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

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

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

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

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

For details on other upcoming events, go to

GIFT IDEASIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to 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.