Thursday, February 4, 2021

February 2020

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVIII, Number 2                                                      February 1, 2021

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

 

THE CAPITOL ROTUNDA: I gave a Zoom talk two weeks ago on Saving Monticello. As I always do when I introduce Uriah Levy in my talks, I mentioned that when he bought Monticello in 1834, Levy—a fifth generation Jewish-American born in 1792 in Philadelphia—was a U.S. Navy lieutenant and an ardent admirer of Thomas Jefferson.

We know this because Levy, on his own, in 1832 commissioned a full-length statue of Jefferson and the following year donated it to the people of the United States.


During the talk I said—as I always do—that the statue is displayed in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol (above) in Washington. Those words took on a new meaning as I said them less that two weeks after the horrific events that took place January 6 in the Capitol, including the shocking, violent acts in the august Rotunda.

I paused, thought about what happened, and went on with the talk, diving back to the 19th century to tell the tale of Uriah Levy and the only statue in the Rotunda donated by a private citizen. It’s a tale I tell in depth in Saving Monticello, and have referenced several times in this newsletter over the years. It’s worth telling in brief again now.

***************

The statue story began in earnest in the fall of 1832, when U.S. Navy Lt. Uriah P. Levy was enjoying some R&R in Paris.

Levy, who would purchase Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in two years, came to Paris to honor the nation’s third president, whom the patriotic Navy officer admired particularly for his dedication to religious freedom.

Jefferson felt strongly about that cause, as evidenced by the groundbreaking 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty, which he wrote and which James Madison shepherded through the Virginia General Assembly while Jefferson served as U.S. minister (ambassador) to France.


That landmark document (above) contained the seeds of the Freedom of Religion component of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which Madison wrote based on Jefferson’s strongly held beliefs on the subject.

Uriah Levy was familiar with the work of the illustrious French sculptor Pierre-Jean David d’Angers (1788-1856) and asked him to create a full-scale bronze of Jefferson. As I wrote in Saving Monticello, his many commissions for statues, portraits, busts, and medallions came from patrons throughout the world. Many famous and wealthy people sat for David, who was renowned for his bas-relief sculptures. Much of his work—including a model of the Jefferson statue—is on display today in the galerie David d’Angers in France.

In Paris in the fall of 1832, Levy paid a visit to the 75-year-old Lafayette, who had bonded with Thomas Jefferson during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette, in retirement, leant Levy a portrait he had of Jefferson by the American painter Thomas Sully, and David used it as his model for Jefferson’s face. Levy stayed in Paris until David completed the statue early in 1834.

David’s Jefferson stands seven-and-a-half feet tall and depicts Jefferson holding a quill pen in his right hand. In his left is an etched, word-for-word copy of the Declaration of Independence, complete with signatures, including the large “John Hancock.” The statue was cast in bronze and Levy shipped the finished statue and the plaster mold used to cast it to the United States.

On February 6, 1833, he presented the painted plaster model to the City of New York. The city fathers gave Levy what was called the “Freedom of the City” and a gold snuff box in appreciation. The statue was placed on the second floor of the Rotunda at City Hall in Manhattan. It was moved into the ornate City Council Chamber in the 1950s where it is today. It's at the extreme left in the photo below.


A month after he gave the model to New York City, Uriah Levy was in Washington where he presented the bronze Jefferson to the United States government. He had the words “Presented by Uriah Phillips Levy of the United States Navy to his fellow citizens, 1833,” etched on one side of the statue’s bronze base. “I beg leave to present, through you, to my fellow citizens of the United States, a colossal bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson,” Levy said in a letter he wrote to the House of Representatives. Levy spoke of his “pride and satisfaction” in offering “this tribute of my regard to the people of the United States” through Congress. He was sure, he said, “such disposition will be made of it as best corresponds with the character of the illustrious author of the declaration of our independence and the profound veneration with which his memory is cherished by the American people.”

Uriah Levy was breaking new ground. In 1833 the city of Washington did not have one monumental statue on display honoring an individual. That was one reason that the “disposition” of the statue was not decided until forty years later.

