the day. Her son Thomas Jefferson Randolph (known to the family as “Jeff”), 33, and Nicholas Trist, her son-in-law, took over at night, aided by several household slaves, including Burwell Culbert, Joe Fossett and John Hemings.

Jefferson seemed to calm down emotionally as death drew near. He lost consciousness on the night of July 2. He awoke briefly on the morning of Monday, July 3. At least once that day he asked if the Fourth of July had come. Dr. Dunglison told him the day would soon be upon them. Nicholas Trist nodded his head in assent.

He and his brother-in-law Jeff Randolph sweated out the last hours of July 3, staring at Jefferson’s bedside clock as midnight approached, silently hoping he would keep breathing until the Fourth of July. He did.

Jefferson awoke around 4:00 in the morning on July 4 and called to his slaves—whom Jefferson referred to as “servants”—in what those around him said was a clear voice. He then lapsed into unconsciousness for the last time. Thomas Jefferson died in his sleep in his bed, at 12:50 in the afternoon on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the nation.



FOURTH OF JULY 2017:  “The only birthday I ever commemorate,” Thomas Jefferson said in 1801, “is that of our independence, the Fourth of July.”

The holiday has, indeed, been commemorated at Monticello in various ways over the centuries.
Every year since 1963, Monticello has marked the Fourth with an Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony.

During that time, more than 3,000 people from around the world have raised their right hands in front of Thomas Jefferson’s “Essay in Architecture” to take the oath and become brand new American citizens.

Each year, a prominent American has addressed the new citizens at the ceremonies. This year the featured speaker will be David N. Saperstein, the distinguished Reform rabbi and lawyer who served as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from 2014-17.

A former long-time chief legal counsel at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center, Rabbi Saperstein is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law School and is co-chair of the Coalition to reserve Religious Liberty.

EVENTS: My new book, Ballad of the Green Beret, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, was published May 1. For info, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad
I will be talking about the book on three radio shows on the morning of July 4:
·         The Warren Pierce Show on WJR-AM, Detroit at 7:00 a.m. Eastern
·         “Comment Please” on WNPV-AM in Lansdale, Pa., at 8:15 a.m. Eastern
·         “WCUB Breakfast Club” on WCUB-AM in Manitowoc, Wisconsin at 9:10 a.m. Eastern
I have one in-person event in July:
  • Tuesday, July 2  – 8:00 a.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret for the Leesburg Daybreak Rotary Club in Leesburg, Virginia.


If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com
For details on other upcoming events, go to http://leepsoncalendar.blogspot.com

GIFT IDEASIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed, and Ballad of the Green Beret.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

June 2017


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

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

Volume XIV, Number 6                                                                     June 1, 2017

SAVANNAH: Early Friday afternoon, May 5, was a perfect spring day in Savannah, Georgia, with blue skies, a pleasant breeze, and temperatures in the low seventies. Making things even more perfect was the fact that I walked into historic Mickve Israel synagogue that afternoon (with my wife Janna and old friends Moses and Sarah Lyn Robbins) to be greeted by two active members of the Congregation—Margie Levy and Kerry Rosen.


They had invited me to be that weekend’s Scholar in Residence at Mickve Israel, and give talks on my books Flag: An American Biography and Saving Monticello. And it was my absolute pleasure to do so.

Margie and Kerry sat us down in the spectacular sanctuary and gave us a personalized guided tour of the building. They covered the Congregation’s long history—including the fact that it’s the third-oldest Jewish congregation in the nation, having been founded by 42 Jews who had escaped the Spanish Inquisition (in Lisbon) and come to Savannah in 1733. Among that group, as I wrote in Saving Monticello, was Dr. Samuel Nunez, Uriah Levy’s great great grandfather.

Executive Director Jennifer Rich and Rabbi Robert Haas came by to welcome us, then Margie and Kerry took us upstairs to the terrific museum, which includes the two oldest Torah scrolls in North America, a collection of letters from thirteen presidents including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, plus a short history of Uriah Levy and Monticello.

