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Our Time at Monticello (part 1)

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Monticello

The fog had started rolling in as we wound through the woods on the way to Monticello and had thickened by the time we were standing outside the House itself. It obscured the view, swallowing up all but the nearest trees. We stood on the side of the House away from the waning crowds, and, for a few moments, it was as quiet as if we were the only ones in the world. As if we had traveled back in time. As if, at any moment, we would hear approaching hoof beats and see Thomas Jefferson emerging through the white-gray veil.

Monticello

Even in his day, visitors to the House would not have been unusual. In fact, Monticello had already become a tourist attraction during the former president’s lifetime [audio].

People touring the U.S. or who wanted to learn more about Jefferson stopped at his Charlottesville, Virginia home frequently enough that they strained the resources of both the residence and the residents.

Monticello

Today, people continue to stop there for many of the same reasons as those early admirers – although a visit no longer comes with free wine or overnight lodging.

The House and plantation buildings continue to perch atop their hill (a.k.a. the “mountaintop”) with orchards, vineyards, and gardens stretching out across the landscape.

Nearly 100 years ago, a foundation was set up to maintain the House and the grounds, continue research, and manage the steady flow of visitors. In keeping with Jefferson’s ardor for order, the whole place still runs like clockwork.

Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Places you can visit at Monticello:

Monticello visitor center

1. Visitors Center

The entry point for contemporary visitors is a complex of buildings at the bottom of the hill. The Rubenstein Visitor Center, Smith Education Center, Milstein Theater, Smith Gallery, gift shop, and cafe all form kind of a square around a central courtyard.

Visitor center exhibits take a variety of forms: models of Monticello, a projection of key Jeffersonian ideas, hands-on activities for kids, explanations of Monticello’s architecture, and interactive LCD screens about liberty.

Monticello

At the far end of the square, there’s a shuttle stop with a covered waiting area. Shuttles arrive every 5-10 minutes to take you to the mountaintop, parking you directly in front of the East Walk to the House. You can also walk the half mile (25 minutes) to the top. Either way, make sure you have your ticket first.

If you haven’t already purchased and printed out your pass, you pick it up at the Dominion Welcome Pavilion on your way in from the parking lot.

Monticello house

2. The House

When the shuttle dropped us off for our House Tour, there were still crowds of people around the East Portico, waiting for their tour time.

You need a timed ticket to go inside Monticello.

Monticello

While we waited for our tour, we saw how the guides work in sync to keep groups staggered just the right distance apart. Once a tour headed inside, the next one began right there on the front-porch-like portico, while the following one was gathered off to the side.

We saw two different guides’ introductions. They each had their own style but were very knowledgeable and passionate about the place and its history.

The main house tour is wheelchair accessible, but you need to be in a chair that meets a certain size requirement. If not, you can borrow one of theirs. Even though some of the spaces are tight, the guides know exactly how to navigate through and are very helpful, making sure everyone on the tour is taken care of.

Monticello bookshelf

A few objects that stood out:

  • The Great Clock has faces inside and outside and a system of balancing weights that also show the day of the week. The days were listed down the wall and, due to a miscalculation, had to extend down through the floor into the cellar. It is still wound weekly [video].
  • Books – Jefferson’s entire collection went to help re-establish the Library of Congress after it was burned down during the War of 1812. The original volumes are still in D.C. on exhibit at the Library of Congress (Southwest Pavilion, 2nd Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building). So Monticello curators have stocked the Book Room’s shelves with other copies of the titles he owned that were published around the same time.
  • Jefferson’s bed was wedged into an alcove between two of his private rooms, as a space saving measure, and he would sleep sitting up. (I’m not convninced it actually saved space, but Jefferson was really into putting beds into alcoves.)
  • Polygraph – clever writing implement used to make copies.
  • Wine dumb waiter – contraption to bring bottles straight up from the wine cellar into the dining room (and the fixture in the House I may be most jealous of).

Monticello
To visit the second and third floors, you would need to purchase a Behind the Scenes Tour (or Upper Floors Tour) ticket ahead of time and be able to navigate a steep staircase.

Monticello

3. The Plantation Community and Grounds

Before or after your tour, you can check out the self-guided areas of the mountaintop.

Monticello

Walk through either the North or South Cellar Passage to go under the House. You can see food preparation and storage areas and wander into the wine cellar to find where the dumb waiter lands.