A joint House-Senate Committee quickly took up the matter and recommended that the statue be placed in the center of the square in the eastern front of the Capitol, which faces the Library of Congress and Supreme Court. The Senate then passed a resolution accepting the statue and directing that it be placed there.

During debate on the same measure in the House, however, more than a few members opposed the action. One congressman argued against accepting a statue from an individual American, and that it would be inappropriate for Congress to accept a statue of Jefferson when there was as yet no statue of George Washington in the Capitol. Another member objected because, he said, the David was not a good likeness of Jefferson In the end, though, the House voted, 69-55 to accept the statue.

Even though both the House and Senate resolutions called for the statue to be displayed outside the Capitol’s East front, for reasons that are unclear it was placed inside, in the Rotunda. On February 16, 1835, a resolution was introduced in the House to remove the statue from the Rotunda “to some suitable place for its preservation, until the final disposition of it be determined by Congress.” But no action was taken.

Sometime during the James K. Polk administration (1845-49)—the exact date is not certain—the statue was indeed removed from the Rotunda. It was shipped to the White House where, with the permission of President Polk, it was placed on the grounds on the north side facing Lafayette Park.

In 1874 Jonas Phillips Levy, Uriah Levy's youngest brother, spearheaded a campaign to get the David sculpture off the White House lawn, where it was not holding up well under the elements. Levy asked Congress to accept the David statue officially or return it to the family.

The statue was subsequently cleaned up and moved into National Statuary Hall in the Capitol and then, in 1900, to the Capitol Rotunda, where it stands today, the only statue in the building donated to Congress by an individual citizen. The Rotunda houses two other David pieces: a bronze bust of George Washington and a marble bust of Lafayette.

The David Jefferson is considered to be one of the most valuable pieces of artwork in the U.S. Capitol.

EVENTS: Because of the pandemic I have no events scheduled for February.

GIFT IDEA:  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, January 6, 2021

January 2020

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVIII, Number 1                                                      January 1, 2021

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


MICHAEL LEVY: When doing the research for Saving Monticello more than twenty years ago, I found precious little information on the life of Uriah Levy’s father, Michael Levy—and nearly all of it came from secondary sources.

I wrote that Levy senior was born in 1755, most likely in Germany, and that his father, Isaac Levy, moved the family from there to England. Michael Levy subsequently emigrated to the U.S., winding up in Philadelphia where he became a charter member of the German Jewish Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

In an unpublished family memoir, Uriah Levy’s brother Jonas wrote that their father “came to this country from old England when about ten years of age, and was brought up to the Mercantile business which he continued until his death in high repute.” I came across advertisements in in the Pennsylvania Journal in 1780, and five years later in the Maryland Gazette for Michael and Isaac Levy, who most likely were brothers, noting that they were “CLOCK and WATCHMAKERS, Late from London” who offered for sale “a large assortment of the most elegant and fashionable CLOCKS and WATCHES.”

Michael Levy, I reported, married Rachel Machado Phillips of Philadelphia in 1787. They had fourteen children. Michael Levy died, according to First American Jewish Families, Malcolm Stern’s 1960 pioneering collection of 600 family genealogies, in 1812.

Just last week I had an email from Brian Collins, a Michael Levy descendant who lives in the U.K.—and who has done considerable research into his Levy Family ancestry, mostly in England, much of it based on London Land Tax Records and London City Directories from the 18th and 19th centuries. Brian has kindly given me permission to present his main findings in this  newsletter, which I greatly appreciate.

Although he has not found an official record of Michael Levy’s birth, Brian reports that the records indicate that he likely was born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in what is now Poland and that the family moved to what is now Germany and then emigrated to England, settling near the Great Synagogue of London (which was built in 1690) in the early 1760s.