We attended Friday night services and I did the talk on the American flag after dinner in the temple’s hall with Jennifer’s valuable A/V assistance. The next day we were back for Saturday morning services, welcomed heartily by the Congregation’s President Bubba Rosenthal, who had introduced me before my flag talk Friday evening.

Rabbi Haas invited me to say a few words near the end of the service. He also reminded everyone that I would be talking about Monticello, and said (with a smile) that few people knew that Thomas Jefferson was Jewish—and had had a bar mitzvah.

I thanked everyone for inviting me and said how special it felt to physically be in the place I had read so much—and written so much—about. It’s the same feeling I had when I did a talk in March 2002 on Saving Monticello in New York City at Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the nation, and the place where members of the Levy family worshiped. That included Uriah Levy and his nephew L. Napoleon Levy, who was the president of the congregation in the 1890s, and his brother Jefferson Monroe Levy, who plays such a big role in Saving Monticello.

I posed for the picture below after services, then we had lunch in the hall, and I did the talk. I was pleased to meet my Facebook friend, Connie Eunice Nunes, who runs a Nunez family Facebook group, and who drove up from Jacksonsville for the occasion.

I also met many members of the Congregation. It was a memorable weekend and I thank everyone for inviting me and for being terrifically welcoming.




AT MONTICELLO: The day after I spoke in Savannah, Sunday, May 7, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik led a service (the Kaddish) with members of his Shearith Israel congregation and Yeshiva University students at the grave of Rachel Levy, Uriah Phillips Levy’s mother who is buried along Mulberry Row a Monticello.



The rabbi also included a memorial service for the Phillips family and for all Jewish American patriots.The Kaddish marked the first such Jewish ceremony at Rachel Levy’s grave in nearly two hundred years.Later that day the rabbi took part in a Conversation on Religious Freedom with the noted historian and biographer Jon Meacham at Monticello. 

EVENTS: My new book, Ballad of the Green Beret, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, was published May 1. With the help of a publicist, I am working on arranging radio and TV appearances for the month of June. For info on them, go to the Author Evens page on my website: http://leepsoncalendar.blogspot.com

For info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad
Here are my in-person June events:

  • Friday, June 2 – 8:00 a.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret for the Dulles Airport Rotary Club in Herndon, Virginia.
  • Saturday, June 24 – 12:00 noon talk on Francis Scott Key at the Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims luncheon in Charlottesville, Virginia



If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com
For details on other upcoming events, go to http://leepsoncalendar.blogspot.com


Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed, and Ballad of the Green Beret.  



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May 2017


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

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

Volume XIV, Number 5                                                                     May 1, 2017

IN THE NEWS: It’s not every day that Saving Monticello gets mentioned in a noted national publication. But that’s just what happened in the April 27 edition of The Wall Street Journal.
Meir Soloveichik, the rabbi of Shearith Israel in New York City, wrote an article that appeared that day titled “The Jews Who Saved Monticello.” In it Rabbi Soloveichik concisely tells the story of Uriah and Jefferson M. Levy’s stewardship of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, emphasizing the history of the Levy family—a family, he notes, “whose own story is every bit as American as that of Jefferson himself.”

Rabbi Soloveichik goes on to say that Monticello today attracts visitors from “all over America.” Yet, he writes, “as Marc Leepson notes in his book, Saving Monticello, for decades the Levys’ role in preserving Jefferson’s home wasn’t celebrated.” I sent the rabbi an email congratulating him on the article and thanking him for mentioning my book.



One reason for the article is an event that will take place at Monticello on Sunday, May 7. Rabbi Soloveichik will take a delegation of members of Shearith Israel (the oldest Jewish congregation in the nation and one in which several members of the Levy family worshiped) and a group of Yeshiva University students to Monticello. He will lead a Jewish graveside service (the Kaddish) at the grave of Rachel Levy, Uriah Levy’s mother who is buried along Mulberry Row, along with a memorial service for the Phillips family and for all Jewish American patriots.

