Archive for the ‘Hidden Treasures’ Category

Back in the 1920s, when the nascent Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation (my current employer, now called the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., and not to be confused with the Monticello Association or the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association) was trying to scrape together the cash to purchase Monticello from Jefferson Monroe Levy, they found themselves a little short.   So they conceived a cunning plan, of course – they would sell short-term mortgage bonds to willing supporters as a way of a) footing the bill, and b) getting their interested audience invested (literally) in the success of Monticello as a historic site.  Genius, right?*

I was not previously aware of any of this.  Generally, in the context of my job I’m not aware of most things until somebody asks me about it – then I make it my business to become the World’s Foremost Expert on that one little topic.  Which makes for a weird, patchy knowledgebase with lots of random blindspots – I might be able to give you a dazzling dissertation about something, or I might be clueless as a fencepost about it.

Between you and me and the rest of the Internet, the latter was in fact the case when we were contacted a few weeks ago by someone at Ohio State University; they said they were processing an archival collection and had came across what was apparently a mortgage bond for Monticello.  But, any state of cluelessness about something is also a golden shining opportunity to educate oneself.  That’s why we got all these books and papers lying around the library.  So I went digging into the archives and found this.

300 of these things were issued, maturing in 1, 2 or 3 years.  The one above is a class A mortgage bond, issued to Henry Alan Johnston, the secretary of the Foundation.

As for the one Ohio State contacted us about – well, apparently Monticello had some famous friends.  That one was issued to Richard E. Byrd – that’s right, polar-exploring Byrd!  (Not to be confused with big-wig-wearing, diary-writing, lady-chasing William Byrd, or recently-deceased Senator Byrd.)

The Byrd Polar Research Center has been busily digitizing items from Richard Byrd’s papers and artifacts, and have a whiz-bang online digital collection.  You can now see Admiral Byrd’s Monticello mortgage bond right here, in all its glory.

Oh, and about those mortgage bonds – Monticello was all paid off and debt-free by 1940, so if you’ve got one in your attic, sorry, you don’t own a piece of Monticello.  But it does mean that someone you know was very nice to Monticello long ago, and that’s something to be proud of!

*Update: Some more information has come to my attention and, just to clarify, here’s how the bonds worked: the TJMF purchased the bonds.  Every time somebody donated $1,000 to them, the Foundation would cancel one bond and present it to the donor with their name on it.


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I received a little book in the mail just a bit ago, and I think it deserves to be read in front of a fire with a cup of tea.  It is called Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South, by Rollin Osterweis (Louisiana State University Press, 1971) and is full of paragraphs like this:

The Virginia and Carolinian especially were of direct descent from the “rufflers” of Hastings, and Templestowe, of Agincourt, and Rochelle.  They were kindred too in more than pride and sentiment for the same English strain flowed in the veins of both, separating them from the Puritan English of the North, and warmed with the Huguenot flush and the dash of the Hibernian.

Isn’t that delightful?  I mean, it’s complete twaddle, but it’s deliciously twaddlesome.  And Osterweis does in fact seem to rely on primary sources and has respectable footnotes, so I suspect that despite the occasional twaddly passage, the overall quality of the book is alright.

I ordered this book for a certain reason, though, and it wasn’t for the trippy prose.  No, it was because of this passage:

Many officers and soldiers were in Charlottesville in the fall of 1863 recovering from their wounds and their presence in all the stages of convalescence infused a spirit of gaiety to the little town.  Picnics were organized in the bright autumn days to historic Monticello…One day we had a Tournament in the grounds at Monticello.  Some of the Knights, with only one arm to use – holding the reins in their teeth and dashing valiantly at the rings with wooden sticks improvised as spears for the occasion.   – quote from Mrs. D. Giraud Wright, A Southern Girl in ’61

So, romanticism > chivalry > jousting on the lawn at Monticello.  See?  We really can connect pretty much everything to Jefferson.

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That would be a great name for a band, wouldn’t it?  Or a car.  Alas, no, it’s my latest book acquisition, and although I do poke gentle fun at my Gilded Pig, it really is a great little find.  I’ve been scouring the Internets for undiscovered works of genius by Marie Kimball, and came across a book she wrote – more of a pamphlet, really – called Treasured Recipes of the Old South (1941).  There were plenty of copies to be had on used booksellers’ websites, but I wasn’t content with just any old copy.  No!  I bought a specially-bound presentation copy, produced for the author herself!  And inside all the fancy leather cover with its gold-leaf trim and marbled endpapers is a 20-page recipe booklet, published by the Morrill Ham Company, with wall-to-wall Morrill Ham recipes.  Ham cornucopias, anyone?

This little book is certainly a study in contrasts.  On the one hand, we have nightmare-inducing color pictures of food, which look like they’re straight out of the Gallery of Regrettable Food; on the other we have marbled endpapers, gilding, and a personal letter from the president of the Morrill Ham Company to Marie Kimball in the front of the book, declaiming that he was “sure that ‘Treasured Recipes of the Old South’ will continue for many years to shine as one of the brightest stars in the firmament of gastronomy!”

It would be a mean person indeed who would mock such earnestness.  Plus, it’s not just any old corporate-sponsored recipe booklet with scary pictures; it’s a corporate-sponsored recipe booklet with scary pictures, by Marie Kimball! And so we will treasure our new Gilded Pig, in all its amusing contrasts.