Monticello wine cellar

I should note that present-day Monticello does not shy away from – but certainly doesn’t condone – the fact that many of Jefferson’s workers were enslaved people. The introductory film even addresses the paradox that such an advocate for freedom also denied it to people on his own estate.

Monticello

In recent years, Monticello has moved to provide more information about the entire community who lived there along with Jefferson, highlighting the skills of the craftspeople, adding exhibits about enslaved individuals, and creating a Slavery at Monticello app. There’s also a House Tour option that focuses on the Hemings family, and all Day Passes include the option of an additional Slavery at Monticello tour.

Monticello kitchen

We did not venture into the grayness to find Mulberry Row or get off the shuttle at the Monticello Graveyard stop that already-dark evening, opting instead to head back to the warmth of the visitors center.

Monticello tree

As much as we enjoyed the romance of our fog-cloaked winter visit, condensation droplets hanging on bare branches like tiny glass ornaments, we hope to visit again on a clearer day, when leaves are back on the trees, and we have the luxury of a little more time.

Monticello

 




More info

  • Monticello is open 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day)
  • Parking is free.
  • Monticello is a short drive from Charlottesville, and there are a variety of lodging options there, incuding the Omni where we stayed and the Oakhurst Inn near UVA.
  • Your tour/day pass is your admission ticket. Adult passes start at $20.
  • Monticello is not a National Park. The House and 2500 acres (of the original 5000) are owned and maintained by a non-profit organization without federal or state funding.

Photos

No photos are allowed inside the house, due to certain items being on loan from other institutions or individuals.

You can also get a glimpse of what the tour is like and a close-up of some of Monticello’s objects and features in videos by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. There are also 360 views of rooms on the first floor, as well as an image gallery on Monticello.org.

Planning

If your schedule allows it, I’d recommend planning on at least half a day there. Visit Charlottesville suggested visiting Monticello in the morning, having lunch at Michie Tavern, and then visit another historical site (like Ash-Lawn Highland) in the afternoon.

I’ll have more itinerary recommendations for you next week, plus tips for picking your tour and planning your time.

Monticello


We were guests of Monticello.

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San Xavier del Bac: Before and After

Posted by on Dec 19, 2016 in Travel | 10 comments

The last time – no, the time before last – we visited San Xavier del Bac near Tucson, one of the towers was shrouded in scaffolding while restoration work was done on the 200-year-old mission.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson

When we visited just this past week, at the end of a quick trip to Tucson, the restored tower had been unveiled, standing in contrast to its mate that has yet to undergo that process.

San Xavier del Bac, Tucson

On the whole, the Mission has held up remarkably well, considering it welcomes 200,000 visitors every year and is still home to an active congregation.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson candles
San Xavier del Bac, Tucson
Weekly masses are open to anyone, and we attended a crowded Easter Sunday service there one year. I love that it’s not just an empty historical building but the center of a vibrant community.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson

San Xavier del Bac, Tucson at sunset

“The Mission was created to serve the needs of the local community here, the village of Wa:k (San Xavier District) on the Tohono O’odham reservation, as it still does today.”

Statement on Mission usage

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson




Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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Exploring Salem: Day Two

Posted by on Oct 31, 2016 in Travel | 2 comments

[Part Two of Jessica Tennant sharing her adventures in Salem, Massachusetts.]

Hollyhocks

We woke up on our second day in Salem to our Red Riding Hood basket breakfast, and wisely decided to use the free street parking on Sunday so that we didn’t have to walk through the sketchy area of Salem. We parked near a park central to the village of Salem, where we could walk around the town and the wharf area and not worry.

Salem Witch Musuem

Salem Witch Museum

We started the day’s adventures with the Salem Witch Museum, since tickets were included in our stay at The Coach House Inn.

The experience started in a darkened hall of sorts where the story of the witch trials and the hysteria that resulted in the execution of 20 people (and more who died in prison) was told through narration and lit-up dioramas with nearly life-size models of people – and one slightly disturbing dog who looked to be taxidermied, accompanying a sculpted John Proctor. There was also a creepy, lit-up, gargoyle-like devil figure looming over us, which seemed a little over the top for a historical museum.

Salem

The presentation covered the origins of the hysteria, the trials and the craziness that was conducted in the courtroom, prison conditions, and hangings. It was a bit dramatic but interesting and informative, and seemed to catch the attention of even the youngest audience members.