As I wrote in the book, Rachel Phillips Levy was the first member of the family to live in Monticello. Although we do not know exactly when her son moved her to Monticello, it most likely was in the late spring or early summer of 1836.

While Uriah Levy at sea, his mother died at Monticello on May 1, 1839. Lt. Levy apparently did not find out until six months later when he arrived at Monticello after his cruise ended and his ship put in at Norfolk. The manager of Monticello, Joel Wheeler, had gotten in touch with Uriah’s siblings Jonas and Amelia when their mother died and they arranged to have her buried near the house. She is the only member of the family buried at Monticello.

The tombstone Uriah Levy later erected included the Hebrew month and year of his mother’s death. It is inscribed: “To the memory of Rachel Phillips Levy, Born in New York, 23 of May 1769, Married 1787. Died 7, of IYAR, (May) 5591, A.B. (1839) at Monticello, Va.”

For many years after Jefferson Levy sold Monticello to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923, Rachel Levy’s grave was all but neglected. However, that situation changed markedly when Dan Jordan took over the Foundation in 1983 and the following year ordered the refurbishing of the Rachel Levy grave site and placing a plaque there honoring the family.



On June 7, 1985, several Levy descendants, including Harley Lewis, a great grand niece of Jefferson Levy and several dozen guests, took part in a commemorative ceremony at Monticello. The event included an address by Edgar Bronfman, the head of World Jewish Congress and CEO of Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, a scripture reading by by Bernard Honan, the rabbi of Charlottesville’s Temple Beth Israel, and a prayer by Louis C. Gerstein of Shearith Israel. Harley Lewis ended the ceremonies by unveiling the new plaque at her great-great grandmother’s grave.

The Kaddish this month marks the first Jewish ceremony at the grave since then. The day also will include a Conversation on Religious Freedom with Rabbi Soloveichik and the noted historian and biographer Jon Meacham at Monticello sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. To read the entire WSJ article, go to http://bit.ly/SavingMonticello

AMERICAN SPIRIT: Here’s some more Saving Monticello news: The editor of American Spirit magazine, which is published by the Daughters of the American Revolution, asked me to write an article for the May/June issue on the DAR’s involvement with the 1912-17 campaign to take Monticello from Jefferson Levy and turn it into a government-run shrine to Thomas Jefferson.
The DAR did not initiate the proposed takeover. The historic-preservation-minded hereditary organization was called on by Congress to offer advice on how to run the place after it became a federally owned house museum. I covered that aspect of the story in Saving Monticello and adapted what I wrote in the book (and added a few things) in the article, which is the cover story of the just-published issue.

The title: “Saving Monticello: How DAR Nearly Came to Control Thomas Jefferson’s Home.”



MAY 6 IN SAVANNAH: I will be doing a talk on Saving Monticello and a book signing on Saturday, May 5, at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah. The talk will follow that morning’s services, which begin at 11:00 a.m, and the Kiddush Lunch, which starts at 12:15. The event is open to the public, although reservations are required (for $10). To do so, or for more info, email resvp@mickveisrael.org or call 912-233-1547.

MORE EVENTS: My new book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, has just been published. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad
Here are my May events, in a nutshell:

