Monday, May 16, 2011
Politics, Architecture, Horticulture...oh my!
Orientation began today. I joined about 15 other interns for a day of immersion at Monticello. We began the day by learning a little bit about the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and its mission statement. One thing I found interesting is that the Foundation is targeting a global audience to "engage in a dialogue with Jefferson's ideas", rather than just reaching out to Americans who wish to learn more about their country's foundation. After our introduction, we were set free to experience Monticello as a visitor would. We took the standard house tour - which takes you through the rooms on the first floor of the house. These rooms included the entryway, the schoolroom utilized by Jefferson's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Jefferson's personal study and bedroom, the show-case parlor, as well as two rooms used for entertainment. The tour guide supplemented our viewing with amusing anecdotes about Jefferson and his many guests. What really stands out in the house is the number of innovations Jefferson created to make life more comfortable. These included a calendar clock and dumbwaiters in the fireplace to transport wine from the basement.
A word of advice to visitors: Ask the tour guide questions! They have a whole spiel rehearsed that they run through every time, but it makes the tour more interesting when someone is asking more in-depth questions. The guides have a wealth of knowledge to draw on and can usually answer your questions.
After our free exploring time, we met back up and had another little lecture reviewing some basic facts about Jefferson's life. Of course, we all know that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, was the third President of the United States and built a beautiful and innovative home that still attracts 350,000 visitors a year, but today I learned a few interesting facts that seem little known (at least to me). So I think it is time for some Jefferson trivia!
1. Monticello is the only home in America listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (due to its stunning architecture)
2. Monticello is the only home featured on a piece of American currency (the nickel)3. Jefferson's grave site is located next to Monticello, but it is owned by a separate organization who decides who is a legitimate descendant of Thomas Jefferson and is therefore eligible to be buried on the site
4. Jefferson's grave indicates that he was born on April 2 1743, but he was actually born on April 13, 1743. The discrepancy is due to a switch from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar during Jefferson's lifetime.
5. Jefferson tried to amend the Constitution to guarantee a right to a public higher education
6. Jefferson gathered seeds from all over the world and put a lot of effort into a his 1,000 foot garden and many other horticultural endeavors
Of course, not everything about Jefferson's legacy is positive. One thing that stood out to me is the way the Foundation handles controversial topics like Thomas Jefferson's stance on race and his alleged relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. The Foundation acknowledges that Jefferson's writings indicate that Africans were an inferior race, common to the ideology of the time, but they try to ameliorate this acknowledgment by pointing out that Jefferson also believed that slavery was wrong and should one day be abolished. According to a few people who I met today, the tour guides avoided the subject of Sally Hemings altogether when they took the tour many years ago. But ever since DNA evidence has emerged, it is the official position of the Foundation that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Heming's children, if not all. Of course there are still those who refuse to accept the available evidence, which is not 100% fool-proof.
That's all for now! I still have another 4 days of orientation; then I begin my work at the Library!