Thursday, October 4, 2018

October 2018

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

Volume XV, Number 10                                                                    October 1, 2018

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

‘ALSO AT MONTICELLO’: While doing research for my next book—another history of an important American house (details to come later)—I came across a document I’d never seen: Jefferson Monroe Levy 1897 passport application.

I knew Jefferson Levy had to have had a passport because, as I wrote in Saving Monticello, he made many trips abroad—primarily to England and France—after he’d made a fortune in real estate and stocks in the mid-1890’s.

Aside the satisfaction of adding the application to my Saving Monticello files, it was interesting (and illuminating) to read what Levy wrote in the application about where he lived. To wit: he was “now residing at 66 East 34th Street in the city of New York, and also at Monticello, Virginia.”

I also found it interesting that Levy wrote that his late father, Jonas Levy (Uriah Levy’s brother) was born in New York City and was a citizen of the United States, and then added the words, “born in Philadelphia.” Here’s the entire application as it appears on

PRESIDENT CLEVELAND (con’t.)  The folks at Monticello were pleased to learn that, as I wrote in last month’s newsletter, a second president—Grover Cleveland—had paid a visit during the Levys’ ownership. Until I found a recently digitized Washington Post article detailing that July 1888 occasion, the only presidential visit we knew about was a 1903 trip up the mountain (on horseback) by President Theodore Roosevelt.

In the W.P. article, the reporter noted that Cleveland, who was not svelte, decided not to climb up a short incline to pay his respects at Jefferson’s grave site. Cleveland, instead, sat in his carriage for a few minutes peering up at the obelisk marking Jefferson’s grave, then ordered his driver to move up to the house. I used the modern-day photo on the right to illustrate the site that Cleveland saw.

Bill Bergen, the outstanding Monticello guide, found a Cleveland-era photo of the same spot (below), and kindly sent it to me. 

This more accurately shows what Cleveland saw that day—that is, that there were no steps. So he would have had to make his way up the small embankment in the rain, another probable reason why he decided not to get out of the carriage.

SEPTEMBER 20: I had a memorable day at Monticello on Thursday, September 20. My wife Janna and I drove up to the Mountain around 12:30 that afternoon, and took a 1:15 tour of the house, led by the great guide, Bill Bergen. We learned many things, and Bill kindly allowed me to add a few thoughts about Jefferson Levy during his concluding remarks to the tour group outside on the portico. That’s Bill with me after the tour.

After the tour we took in the new Sally Hemings exhibit—a short but moving, enlightening and brilliantly executed multi-media experience. After that, we went back down to the Visitors Center for a quick lunch at the cafĂ©, and then I signed books at the Gift Shop. Folks who were attending the evening’s reception for Monticello donors started coming in and I was happy to sign books and talk to them.  

We then drove back up to a parking lot near the house and walked over to the tent on the lawn where I did a sound check and the IT folks got my PowerPoint set up. Then back into the house where I sat down in one of the upstairs rooms for a video interview that the Foundation will be using on social media and for marketing.

We were back out on the lawn at 6:00 for the reception before the program. There was plenty of food—of the heavy hors d’oeuvre variety—and beverages. I opted for water as it was a muggy evening. I talked to a bunch of friendly people, including two Jefferson descendants, several guides, and other Monticello staffers.

Luckily, the rain that threatened did not materialize.

The program began at 7:00 with welcoming remarks from Leslie Bowman, who heads the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Susan Stein, Monticello’s long-time curator whom I have known and admired and worked with for nearly twenty-five years, spoke a bit about the Levys, and then gave me the best introduction I’ve ever had—and I’ve had more than a few over the years.

Then it was up to me to tell the story of the Levys and Monticello to around seven hundred people. My allotted half hour sped by. There were good questions from the audience, and more than a few folks came up to me afterward to chat. We left at around 9:00. A long, great day.

Special thanks to Leslie Bowman, Susan Stein and Mary Scott-Fleming, who did the logistical arrangements.

EVENTS:  Just one for me in October. On Tuesday, Oct. 16, I’ll be doing a talk on Saving Monticello in Norfolk for the Colonial Dames Tidewater Chapter.

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 info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, please go to
 For details on other upcoming events, go to

GIFT IDEAS:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me at  I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of brand-new copies of my other books: Flag: An American Biography; Desperate Engagement; Lafayette: Idealist General; What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, a Life; and Ballad of the Green Beret: The Life and Wars of Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler.