Manus Hand

Visiting Thomas Jefferson's Grave

Here I am on September 7, 1991 at Thomas Jefferson's grave on his estate at Monticello, outside Charlottesville, Virginia. I'm standing outside the fenced family cemetery within which a stone monument rises to mark our third president's final resting place. My wife and I, accompanied by her parents, drove to Jefferson's estate from my in-law's Northern Virginia home, and it was when we reached Monticello that I (having grown up out in the American West) first learned how and why the Blue Ridge mountains were named. Monticello sits high atop a hill, and from the house on the summit, you can see forever, across valleys in all directions, to the tops of a great many other densely forested hills, and the humid air colors even the nearest mountains a distinctive tinge of blue; it is quite a beautiful sight indeed. One of the nearest companion mountains is topped by President James Monroe's estate home, Ash Lawn-Highland (which we visited after touring Monticello).

Monticello lives up to its billing as an architectural, mechanical, and design spectacle. On the day of our visit the house was unfortunately surrounded on all sides by 20th century scaffolding to assist in maintenance and restoration work, and workers were busy everywhere. Indeed, I took the opportunity to have myself photographed outside the mansion at a patch of grave-shaped earth which was under repair, and the result was the title picture for my eccentric hobby. In it, I'm pointing to the mound and consulting a visitor's brochure, asking "Is this one??"

Despite the ongoing work on the exterior, the interior of the house was beautiful as ever, although the reconstruction did keep the tour from reaching the upper floor of the residence (actually, I have heard that this floor has remained closed to the public ever since this particular restoration). The guided tour went through Jefferson's living quarters, showing such famous sights as his seven-day clock (a two-story-high chronometer which tells not only the time but the day of the week), his busts of Washington, Lafayette, and Napoleon, his duplicating writing table, the first-ever dumb-waiter and swivel chair, and many of his other ingenious inventions.

We broke away from the tour group and found ourselves exploring the dank wine cellars housed in the open carriage tunnel beneath the home. Our wanderings surprised a few of the gardeners, who now use the stables and wineries as toolsheds -- apparently we left the beaten path more than the usual tourists (the sights were definitely worth seeing, so I would certainly recommend a little exploration to you).

We rejoined the tour as it went through Jefferson's staple gardens, which are tended today by faithful re-enactors, and then, continuing down the the dirt path which skirts the gardens and leads behind the house, we soon reached the family cemetery. The president's monument is situated at the head of the group of gravestones, immediately inside the gate at the center of a short edge of the rectangular cemetery. It was rather crowded at the site, and we had to wait our turn to take the photograph you see above. Monticello is certainly worth visiting, even if for no other reason than to actually read on his gravestone the famous epitaph Jefferson wrote for himself, remarkable for his decision not even to mention the fact that he was President of the United States.

...White House Biography of President Jefferson...
...Rayner's 1834 Biography Life of Thomas Jefferson (complete)...
...Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government...
...The American Revolution's Biography of Jefferson...
...Works of Thomas Jefferson, including his Autobiography...
...Thomas Jefferson at his alma mater, William and Mary College...
...Jefferson's Religious Thoughts (via The Secular Web)...
...Jefferson's Religious Writings (selected by The Secular Web)...
...The Thomas Jefferson Memorial...
...The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial...
...Hanover College's page on President Jefferson...
...Search for Rare Books on President Jefferson...