  • Friday, May 5 – 7:30 p.m talk on Flag: An American Biography following Friday Night services and dinner at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah. For reservations, call 912-233-1547 or email resvp@mickveisrael.org
  • Saturday, May 6 – Talk on Saving Monticello at Mickve Israel. See above for details.
  • Sunday, May 7 – 2:00 p.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret and book signing at City Center Gallery and Bookstore in Fayetteville, North Carolina. 112 Hay St. Fayetteville. For info, call 910-678-8899, send an email to citycentergallery@embarqmail.com or go to http://bit.ly/F-ville
  • Monday, May 8 – 12:00 noon talk on Ballad of the Green Beret and book signing at the Library of Virginia, 800 E. Broad Street, Richmond, Va. Free and open to the public.
  • Thursday, May 25 – 7:00 p.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret and book signing at The Hill School, 130 South Madison Street, Middleburg, Virginia. The talk is free and open to the public. For info call, 540-687-5897.
  • Monday, May 29 – 3:00 p.m. talk on Flag: An American Biography, and book signing at The Glebe Retirement Community in Daleville, Virginia. Free and open to the public. For info, call 540-591-2148.

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com
For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the Author Events page on my website, www.marcleepson.com


Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

March 2017

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

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

Volume XIV, Number 3                                                                     March 1, 2017


JONAS LEVY & LAFAYETTE: As I was searching through the Library of Congress’s digital newspaper collection the other day, I happened upon the obituary of Jonas Phillips Levy, a younger brother of Uriah Levy and the father of Jefferson Monroe Levy, the two men who are at the heart of Saving Monticello.

Jonas Levy, who had a long career as a sailor and private ship captain (along with a stint in the U.S. Navy during the Mexican War), has a substantial supporting role in the book. He actively worked to keep Monticello in the family after it was confiscated by the Confederacy during the Civil War and also led the effort to have the statue of Jefferson that his brother commissioned and donated to the nation be prominently displayed in the U.S. Capitol. Plus a few other things.



In the Sept. 15, 1883, New York Times obit, I noticed something that hadn’t made an impression on me when I wrote the book: the claim that when Jonas Phillips was 17 years old in 1824, he “escorted [the Marquis de] Lafayette on board the ship Cadman, about to sail from France to this country” for what be the Revolutionary War hero’s monumental Farewell Tour of the United States.

The obit goes on to say that “the following November” Jonas “rescued Gen. Lafayette from the sinking steamer Oliver Branch on the Mississippi River. In recognition of that service Gen. Lafayette presented him with his signet ring.”

I was unaware that Jonas Levy “escorted” Lafayette to his ship. Nor had I read that Lafayette was rescued from a sinking ship in the Mississippi in November 1824. Surely, I thought, I would have come across the ship sinking when I did the research for Lafayette: Idealist General, my 2011 concise biography of the famed Marquis.

I decided to do a bit of history detective work.

First, I emailed Alan Hoffman, a prominent member of the American Friends of Lafayette and the editor of the unabridged, English version of Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Journal of a Voyage to the United States, the detailed journal written by Lafayette’s private secretary Auguste Levasseur during the trip and later published in French.

I figured no one knows more about Lafayette’s Farewell Tour than Alan. He got back to me right away, and said it was possible that Jonas Levy may have been on Captain Francis Allen’s Cadmus crew, and added that there weren’t a lot of passengers on that packet ship’s journey across the Atlantic.



Jonas saving the Marquis during a shipwreck on the Mississippi, though, most likely never happened, Alan said. He pointed out that a steamship Lafayette was on in April and May of 1824 sunk in the Ohio River. But there was nothing in Levasseur’s detailed journal about any such incident on the Mississippi.

My next step was to re-read the photocopy of a transcribed version of an unpublished memoir Jonas Levy wrote in 1877. His great granddaughter, Harley Lewis (a grandniece of Jefferson Levy), had kindly given me the copy while I was researching Saving Monticello. I found Jonas Levy’s account of his life in 1824-25, which said he was working as a carpenter on river boats in the U.S.A. early in 1824. He shipped out on a merchant ship called the Julius Cross delivering cotton to Liverpool in March. That trip took 45 days, he wrote.

After arriving in England, Jonas wrote that he stayed in Liverpool “to see the sights for several weeks,” then shipped back to New York on the Pacific of the Black Balleine. He did not mention anything about going to France in July; nor did he mention the name “Lafayette.”

