What An Absolutely Awesome Day!!!

Trip Start Apr 05, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Virginia
Thursday, July 18, 2013

I knew it was going to be a long day, so I was up and at 'em early.  Out the door by 8:00 since it was a 25 minute drive to Jefferson's home, Monticello.  (Last two syllables pronounced like the musical instrument rather than the town just outside Champaign, IL.)  Pretty drive, especially the last couple of miles up the mountain.  I actually felt the anxious anticipation of seeing this home.  I wanted to be in the first tour group...website said it opened at 8:30.  That's when they start selling tickets.  9:00 is the first tour.  I was on the second.  And I also wanted to beat the crowds.  And I was the 10th car in the parking lot.  By the time I left two hours later, there were hundreds of cars and many busses as well.  I love it when a plan comes together.  One more reason.   It was 98 degrees here today.  Go early and beat the heat.  It all worked out.  

Where do I begin to tell you about a Founding Father who was one of my childhood heroes?  I have always been a Jefferson fan.  The man was simply amazing.  Now that word is thrown around pretty casually by many today, but it truly fit this man.  He was a lawyer, farmer, politician, patriot, inventor, scholar, and much, much more.  His three main accomplishments were the writing of the Declaration of Independence (when he was 33), the Virginia Statutes of Religious Freedom (establishing the separation of church and state), and being Founder of the University of Virginia.  What about being President?   Not his favorite job!  He hated politics.  He was, of course, our third President after Washington and Adams.  And began a string of three straight Virginians in the White House.  

We were given an excellent tour (well worth the $24 admission price) by a wonderful guide.  She loved her subject and told stories well.  Now that's an art.  Jefferson's house looks like a museum when you walk in the door.  He's got maps of the world, buffalo horns from Lewis and Clark (remember, he sent them on their expedition), a huge clock/calendar that he invented, and on and on.  His library was gigantic, and he even sold 6,000 volumes to start the Library of Congress after it was burned in the War of 1812.  He read and spoke seven different languages.  He inherited the land from his father and leveled a mountain top that he loved since his youth (with the help of some 100 slaves) to build Monticello.  The house and grounds are spectacular.  We were even treated by a Fife and Drum Corps playing on the lawn today.  Very cool.  The house is just filled with his many inventions.  Like the first copy machine...say what?  One pen connected to another so when he wrote, a copy was automatically made of his writing.  Ingenious!  They have almost all of the original items because of the owner after Jefferson who kept everything exactly as he had it.  Very lucky!

The tour took an hour.  Well worth it, as I say.  Then we were free to roam the grounds.  While many took the garden tour, I walked the roughly quarter mile to the Monticello Graveyard.  That's a story in and of itself.   Jefferson and a young friend loved the spot so much they decided they both wanted to be buried on that spot.  Jefferson buried his friend their first, and then on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson died and was buried there.  The cool thing was that I got to the cemetery a full ten minutes before anyone else.  Do you know what it's like to spend ten minutes conversing with one of your childhood heroes?  Best ten minutes of the trip.  

Then it was back to the Visitor's Center for a film and walk through the museum.  Very well done.

It was just past 11:00 am when I headed for my next Presidential gravesite.  It was only 30 miles away, but it was all two-lane.  Winding, up and down, but beautiful.  I was heading to the little town of Orange, Virginia to the home and gravesite of the man who followed Jefferson to the Presidency, James Madison.  I stopped at the local Madison Museum and you would have thought I made the lady's week!  For $5 I got a great guided tour by the lady through the museum which had many Madison artifacts, as well as many of his possibly more famous wife, Dolly Madison.  She even explained   where the County and City of Orange got its name...not from the fruit, but from the Royal House of Netherlands.  Great little local museum.  

Then I headed out to Madison's home.  He called it Montpelier (Mount of the Pilgrims).  Madison was also a "gentleman farmer," like Jefferson.  He too owned slaves.  He inherited the land from his father.  