Photogallery of Treasured Recipes of the Old South, A.K.A. “The Gilded Pig”

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Some weeks ago a book was returned to us, and its back cover caught my eye.  As it happens, the book itself, as well as its author, are well worth examination, even though they seem not to be as well known as they should be.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, Marie Goebel Kimball was Monticello’s first curator, from 1944 until her death in 1955.  She did extensive research in Jefferson’s papers, and wrote what was, until 2005, the only published work on Jefferson and food.  According to our files, it was actually Marie’s discovery of Jefferson’s architectural drawings, long forgotten, that her famous husband Fiske first wrote about in 1914 in Architectural Quarterly and subsequently became the Resident Expert on.

Many people are familiar with Dumas Malone’s magisterial 6-volume biography of Jefferson; Marie also wrote a multi-volume examination of Jefferson, published between 1943 and 1950: three volumes, covering Jefferson’s life through 1789, and the makings of a fourth volume now reside amongst Marie’s papers at the University of Virginia.  Malone’s work is invaluable, but Kimball’s biography has its own rewards for readers.  Kimball’s research is assiduously documented, for one thing.  The modern reader may pause at her constant references to century-old editions of Jefferson’s papers, but it must be remembered that she worked in the days before even the first volume of the current Princeton series was published.  Her writing style is a pleasing combination of elegance and directness.  And she displays what I can only feebly describe as a “way of explaining things.”  For example, in response to prior characterizations of Thomas Jefferson’s father as an ignorant backwoodsman who married above himself and promptly dragged his well-born bride off to set up house in a lean-to in the middle of nowhere:

Jefferson’s biographers have hitherto quite overlooked the fact that the family was one of substance and position in the seventeenth century, indeed, that they had intermarried with the Randolphs at an early period.  They have likewise failed to observe that the Randolphs and other great Virginia families, as well as the Jeffersons, participated in a gradual immigration upstream and westward from the Tidewater in search of virgin soil.  It was a normal procedure for the rich Virginia planter to move from his exhausted fields to his more fertile and more distant lands.  Thus Isham Randolph, son of William of Turkey Island and maternal grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, went from the Tidewater to Dungeness, his plantation some 35 miles above the falls of the James River.  His daughter Jane, who married Peter Jefferson, settled with her husband about the same number of miles to the west on the Rivanna, a tributary of the James.  These families necessarily at first lived in small outbuildings, or outchambers, as Jefferson was later to call them, until the great house could be built.  Even Jefferson did this, in 1772, when he brought his young wife to Monticello, the new house on his paternal acres.

Kimball also gives certain topics much more attentive treatment than other Jefferson scholars.  For example, she devotes an entire chapter, at the very beginning of the first volume of her biography of Jefferson, to his antecedents.  She also spends a whole chapter – some twenty pages – discussing Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson.  And in general, her treatment of Jefferson gives a sense of emotional depth without straying into overly romantic conjecture.

I’ve had conversations with several different people in the past few months, expressing our mutual admiration for Marie Kimball’s work, along with our puzzlement that she seems not to be more well-known.  Thus I present to you: Marie Kimball.  She was cool.  You should read her stuff.  Back Cover of Jefferson, the Road to Glory, 1743-1776

And what about the book cover I mentioned above?  Well, here it is: the back cover of the first volume of Marie Kimball’s biography of Jefferson, published in 1943, is an advertisement for war bonds.

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So, I just joined Goodreads, a large online community for readers, and lo and behold, there is a Thomas Jefferson book discussion group and forum, called The Monticello Cabinet!  It started this past January, and with 9 members, they are presently reading The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson.

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Well, I’ve missed our President’s actual inauguration by several days, but I’d like to belatedly commemorate the occasion by offering an intriguing historical tidbit about – yes! – Jefferson’s first inauguration.

The point I’d like to address (ha ha, pun alert) may seem a bit ridiculously minor to most, as indeed it did to me before I found out otherwise. But apparently the question of whether Jefferson rode a horse or walked to his inauguration has been a point of much contention over the years. The (perceived) significance of this detail lies in its potential symbolism – “republican simplicity” versus non-republican ostentation.

Not to give away the ending, but according to the preponderance of available evidence, Jefferson walked from Conrad and McMunn’s boardinghouse, where he was staying, to the Capitol for his inaugural ceremony. The story that he actually rode a horse was apparently started by a British traveler who wrote later of his observance of this historic event. The part about the horse was repeated by Henry Randall (an early Jefferson biographer) and Sarah Randolph (Jefferson’s great-granddaughter) in her Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson.

To make a long blog entry shorter, I’ll just say that there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to believe that Jefferson rode a horse to his first inauguration. There is a pretty sharp-tongued and thorough drubbing of the horse story in the February 1888 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine (which you can all read in the comfort of your homes thanks to the good offices of Cornell University – see page 473).

Also, a special random inaugural-themed bonus – much of course has been made over the various books that Presidents and other politicians use or don’t use to be sworn in with. Here’s a handy list, should you find yourself needing it, of what every president since Washington has been sworn in with, compiled by people at the Office of the Curator at the Capitol.

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Want to see a moving “expression of the American mind”?  Check out the U.S. Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud.  Drag the slider all the way to the left and then slowly drag it to the right to see an interesting portrayal of what was on the collective national mind over the years.  Watch the word “war” grow bigger and smaller…watch the word “Mexico” appear for the first time…”emancipation”…”Cuba”…”corporations”…”labor”…”Germans”…watch the word “unemployment” appear and grow larger and then smaller over the 1930’s…

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