Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April 1, 2015

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

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

Volume XII, Number 4                                                                      April 1, 2015

ON JEFFERSON LEVY: In my ongoing quest to discover all there is to know about the Levy family that didn’t make it into Saving Monticello, I recently came across two items dealing with Jefferson Levy that shed light on his character and personality.

The first is a newspaper account that contains his strong reaction to the momentous December 10, 1912, vote in the House of Representatives. That’s the one that defeated a resolution that would have condemned Monticello, taken in from Levy, and made into a government-run shrine to Thomas Jefferson. As I noted in the book, the bill went down 141-101.

Jefferson Levy was a member of the House at the time. Naturally, he voted against the bill that would have taken Monticello from him. And why not—he had owned Monticello since 1879 and had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing, restoring, preserving and furnishing Jefferson’s Essay in Architecture.

In the book I described Levy’s reaction after the vote by quoting from The New York Times, which reported that he was “jubilant.” The paper went on to say that Levy “issued a statement saying he was grateful for the support he had received ‘during this trying ordeal.’”

I left the rest of the quote out of the book. But when I recently re-read it, I was intrigued by what he said. Here’s the entire quote, in which Jefferson Levy addresses the baseless charges that he wouldn’t let members of the public onto the grounds of Monticello and that he made things difficult for Jefferson descendants when they wanted to visit the family cemetery on the grounds of Monticello.

“I am deeply grateful to the American people for their thoughtful consideration during this trying ordeal, when it has been sought to take from me against my will property which I love both because of its association with that great statesman, Thomas Jefferson, and because to me it answers to the name of home, which all that word signifies to anyone.

“Of Monticello it may well be said that under private ownership it has been more available to the public than has Mount Vernon, in that no one desiring to pay a tribute to the memory of Thomas Jefferson has been turned aside nor fee accepted from his hand.”

A little deconstruction of that statement is in order. First, using the phrase “trying ordeal” confirms what I’ve gleaned elsewhere that the stern and driven businessman was deeply hurt by the effort to take Monticello from him.

Second, I strongly doubt that that “the American people” provided significant “consideration” to Levy during that year as the campaign to take Monticello from him reached the halls of Congress. Levy did have support on Capitol Hill (as evidenced by the vote), but I didn’t find much, if any, outpouring for him from “the American people” to keep Monticello as his private home.

Speaking of his “home,” Monticello was not it. Jefferson Levy used the place as his vacation getaway, visiting regularly, but his true home was in New York City. Still, as Levy had owned and lived in Monticello (at times) for thirty-three years, it is very possible that he considered it at least one of his homes.

Lastly, it also is true that Jefferson Levy did allow visitors (bidden and unbidden) to visit the grounds at Monticello. However, at one time he did charge a nominal fee, much as was the case at Mount Vernon.

Fast forward to February 1919 after Jefferson Levy had fended off the effort to take Monticello from him. I found an article in the Cavalier Daily of March 1 that shed some positive light on the owner of Monticello. It seems that President Woodrow Wilson had just had a stroke (he would have a much more serious one in October) and the article reported that Levy offered Monticello as a place for Wilson “to recover from his illness.”

Wilson, for one thing, “was feeling much better,” according to his family physician, Dr. Cary Grayson, the article noted.

That generous offer from one Democratic politician to another was turned down.

And the President also “made it a rule since he entered the White House not to accept the hospitality of any except members of his family and those who were his intimate friends before he became executive.”
That dictum, the article noted, “would prevent his accepting Mr. Levy’s offer.”

EVENTS:  Here’s a rundown on my April events.
·        Saturday and Sunday, April 11 and 12 – Talks at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and 1:00 p.m on Sunday on the Marquis de Lafayette at the aptly named Lafayette Inn and Restaurant in StanardsvilleVirginia. For info, call 434-985-6345 or go to
  • Tuesday, April 14 – evening talk on Francis Scott Key at Shenandoah UniversityWinchesterVirginia. Free and open to the public
  • Sunday, April 26 – Afternoon talk for the Loudoun County Fine Arts Association