This was followed by a guided tour of the rest of the museum which explored what the word “witch” means today, witches in folklore and movies, herbal remedies, a timeline of witch trials and mass hysteria, Wicca and common misconceptions surrounding it, and THE BEST TIMELINE EVER of how scapegoating has caused tragedies and marks on our history throughout the ages, including Japanese Internment and the Red Scare.

It was a comprehensive look at how mob mentality and hysteria can cause horrific events, starting with witch trials through modern day.

Salem, Massachusetts - Count Orlok's

Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery

We followed up that somewhat somber historical museum with what, in my mind, is a hidden treasure of Salem…Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery.

I hate haunted houses (especially when things jump out at you. I ended up at one with friends years ago and just ran around every corner yelling “BOO!” so that I could, hopefully, startle the actors before they scared me.), and Count Orlock’s Nightmare Gallery is NOT like that. It’s a carefully curated collection of models and life masks from various horror movies dating back to the 1920s, including Nosferatu, The Fly, Salem’s Lot, Hellraiser, Aliens, and more.

They even had a model (somewhat) showing the makeup my own father designed from Hocus Pocus, which was neat to see (although he wasn’t credited in the display and it wasn’t quite right). What I loved (that some may not) was that you had to read the display notes to get the background behind each piece, and so you basically read and observed your way through the creepy museum. My husband is a huge fan of classic horror movies, and I am a huge fan of special effects makeup artist work. It was an off-the-beaten-path but worthwhile attraction.

Salem, Massachusetts - Witch House

Heritage Trail Houses

We walked along the red-lined Heritage Trail, and came to the Witch House, which was a house that was in Salem at the time of the trials and was a judge’s home. “Judge House” didn’t have quite the same ring to it, so they named it Witch House (makes sense). We skipped out on the house tour, though, because we were planning to go to The House of the Seven Gables, and how many house tours/museum tours can you really do in one day, especially when they look eerily similar?

The House of the Seven Gables tour was fantastic, and cheaper once I found out that they had a teacher discount. Bryce was horrified that I introduced my teacher status by asking if I had time to pee before the tour started, and when told no, I said, “That’s okay, I’m a teacher, I can hold it pretty much forever.” BUT, unadvertised teacher discount for the win!

Salem house of seven gables

The tour was of the house, which inspired the Nathaniel Hawthorne gothic romance The House of the Seven Gables. He didn’t live there, though…his cousin did. And, when he visited, the house didn’t actually have seven gables.

It was neat to see evolution of the house: the original structure and then the parts that were added when the first owner, Captain John Turner, became super wealthy from his textiles trades with China…but then how several gables were taken down to make it more in fashion for the times.

It was later taken over by a very wealthy woman, Caroline Emmerton, who was devoted to returning it to the seven-gabled state it was in when tales told by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin Susannah inspired his novel. Mrs. Emmerton apparently took liberties with the house too, constructing a secret room above a fireplace that aligns with the novel but was never a part of the original house. Pretty cool, if you enjoy old architecture and historical homes and literary connections. The gardens were gorgeous, too.

Salem, Massachusetts - Marblehead lighthouse

Marblehead

After lunch at Flying Saucer Pizza (again), we left Salem and drove to nearby Marblehead, a neat historic harbor town in its own right, but a great place for an afternoon walk to admire fancypants houses along the seashore on the island connected to the mainland via sea wall causeway called The Neck.

While we were only there for the walking, we found a steel frame lighthouse on the rocky northern tip on the Atlantic, houses with more hollyhocks than I’d ever seen in one place, grand mansions with private beaches, and a beautiful, secret-feeling public park nestled between two mansions called Castle Rock.

Salem, Massachusetts - Marblehead hollyhocks

Castle Rock was absolutely beautiful — a giant rock formation overlooking the ocean with a rocky beach to the left where people fished, and a cobbled beach to the right that sounded like a rain stick on crack as the waves came in and out.

It was gorgeous, worth the 10 minute drive, and fun to live vicariously by walking through the neighborhoods of the fancy.

Salem, Massachusetts shore

Stopping in Salem

I am so happy that we found a new (to us) New England stopping point between our home and Maine. Salem was a great combination of the historical, the spooky, the literary, and natural beauty. I would love to come back for a repeat visit…maybe if I’m brave enough in October, when Salem is at its spooky, kooky best. I have to say it was pretty amazing in July, too.


Photos –
1, 3, 5-9: Jessica Tennant.

2: Al Peabody, on Flickr, color corrected. CCL.
4: Robert Linsdell on Flickr, cropped and color corrected. CCL.

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