As far as rescuing the Marquis in November of 1824, if it happened, Jonas Levy didn’t bother to mention it in his memoir. After returning from his England trip, he wrote, Jonas shipped out as a carpenter on the Partia for Chile and Peru, arriving in December 1824. So, according to the memoir, Jonas Levy was at sea in South America when he was supposed to be rescuing Lafayette on the Mississippi.
I guess you could call that info in his 1883 obituary a bit of late 19th century fake news.

SALLY HEMINGS’ ROOM: Significant—and good—changes are about to take place in the interpretation of Sally Hemings’ role at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. As a front-page article in the February 19 Washington Post reported, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation is in the process of restoring a room below Monticello’s South Wing where it is believed that Sally Hemings slept. In 1941, the Foundation had turned the long disused and neglected room into a public bathroom.
The restored room, complete with furniture and other artifacts, will be open to the public in 2018. 

“It’s part of a $35 million restoration project that will bolster Monticello’s infrastructure,” the article said, “but also reconstruct and showcase buildings where enslaved people lived and worked.

“Visitors will come up here and understand that there was no place on this mountaintop that slavery wasn’t,” said Christa Dierksheide, a Foundation historian. “Thomas Jefferson was surrounded by people, and the vast majority of those people were enslaved.”

To read the entire article, go to http://bit.ly/HemingsChange

EVENTS: My next book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, will be published May 1. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad

Two events in March:
  • Tuesday, March 7 - 2:00 p.m. talk on What So Proudly We Hailed, my 2014 bio of Francis Scott Key, and book signing for the Warrenton (Va.) Antiquarian Society at the Visitors Center in downtown Warrenton. It's free and open to the public. More info at:  http://bit.ly/WarrAntiquarians

  • Thursday, March 23 – 10:00 a.m. talk on What So Proudly We Hailed and Flag: An American Biography and book signing for the University of Mary Washington ElderStudy group at the Stafford (Va.) campus.


If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including What So Proudly We Hailed, Lafayette: Idealist General, and Ballad of the Green Beret (starting in May)—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com

For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the Author Events page on my website, www.marcleepson.com


Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.  





Thursday, February 2, 2017

February 2017


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

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

Volume XIV, Number 2                                                                     February 1, 2017

TOOTHSOME VIANDS: A hundred years ago, in the early winter of 1917, the U.S. Congress was making its last attempt to purchase Monticello from Jefferson Levy.

The movement to have the federal government buy Monticello from Levy—who had owned it since 1879 and had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing, restoring, and furnishing the home (and re-acquiring significant acreage)—had begun in 1912 when Maude Littleton launched a national campaign to take Monticello from Jefferson Levy to become a  shrine to Thomas Jefferson 
Bills to do that had been introduced in Congress beginning in 1912, accompanied by bombastic hearings in which Jefferson Levy staunchly defended his ownership of the house to fight the proposed government takeover. They went nowhere for five years, even after Levy agreed in 1914 to sell the house and grounds and all the furnishings to the government for $500,000.

As I wrote in Saving Monticello, the Senate Committee on Public Buildings on Grounds held a hearing on January 9, 1917, on a new Monticello resolution. This one called for the government to purchase Monticello for Levy’s asking price, and use it as a Virginia getaway for U.S. presidents, what Camp David in Maryland is now.  

On Sunday morning, January 28, 1917, a remarkable event took place. A party of 40 men and 27 women—including many members of the House Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds and their wives—boarded two special Southern Railway cars for the train trip from Washington to Charlottesville. 

A delegation from the local Chamber of Commerce met party at the Charlottesville train station and whisked them up to snow-covered Monticello in two dozen automobiles. The lead vehicle was decorated with two huge American flags.

The group gathered on Monticello’s east lawn to take in the mountain views and then proceeded to the front steps where Jefferson M. Levy and his Charlottesville neighbor, Miriam Boocock, greeted them. The guests took a guided tour of all of Monticello's rooms before sitting down to a lavish lunch in the dining room. Levy brought in a phalanx of waiters and maids—all African Americans—for the occasion.



