Thursday, August 12, 2010
Monticello, Behind the Scenes
This week, I had the pleasure of accompanying two good friends to Monticello to take advantage of the new “behind the scenes” tour. The last time I visited was about 15 years ago, and since then, the historic site has undergone major renovations, including the construction of a new $43 million visitor center that opened last year that includes a gallery, a theater, a discovery center, and a large gift shop (one of two on the property, because you just can't have enough souvenirs).
We started our day in the theater, watching the new video, Thomas Jefferson's World, which stresses the importance of freedom as the main theme of Jefferson’s work, tries hard to reconcile Jefferson’s ideals with his dependence on his “enslaved workers” (and for me, fails), and works its way all the way up to the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Our $37 behind-the-scenes ticket gave us access to the private second-floor bedrooms occupied by Jefferson’s extended family (mainly daughter Martha and her 11 children), and to the interior of the third-floor dome, complete with attic space. You climb up the very narrow staircases (the only ones in the house) to reach the upper floors, where unlike in the large rooms of the main floor, you are allowed to take photos. While much of the main floor is devoted to Jefferson’s social life, personal pursuits, and clever gadgets, the upper floors focus on Jefferson’s lively family life.
After our look at the upper levels, we joined the hoi polloi for the main house tour, and spent the rest of the afternoon roaming the grounds, checking out the gardens, and visiting Jefferson’s grave. We ended the day back in the gallery at the visitor center, where more details of the estate’s architecture are revealed. We could have used another hour or so to really explore every nook and cranny of the grounds and all of the exhibits and displays at the visitor center, but our time and stamina on this hot summer day just gave out.
The behind-the-scenes tour is given twice daily, at 10:30 and 2:30. Advance tickets are highly recommended, and can be ordered online. These tours will be available until Oct. 31. For more info, check out monticello.org.
One of the very narrow staircases in the home:
Peering down at visitors from a second floor bedroom:
Inside the dome:
Attic space off the dome room:
View from one of the dome room windows:
One of several skylights:
View from the garden side:
Gallery space at the visitor center:
The new visitor center is beautifully landscaped: