Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jefferson's Monticello

Touring Jefferson’s Monticello a Delight
President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, in Charlottesville, Va. is one of the most visited homes in the United States.

Markedly changed from when I visited in the early ’60s, Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, now has a formal visitor’s center. A movie at the center notes many of our third president’s ideas are still used to motivate people, and President Barack Obama is shown citing him. Interactive television displays recount his history, one showing how he kept modifying the structure of the house, an ongoing project that continued until his death. Jefferson spent lavishly and always seemed in need of money. The display area features a striking history of some of his slaves. He didn’t free them when he died, even those who were reportedly his own children.

The tours at the house start every 10 minutes with 25 people in each group. Having arrived early, I only had to wait an hour and a half. Tour guides were excellent, each modifying their spiels to fit their personality. Visitors to Jefferson’s home were often kept waiting while he was working on one of his many projects. In the entryway, he had objects for visitors to admire and learn from, including mastodon bones, antlers from different kinds of animals and Indian artifacts brought back from Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Jefferson wrote 19,000 letters using a device he either invented or improved upon, which made a copy for him to keep. A great reader and book collector, he sold his collection to start the National Library. His library includes some of his original books and copies of a large number of books he was known to have owned. His study is full of scientific instruments, including the telescope he used to watch the construction on his pride and joy, the University of Virginia.

His bed is in a partition between his office and the bedroom. Rooms have skylights necessary because of the lack of lighting at that time. Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, used to teach her eight children in one of the rooms on the main floor. Clever touches in the dining area include a dumbwaiter, a special spinning shelf that allowed waiters to serve food without entering the room and interrupting the conversation. In the parlor, there are 48 paintings of famous men, thought to be conversation starters. Jefferson thought the three greatest men in history were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke.

After the house tour, I explored the extensive gardens. Jefferson saw himself as a farmer and claimed that as his trade. He collected plants, experimented with growing methods and, of course, produced most of what was eaten on the farm. For this, he needed a large number of slaves, who also had to be fed.

Visiting Monticello a second time was time well spent. More information at www.monticello.org/

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

America's Presidents--Washington

Magnificent Mount Vernon
Washington’s Virginia mansion reflects the complexity of its owner.

Mount Vernon was designed by George Washington to show its magnificence whether it was approached from the front or the rear.

ALEXANDRIA,Va. - The splendid mansion and great view overlooking the Potomac River are the same as when we visited there 45 years ago, but added features have really changed the experience of visiting Mount Vernon, the plantation President George Washington improved over the 45 years that it was his home.

The most outstanding addition, a delight and well worth the second trip, was the $24 million Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Educational Center, which makes Mount Vernon a rival to the most up-to-date presidential libraries and museums, such as the Clinton and Reagan museums.

Much attention has been paid to reproducing how Washington looked at different ages.
At three scenes in the museum, we saw life-size models of Washington as he looked during three periods of his life: as a surveyor at 19, as a general of 45 astride his horse at Valley Forge and as president at 57 taking the oath of office.

The only portraits of Washington in existence show him after the age of 40. From a film we learned how artists and experts in computers and forensics could use a picture or sculpture of an older person and create reproductions that showed what that person probably looked like when young, mature and middle-aged. They also examined his clothes from different periods to get his underlying shape right at various ages.

The many films are exceptionally good, nine being from The History Channel. One film shows his granddaughter in her old age telling us about the sculpture that was made of Washington and how frightened she was at first, thinking he had died, when she saw him lying still for the fitting of a mask. Glenn Close narrates a film about Martha and his closeness despite the years her husband had to be away. She had burned all their letters to ensure privacy. During one film on famous battles in which he was involved, audience members reacted to the explosion of bombs, flashing lights and lots of sound.

In various interactive displays, we could follow Washington’s life from childhood through the trials after his father’s death left no money for the formal education that his older brothers had received, Washington’s self-education, the learning of manners and becoming a gentleman, his historic moments and, finally, his becoming the most beloved and richest man in America.

Washington’s coach has been carefully restoredThe orientation at the visitor’s center gave us a large-screen presentation on the heroic Washington: his brave acts in the French and Indian War and his capture of almost 1,000 Hessians after crossing the Delaware River in 1776 during the Revolutionary War.

Lines were long at the entrance to the mansion at Mount Vernon. In groups of 20 we entered the different rooms and were met by a guide, who gave us a story of that room plus other information about Washington as an architect and as a host. It seems that homeowners were expected to provide rooms and food for travelers because hotels did not exist at the time. As the most popular man in America, he sometimes had more than 600 overnight visitors a year. All of this attention at times wearied him, and he had separate quarters added to the building with a separate entrance to his and Martha’s bedroom, and his office.