       The Great Synagogue of London (1890 engraving)

“This area is at the Eastern end of the City of London, due north of the Tower of London,” David wrote, “and had a large immigrant Jewish population from the mid-1700s.” It appears that Michael had four siblings: Isaac, Nathan, Lyon, and Amelia (or Abinda or Minka) and that his father’s name was likely Judah Levy. “Both Lyon Levy and Judah Levy frequently appear renting properties in the same streets as Michael,” David said, “both during and for long after the period he was in London. In fact, many Levys are found in this area of London and may also be relatives of Michael.” 

Michael Levy became a watch and clock maker in 1768, David learned from an insurance policy he discovered on a property on Hanover Square near the Great Synagogue. His research confirmed what I found: that Michael then entered into a partnership with an Isaac Levy, who likely was his brother. As I wrote, Michael and Isaac had a shop first in Baltimore, and then in Philadelphia. What I hadn’t known was that the brothers at one point lived in Portsmouth, Virginia, where 

Michael obtained his US. citizenship in 1786 and they opened a shop there in 1787. Michael subsequently moved back to Philadelphia and married Rachel Machado Phillips, while Isaac appears to have stayed in Virginia. 

The Philadelphia City Directories from 1802-16 list Michael Levy variously as a “Clock Maker &c.,” “Watch Maker,” “Merchant,” “Watchman, and “Clock and Watch Maker” at eight different addresses on Mulberry Street, North 4th Street, North 5th Street, North Water Street, Vine Street, and Banner’s Court.

Brian Collins found letters Michael Levy wrote from St. Domingo (Haiti) in 1787 and 1788, as well as evidence that Levy “may have returned to London for a lengthy stay in the 1790s.”

He also found documents showing that in 1802 Michael Levy was a founding member of Rodeph Shalom, the Philadelphia German Ashkenazic Jewish Congregation. Brian has not discovered Michael Levy’s exact date of death, but noted that records refer to Rachel Levy as a widow starting in 1818.

He also found documents that indicate that Michael Levy returned to London for a final stay from 1819 “until at least 1825 and perhaps until his death,” whenever that was. Brian could not find any burial records for Michael Levy in Philadelphia, which, he said, “was very unusual for members of both the Mikveh Israel and Rodeph Shalom Congregations” since both congregation’s “extensive burial records survive.”

Rodeph Shalom Congregation, Philadelphia

Brian said that he is continuing his research into Michael Levy’s life and will update me when he finds new information. 

He also found documents that indicate that Michael Levy returned to London for a final stay from 1819 “until at least 1825 and perhaps until his death,” whenever that was. Brian could not find any burial records for Michael Levy in Philadelphia, which, he said, “was very unusual for members of both the Mikveh Israel and Rodeph Shalom Congregations” since both congregation’s “extensive burial records survive.”Brian said that he is continuing his research into Michael Levy’s life and will update me when he finds new information.

LADDERS: In the December issue we looked at what I dubbed the “Great Ladder,” the wooden folding ladder that’s been in Monticello since Thomas Jefferson’s day. I included an image of the ladder in Monticello’s Entrance Hall near the famed Great Clock, as well a vintage photo of the ladder itself.

A few days ago the folks at Monticello who do the curatorial, collection and restoration work posted this current photo of all five ladders they use to do their important work on Instagram.


I was happy to see that the picture was taken in the Entrance Hall and that it included the 18th century Great Clock and (on the left, above) the ladder, which was used to wind the clock back in the day, but these days is only used for display in the house. #preservingmonticello

 

HAPPY TWENTIETH: Twenty years ago today I had all but finished my research on the post-Jefferson history of Monticello, and was well into the writing of Saving Monticello. Free Press at Simon and Schuster published the book in hardcover early in November 2001. I was working with my editor, Chad Conway, on the editing when the momentous events of September 11 happened.

The shock waves from the September 11th attacks were still very much in the public consciousness when Saving Monticello came out in early November. And now, in the 20th anniversary year of the book’s publication, our world has been hit by another cataclysmic event.

The catastrophic 2020-21 pandemic in many ways dwarfs what happened on September 11, 2001. Today, the 9/11 attacks rarely are at the forefront of people’s consciousness. But all of us have been dealing with the pandemic since it began last March. It seems likely that by November 2021 the pandemic will be under control and life for all of us will begin to return to something approaching normal. Here’s hoping.

