Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I didn't grow up around here. I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, for at least what I call my formative years--grades 3 through 6. We took field trips to Vizcaya and Henry Flagler's home, two of Florida's prominent citizens. My Mom took me to Walt Disney World for vacations. We hung out in the pool and at Pompano Beach. By the time I moved back up to Maryland, (I did spend 1st and 2nd grade in MD, but we were learning readin', writin', and 'rimetic so had no time for history.) I was in jr. high and high school and supposedly we had visited all the historical landmarks around Washington, DC. Consequently, I never visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.

When Steve heard that I'd never made the pilgrimage to Charlottesville, VA, he wanted to take me. He went on and on about how cool Monticello was and that even as a young boy, he was fascinated. In 16 years of marriage, we'd never gone though. Other vacation meccas had always lured us away with their siren songs. Our cross country adventure trip changed all that. We would make Monticello our last stop before our abrupt bump back into work from vacation.

Since they were the last nights we'd spend "on the road", I wanted to stay at a posh hotel. Steve let me choose the Omni hotel, downtown near the pedestrian mall. Posh it was! We availed ourselves of the pool and the hot tub. We walked down the pedestrian mall trying to decide which of the myriad delights we'd eat for dinner. We chose a Mediterranean restaurant, Bashir's Tavern. Yummy! Next morning, we got up early (for us) and headed to Monticello.

Lunch was our first order of business after picking up our tickets. We tried the snack bar at the Visitor's Center. Not bad. As we were eating, we recognized a couple of our fellow visitors, the Stewart's and the Palmer's from our church. We enjoyed visiting with them, and they helped ease the transition from vacationing with strangers (mostly) to arriving back home to friends.

We had some time to poke around the Visitor's Center before our tour time at the house. We watched the introductory film, Thomas Jefferson's World, as an orientation. We were fascinated by the exhibit, Thomas Jefferson and the Boisterous Sea of Liberty. It consisted of a wall of flat LCD screens and interactive stations. It explored Thomas Jefferson's ideas about liberty and their continuing influence today. Basically an era of Jefferson's life was highlighted on the screens which would generate streams of words. On one of the touch screens one only had to touch one of the words to open a text box explaining the importance of that word and defining it. After an allotted amount of time, the era would change, and a new batch of words would flow. We spent at least 3o to 45 minutes in this room alone. We wandered through the architecture exhibit and the exhibit highlighting Jefferson's experiments. At the appointed time, we boarded the bus that took us up to the house proper.

We were escorted through the rooms of Monticello, walking through the doors that opened together using a pulley system, looking at the day and time clock that was so tall a hole had to be cut into the floor to accommodate it, marveling at the beds that were standard bed size but seemed so much smaller due to being built into alcoves designed to conserve heat and space, allowing the rooms to be used for more than sleeping. Jefferson used mirrors to bring light into rooms, had a dumb waiter to bring food up from the cellar kitchens and used pocket doors to save space. I was thoroughly captivated!

After the house tour, we could explore the gardens and outbuildings on our own. We saw the kitchens, the servants (slave) quarters, bathrooms, wine cellars, and took an extremely interesting tour of the gardens. Our guide explained the various plant species that were cultivated from seeds that Thomas Jefferson had hybridized. She told us about Jefferson's experiments in plant growth and how his daughter had to make sure that at least part of the garden was planted with actual usable food. Jefferson was all about the experiments and observations. He wasn't concerned with such trivial matters as eating. Our guide also explained that the Jefferson foundation was trying to buy back more of the original land including the small mountain that Jefferson had intended to plant with grape vines. Why was his land sold off? Jefferson actually died bankrupt.

Jefferson's money troubles were more than just him caring about experiments more than practical matters. They were actually caused because he was a two term president, devoted to his country. In his time, the president was required to pay for all White House Staff salaries and supplies to run the household or have state dinners from what he received as his salary. Needless to say, he didn't make nearly enough to cover expenses. He took what needed from his own Monticello. His incurred debts should have been covered by what land and holdings that he had. Unfortunately for him and really because of him, as president, Jefferson had made the Louisiana Purchase. Suddenly, the United States had all sorts of land instead of being locked into the relatively narrow strip of the east coast. Jefferson's own land value plunged. He effectively bankrupted himself by expanding this country. Amazing devotion!

We left Monticello with our heads and hearts stuffed with facts and impressions of this great man and his home. Our own home was our next stop.

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