The outbuildings were restored and equipped as they would have been in his last years on the plantation: a head gardener’s house, a salt room for curing fish and meat, a weaving room and 10 or so other buildings. He was a master farmer who studied and experimented to see that he got the most from his soil and his workers.
We took a separate tour of the landscape and gardens. Washington completely redid the gardens, and this included both flower gardens and vegetable gardens. The gardens are still producing, and the produce is given to food banks or to the more than 500 employees on the Mount Vernon staff. Our guide also showed us how manure and human waste were gathered in the past and used to enrich the soil. We did not have time to take the slave tour or the treasures tour.

At lunch on the grounds, we dined on the colonial-style fare George and Martha would have served their guests, including duck pie. The atmosphere was fun with waiters in 18th-century costumes, period furniture and working fireplaces.

We also visited his and Martha’s tomb. As Congressman Henry Lee, father of Gen. Robert E. Lee, eulogized him, Washington was, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
More infor at www.mountvernon.org/

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Where has Wayne Anderson been?
By Aarik Danielsen Columbia Daily Tribune
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Upon presenting his first-ever travel article to the Tribune, Wayne Anderson was met with a breathless question from an editor, duly impressed with his work: “Where have you been?”

Anderson has, in a very real yet wholly other sense, been answering the same question for 13 years, writing a weekly travel column for the Tribune, telling local readers where he has been and taking them along on trips to locations exotic and enlightening, majestic and mysterious, 500 or 600 words at a time. Speaking to his whereabouts in a new medium, Anderson recently published his first anthology, “Offbeat Travel: Exploring the unexpected and mysterious” (AKA-Publishing), a set of 54 columns that represent his most far-out, way-out journeys.

The book is evocative and explanatory. As Anderson has exhaustively explored the United States and visited 64 countries, “Offbeat Travel” takes readers from the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy, to Seattle’s underground pathways, a confederate Georgia prison camp to the caves of India, even to the Twilight Zone and back. It features ghost tours, travel tips, dispatches from Civil War- and civil rights-related locales and moving anecdotes about how our journeys can intersect; for example, the tale of how Anderson and his wife learn the fate of historical characters they’ve assumed on a voyage to a Titanic exhibition is somber and suspenseful.

Anderson’s unique ability to capture emotional and historical detail is reflected here and is certainly a significant reason for his loyal following of local readers. Many of Anderson’s faithful fans are older and have long since given up on cross-country or continental adventures, he said recently. Thus, he plays an important role in their illumination and exercise of imagination. “What they say to me, when they talk to me, is ‘You do my traveling for me,’ ” he said.

After writing hundreds of articles for the Tribune, Anderson simply knew the time was right for a book when the right part of his brain activated and decided he was. “That part of my brain said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’ ” he noted. “This is right, this is ready.”

The natural effusive, educational tone to Anderson’s work is a function of both his methodical note-taking and eye for interesting places to pause. No matter how fatigued he might be after a long day of sojourning and sightseeing, he, without fail, makes detailed entries each night on which he builds later, longer articles. Anderson gives readers an insight into that process in his new book with an entry titled “Keeping a Travel Journal.” His wife — and often his co-writer — Carla, serves as a companion and editor, helping him further process the experiences they have shared.

Anderson identified “Unearthing Palermo,” the first episode in the book, as one of his favorites, and it truly is one of the most resonant tales therein. Any travelogue that begins, “The upright, fully dressed bodies came as a shock to me … in Palermo the bodies are there in all their decaying glory: 8,000 of them,” certainly qualifies as a memorable one. Going on, Anderson describes how these catacombs, commonly referred to as the “Museum of Death,” house perfectly preserved, eerily lifelike “bodies dressed in their personal best,” appearing to stare at passersby “from sunken eyes embedded in parchment skin.”

“The drying process has left the skin on the faces but has pulled them into horrifying expressions of terror and pain,” he continued. “Many seemed to be screaming — a massive silent scream.” Despite these terrible, terrific images, the piece is more a meditation on life, spirituality and historic practice than an ode to the macabre.

Another piece that really struck me was “Gumshoes and Trick Shoes: Spy Museum Amuses,” an entry inspired by Washington, D.C.’s International Spy Museum, a location I desperately wanted to visit but failed to get to during a capital summer several years ago. As Anderson describes the space, the fascinating gadgets and interactive experiences within, he’s essentially doing my traveling for me.

As far as the reflexive journey between the book and other readers is concerned, Anderson already has done the going — he now hopes readers come to the work with a subtle sense of awe, the same he experiences as he reads other travel writers, and a quiet hopefulness, musing on “what a wonderful world we have where there’s all of these things to see and do,” he said. “Offbeat Travel” is available via online booksellers like Amazon.com and can be found locally at Barnes and Noble. Want to know more about where Anderson has been? You can access his work on the Tribune’s website, of course, at www.columbiatribune.com and his personal website, www.venturebound.net.

Reach Aarik Danielsen at 573-815-1731 or e-mail ajdanielsen@columbiatribune.com.

Copyright 2011 Columbia Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
This article was published on page C2 of the Sunday, March 13, 2011 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.