 

EVENTS: I have two events this month, both of them livestreaming Zoom talks for Context Conversations. The first will be on Saving Monticello on Saturday, January 16, beginning at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. Here’s info on how to register:  http://bit.ly/ContextSavingMonticello

The second is a talk on the history of the American Flag based on my book, Flag: An American Biography, on Friday, January 22, also beginning at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. Here’s the link to sign up: http://bit.ly/ContextFlag

GIFTSWant 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.


Friday, December 4, 2020

December 2020

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVII, Number 12                                                     December 1, 2020

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

 

THE GREAT LADDER: If you have taken the house tour at Monticello, it’s a hundred percent certain that your guide called your attention to the Thomas Jefferson-designed Great Clock near the ceiling just inside the Entrance Hall where the tours begin.

Also known as the Seven-Day Clock, the one-of-a-kind timepiece features two sets of eighteen-pound weights that hang on ropes that descend through holes in the floor to keep it running. The six cannon-ball-like weights on each side also mark the days of the week on the wall as they move up and down. 


The Great Clock most likely came to Monticello in 1794, but was not installed in the Entrance Hall until 1804 when Jefferson was President.

The Great Clock required weekly winding, which was done on Sundays. Jefferson had a wooden folding ladder made in the Monticello joinery to do that job. That ladder (in the present-day photo above and the below take around 1925), as unprepossessing as it is, is worthy of note as it’s one of just a handful of furnishings that has been in the house from Thomas Jefferson’s time to today.

I saw the 1825 photo in an post in November from the Instagram feed (“Preserving Monticello” put together by the Curatorial, Collections, and Restoration teams at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. They regularly post rare, vintage photos of every aspect of the house and grounds, as well as images and videos of the staffers at work doing their fascinating jobs.

The Great Ladder post went on to describe the historic item as “just under 14 feet tall,” a “library-style ladder constructed of two rounded ‘L’ shaped poles with multiple rings between that can be folded in to create one large pole and save on space.”

The available evidence indicates, the post said, is that Jefferson had the ladder  made “based on one he saw in Bergen, Germany in April of 1788.”

The curatorial staff no longer uses the ladder to wind the clock. But it’s on display for all to see (tours of the house are now self-guided), although the staff removed the ladder and stored it upstairs for safekeeping recently when the Great Clock was removed for repairs.

Check out the entire post at https://bit.ly/MontInstagram

 

1905 FAMILY PHOTO: Many thanks to Levy descendant Michael Lewis for sending an image of an evocative photo taken at Monticello in the summer of 1905. In it, Jefferson Levy’s brother, L. Napoleon Levy (wearing the bowler hat), is posing with his four daughters—Agnes, Alma (on the pony), Fanny and Florence—and his nephew Monroe Mayhoff at Monticello in front of the house.

At right is twenty-year-old Willis Henderson, who worked for Jefferson Levy as a cook, waiter and house guide, as well as for his sister Amelia Mayhoff and her family, who often made extended visits to Monticello.  


Willis Henderson was the grandson and namesake of Monticello’s long-time gatekeeper Willis Shelton, who was born into slavery at Monticello around 1835, and continued to work for the Levy family until his death in 1902.  Willis Henderson (1885-1966) and his sister Mary Elizabeth Henderson, who also were born at Monticello, spent time in New York City working for Jefferson Levy and Amelia Levy Mayhoff and her husband Charles. 

Willis Henderson later returned to Monticello, and continued his work on the Mountain after Jefferson Levy sold Monticello to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923. According to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Willis Henderson (in photo below, later in life) “greeted visitors there through the 1960s, including Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.” 

For more info on the Henderson family go to this page on the Monticello website: https://bit.ly/HendersonFamily

EVENTS: Because of the pandemic I have no events scheduled for December. 

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA:  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.

The SM Newsletter on Line: You can read back issues of this newsletter at http://bit.ly/SMNewsLtr

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.