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Magnificent Monticello 

(Reprint from News: July 16, 2001)

July 16, 2001

 

The other major stop that day was at Monticello, the former home of our third president, Thomas Jefferson.  I had read a fair bit about Jefferson and even visited nearby Charlottesville once, but had never been to Monticello (pronounced "monta-chello").   How could Jefferson afford to build this elaborate mansion on a hilltop?  He made his money the old-fashioned way... he inherited it from his Dad.

 

I pulled into the Monticello parking lot late in the afternoon and paid my entrance fee in the well-organized admissions building, then hopped on a shuttle bus, which took me up to the hilltop.  After our small group disembarked, a guide here give us a 20-minute tour inside Monticello.  The only thing disappointing about the mansion was that I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the interior, so I can't show you what it looks like inside, but it's filled with all sorts of Jeffersonian inventions and innovations.  After the tour, we were free to wander around the grounds for as long as we liked... or I guess I could've even taken another house tour, which I thought about doing.   Monticello is a fascinating place, and after walking through it, I felt for the first time like I really understood Jefferson.  

 

After the tour, I popped into the gift shop, which wasn't nearly as tacky as I'd feared.  My Dad is a big fan of Thomas Jefferson, so I wandered around the shop for 20 minutes debating whether to get him the Thomas Jefferson golf balls, a Lewis and Clark t-shirt, or a Jefferson refrigerator magnet.  I figured that you can lose golf balls -- or at least, I can -- so I got a magnet for my Dad and the t-shirt for myself.  Interestingly enough, I didn't see anything in the gift shop with Sally Hemings' name on it, not even a key chain.  

 

Jefferson's unbounded sense of curiosity and eclectic interests have always intrigued me.  Along with serving as President, he was the author of the Declaration of Independence at the ripe age of 33 and founded the University of Virginia, which is in nearby Charlottesville, the construction of which he often observed with a telescope from his porch at Monticello.  

 

In one of the most amazing coincidences of American history, two of America's Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both died on July 4,1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.  These two men not only were close friends but they were also the ones most responsible for the creation of the Declaration of Independence -- Adams had the concept and Jefferson put it into writing.  Adams, in Massachusetts, died in the late afternoon of that day and his last words were, "Thomas Jefferson survives," not realizing that Jefferson, in Virginia, had passed away a few hours earlier.

 

Even though I had heard wonderful things about Monticello and had high expectations, I was still really impressed.  Yep, Thomas Jefferson was a pretty amazing guy (even more amazing than John-Boy Walton), and Monticello is a place that I'd heartily recommend seeing to anyone visiting Virginia. 

 

       

Above left:  Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third President of the United States.

Above center:  Here's our tour group about to go inside Monticello.  Jefferson was a planter -- first tobacco, then wheat and other crops -- and started building Monticello in 1768.  He finished it about 40 years later -- yep, a typical house remodeling job...

Above right:  Monticello's modest back yard. 

       

Above left:  Looks like the back of a nickel, doesn't it?  

Above center:  Jefferson planted numerous crops and grew extensive gardens on the grounds, which are still maintained.

Above right:  Thomas Jefferson's grave. 

 

 

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