By Lynn Ashby 19 Oct. 2015
MONTICELLO – We have come to this beautiful countryside of Virginia to look into little-known aspects of our history, and this is our first stop, Monticello. A picture of it is probably in your pocket, it’s the other side of the Thomas Jefferson nickel. This house and plantation apparently can be pronounced either mon-tuh-CHELLO or mon-tuh-SELLO. I would ask the man who built it, but Thomas Jefferson lies dead these many years right here.
He was not religious, a unique stance for those God-fearing times, but was a Deist. Today that wouldn’t fly for a presidential candidate. Because of his non-beliefs, he distinctly designed his tombstone, no cross or crescent, and wrote out his epitaph: “…on the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more: Here was buried Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.”
Note there is no mention that he was our first Secretary of State, governor of Virginia or even that he was third president of the United States. Don’t you think these positions would have warranted some mention? How about “Inventor of the first Xerox?” To visit Tom’s house, make reservations. They run this place – in a kind and efficient way – like the Normandy invasion. Don’t ask the guide silly questions, such as: What was his middle name? Back then America was a very poor country and even the aristocracy couldn’t afford middle names for every child. So only two of his nine siblings had middle names (Peter Field and Anna Scott).
Monticello was a going farm, producing most of what the residents needed. Tom was a tinkerer, architect and inventor. He built a small dumbwaiter into the side of the dining room fireplace so that bottles of wine could be brought up quietly. He wrote a huge number of letters, essays, and at least one Declaration of Independence, but it was tiring to make copies of everything, so here at his desk you see a pen attached to a framework attached to a second pen next to the first. Every time Tom wrote a line, the second pen copied it. Thus beware of purchasing “Thomas Jefferson letters.” They could be written by his evil twin.
A museum displays the Jefferson family tree and, yes, Sally Hemmings is listed, along with their six children. Her father was apparently Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles. But Tom was a lousy businessman and was so desperate for cash he sold his beloved book collection to Congress, which eventually expanded it to become the Library of Congress, the largest on earth. He died broke. If only he’d saved all those nickels.
Remember JFK’s famous remark to a White House dinner of Nobel laureates? “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Last stop: Quantico. At most museums you are greeted by a kindly, elderly guide wearing a blazer with a nametag. This museum greets you with five large young men who could – and may – spend their Sundays playing linebacker for the Redskins. They all obviously have the same barber and haberdasher, for they are wearing shaved heads, starched fatigues and pack heavy heat on their hips, but couldn’t be nicer or more accommodating. Akmed, next time you want to shoot up a military establishment, don’t come here to the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
You may not have heard of this place — Marines are notoriously humble and self-effacing – because it only opened in 2006, and is about a 36-mile march south of the capital near Quantico Marine Base. The building itself is a huge soaring structure evoking the iconic Marine monument of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. (That flag is here.) Inside, passed the armed honor guard — there is no admission fee — is a gigantic rotunda. Standing in neat lines and starched attention, are about 150 Leathernecks. That is nice of them to greet me, considering it took me six year just to make lance corporal. Oh, it seems there is some kind of ceremony going on. Maybe next time.
Probably these young men and women are here to learn about those in the Corps who preceded them, and a most interesting trip it is. Covering everything from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli (you may quote me), there are displays, artifacts, push a button and get a quick rundown on what you are seeing. Here is a display of Marines storming a beach in Korea. No, not in 1951, but in 1871. That part of the hymn, “We have fought in every clime and place” is not poetic license. There is a lot more than just glass boxes with old uniform — a lot of bells and whistles, lively stuff. It is really worth the trip.
Marines like sayings about their Corps, and some are carved into the walls. This from Sgt. Dan Daly, leading an assault on German trenches in WW I: “Come on, you sons of etc. Do you want to live forever?” I can’t find my favorite quote, but I’ll bet it’s here: “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” — President Ronald Reagan. A final story: One August afternoon several years ago I met a young man I had known for some time. Only he looked different from last I had seen him, a few months earlier. He now had short hair, crisp uniform, bars on his collar, stood erect. He was an officer of Marines. And the march goes on.
November 10th is the 239th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. So happy birthday and Semper Fi, my son.
Ashby’s glass box is at firstname.lastname@example.org