Madison is best known as the principal architect of the Constitution.  Often called the "Father of the Constitution."  He gave us the three branches - legislative, executive and judicial.  He gave us the bi-cameral (two houses) legislature.   He was short, only 5'6", but probably one of the smartest Presidents we've ever had.  He attended Princeton University (Yea Laura!!) He and Jefferson were friends and visited each other often.  They had ice on the farm 10 months out of the year due to storage far below ground.  So they loved to make ice cream.  Dolly's favorite flavors?  Yep, you guessed it...Oyster first and Parmesan Cheese second!  Yum!!  Unfortunately upon Madison's death (the last of the Founding Father's to die at 85 in 1836) the farm was left to a gambling, alcoholic son who eventually had to sell it.  It seems that many of the early Founding Fathers ended up penniless.  A far cry from our Presidents today, huh?  A good, if not a bit long tour.  And the guide didn't seem to put much emphasis on what I wanted to see most, the grave site.  Interesting that neither he nor Dolly had a grave marker until much later.  They just didn't believe in them.   

I walked the roughly 1/3 mile down a hill to the Madison Family Cemetery.   Once again I found myself alone in the cemetery.  A pleasant experience, if not as enthralling as being alone with Jefferson.  

I was running a little late, (2:00 pm) but was pretty sure I could make it to Richmond in about an hour and I knew the cemetery I was visiting was open until 5:00.  I was fine.  Well, until I listened to Jill, my Garmin.  She took me on a wild back road ride which included 2.5 miles of gravel road over Chicken Mountain!!!  Say what???    I finally got to "the hard road" and still had an hour to go to Richmond.     

After passing places like Gum Springs and Goochland, I made it to Richmond and a cemetery not far form Virginia Commonwealth University, called Hollywood Cemetery.  Interesting name, but named for the wood of the holly trees dotting the area as opposed to the place in California that was not even thought of at the time.       

Hollywood Cemetery is the "motherlode" for American Presidents.  It has the gravesite of the third President in a row from Virginia, James Monroe (our 5th President).  It's in an area in the cemetery called President's row because the grave of John Tyler is also there.

 James Monroe was the hand-picked successor to President James Madison.  They two had been friends for years.   The third Virginian in a row to occupy the White House (1817-1825).  Monroe was too young to be called a Founding Father, maybe more of a Founding Son, but did fight in the Revolution.  Monroe was probably best known for what was called The Monroe Doctrine.  It in essence said, there will be no more intervention by old world powers in North America.  It was actually used by JFK during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.  Monroe too died on July 4...1831.  His grave is interesting.  You might think he is in jail.  The grave is surrounded by bars.  It almost looks like a bird cage.  

And then there is the grave of John Tyler.  Very nice.  Tyler was the 10th President of the US (1841-45), but he is probably best know as the running mate of William Henry Harrison...well, at least they had the best campaign slogan.  Remember it?  Yea, "Tippecoanoe and Tyler Too!"   It refers to Harrison being the hero at the Battle of Tippecanoe and of course, John Tyler too.  He was the first President to succeed to an office due to the death of a President.  He was a Virginian, and an unabashed Confederate before and during the Civil War.  He died during the Civil War and was not officially recognized in Washington due to his Confederate leanings, but that didn't stop the Confederacy from doing so.  That's one of the reasons he's buried here in Hollywood Cemetery.  It's also known as "The Cemetery of the Confederacy."  In fact, they have an entire section devoted to Confederate Officers.       

And speaking of Confederates, my final President of the day is an interesting one.  He was President of the Confederate States of America.  You know, Jefferson Davis.  What an interesting character and a very beautiful gravesite, complete with several Confederate flags.  Davis was actually an American statesman before the Civil War.  He was a US Senator and Secretary of War (Defense) under Franklin Pierce.  Interesting after he was captured, he was charged with treason, but set free after two years.  Interestingly, in later years he became President of the Carolina Life Insurance Company!  He died in 1889.  (This one's for you Grandma Lowrey!)  

I had a bite to eat at a local pizza and sub shop and headed north.  Well, Jill sent me back toward Charlottesville.   We argued.  She almost found herself on I-65!  Then I pulled over and found I had entered the wrong address....Jill, of course, blamed me!  Geez!!!

Eventually made it up to Woodbridge, VA.  Holiday Inn Express.  Sat at a bar blogging and having a beer.  Now that's what I call the perfect ending to a perfect day!!!

Tomorrow, my favorite President....Washington's Mount Vernon, plus Arlington (two Presidents there) and Woodrow Wilson's grave!  Hope tomorrow is as good as today!

Stay safe my friends!


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