 “The spread set out by the genial host of today was in keeping with the traditional hospitality of the famous mansion,” the Charlottesville Daily Progress, in an article headlined “Gay Party at Monticello,” reported. “An elegant menu was served the many guests, whose appetites had been whetted by the three-mile drive in the bracing mountain air, and they did full justice to the elegant and toothsome viands which had been provided.” Several newspaper and newsreel photographers were on hand. Sadly, the images they took have not survived. (The image above was taken around that time.)

The visit was not a success. The problem was Jefferson Levy’s refusal to serve wine with lunch. When the congressmen and newspapermen asked Levy to show them Jefferson’s wine cellar, Levy balked, saying he had “left the keys in New York,” the Roanoke Times reported. That brought about “much grumbling” from the distinguished guests, the paper said, “and it was freely rumored that Mr. Levy would have to materially reduce his offer below $500,000 if he expected Congress to buy the old Jefferson home.”

Whether or not that last line was tongue in cheek—or the lack of wine had any impact on Congress—Levy did not reduce his offer. Congress adjourned on March 3, 1917, without taking action on any of the Monticello resolutions. When the U.S. entered the First World War in April, the matter was dropped in Congress and never would be taken up again. Levy sold Monticello for his asking price to the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923.

SIX HOURS & TWO MINUTES: Of course there is a website called “how long to read this” dot com. I came across it recently and timed myself (with the handy timer on the page) as I read the Saving Monticello dust jacket copy. Then after a click, the site told me:

“You read 531 words in 141 seconds and your reading speed is 225 words per minute. It will take you 6 hours and 2 minutes to complete Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built.” I’m a fairly slow reader, so I’m guessing most folks can read the book in under six hours. A good use of one’s time, I would say.

To take the test, go to http://bit.ly/SMreadtime Feel free to email me with your results—and comments.

WRONG CENTURY: In last month’s newsletter I wrote that historic Mikveh Israel synagogue, where the Phillips and Levy families worshiped in Philadelphia, was founded in 1840. I was off only by a hundred years, as several SM newsletter subscribers kindly reported.

Mikveh Israel, which bills itself as the “Synagogue of the American Revolution,” dates its founding from the 1740 establishment of its cemetery, making it the oldest formal congregation in Philadelphia. Its first building dates to 1792. Mikveh Israel is the third oldest congregation in the U.S., behind Shearith Israel in New York City (founded in 1654), Mickve Israel in Savannah (founded by, among others, Uriah Levy’s great-great grandfather Samuel Nunez in 1733), and Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island, which has the oldest actual building, which dates from 1758.
Members of the Nunez and Levy families, including Uriah Levy and his nephew Louis Napoleon Levy, also worshiped, and were active in, Shearith Israel in New York.

Apologies for the error.



OLD FRIENDS: After last month’s newsletter went out, I received a gracious email from Dan Jordan, the former head of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Dan had provided Monticello’s full and much-needed support when I was researching and writing Saving Monticello in 1999 and 2000. Now semi-retired, Dan told me he was thrilled to read that I was in contact with Harley Lewis, the Levy descendant whom I mentioned in the newsletter. They had formed a bond when Dan took over as the Foundation’s head in 1984 and immediately set out to give the Levy family the recognition it deserved for saving Monticello on two different occasions.  

This newsletter is a labor of love and I’m happy to report that it helped Dan and Harley connect by email for the first time in many years.

EVENTS: My next book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, will be published May 1. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad

One event in February:
  • Tuesday, February 7, 1:30 p.m. talk on Saving Monticello and book signing for the Woman’s Club of McLean in northern Virginia



If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including What So Proudly We Hailed, Lafayette: Idealist General, and the Barry Sadler bio (starting in May)—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com

For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the “Author Events” page on my website, www.marcleepson.com


Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.