Mai Tai Tom’s Magical History Tour
Chapter Eight: From Founding Fathers To Founding Farmers
Day Eight – Please … No Monty Python Reference, Home James, Hello Dolley, Better Than Monticello?, It’s A Small World, Tracy’s Pen Goes Wild, A Farewell To Arm, The Lone Ranger, The President & First Lady, A Nice Place For A Cocktail and Any Port (or White Wine) in a Storm
Feeling better after a good night’s rest, we descended the stairs to the Holladay House dining room, where Sharon served thin-sliced green apples with walnuts, raisins and home-made elderberry syrup.
When Tracy heard Sharon say “elderberry,” she gave me the “look,” which told me not to shout out, “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!” She knows me all too well.
Sharon followed that up with an excellent Creme Brulee French toast (Italian bread soaked overnight), oven-baked bacon and pineapple slices.
We had chosen our b&bs well on this trip, but we were quickly on our way to pay homage to James and Dolley Madison at their home, Montpelier.
Only a ten minute drive from our b&b, Montpelier was built in 1765 by Madison’s dad. The drive up to the plantation meanders through lush green horse pastures. There was even a large race track in the distance.
Digression: For much of the 20th century, Montpelier was owned by the duPont family, who “created an equestrian center on the grounds. You drive past the racetrack as you enter the site.” You can see it from the house.
Near the Visitors Center I said “Hi James, Hello Dolley.” I attempted to read along.
Dolley said it was “nice to have you back where you belong,” obviously not knowing I had never visited. I could only reply, “You’re lookin’ swell, Dolley.” I have to stop drinking in the morning, these hallucinations are getting worse.
We arrived a little early for our 10 a.m. tour (shocking), so they suggested we walk up to the house and join the 9:45 tour. The five-minute walk takes you past colorful flowers, and as you know Tracy never misses those floral photo opportunities.
Near the home were a grouping of small huts. Our tour guide would later tell us that descendants of enslaved families helped to reconstruct two of the large slave quarters and two smaller smoke houses …
… which are now a part of Montpelier’s exhibit on slavery.
We also saw a framed version of a slave cabin constructed in the Stable Quarters area. As we would learn, the success of this plantation was due entirely to slave labor.
At 9:45, our guide Brian (who would turn out to be the best of the wide array of good tour guides we had on this trip), let us inside the house (once again, no photos..the few I have once again stolen from the internet).
Madison, who never traveled due to his poor health, converted the house to a duplex when he married Dolley, and then further expanded it into the house it is today in 1809. When first married, he and Dolley lived on one side of the duplex, while Madison’s folks lived on the other side. Madison said that marrying Dolley was “the most important decision of his life.”
The “Father of the Constitution” suffered from terrible rheumatoid arthritis, which ultimately left our shortest president (5 foot, four inches) unable to walk or work. According to Brian, Dolley was outgoing, vivacious and quite social, while James was a quiet, soft-spoken man. Well, they say opposites attract. Fun fact: They were introduced to each other by Aaron Burr. Small world!
Dolley also loved the color red. She had her parlor drawing room wall-papered in red. It features numerous paintings.
Dolley was a widow with a child from her first marriage, who ultimately turned out to be a drain on the family. John Payne Todd was an alcoholic and a gambler, who was a “deep disappointment” to both himself and the family. His room sort of looked like my apartment in college with clothes strewn on the floor, although nothing was that bad.
James and Dolley entertained guests in their dining room (below), where lively conversations by famous people would take place. Dolley liked to invite political opponents because she believed everyone would be more polite if they dined together.
One such guest was Lafayette, who stayed with them when he returned to the U.S. after the French Revolution. Brian told us he came back to see how the “American Experiment” was working, and he toured all 24 states. Lafayette was an abolitionist and argued endlessly with Madison about ending slavery.
Speaking of slavery, look up a man named Paul Jennings. Brian told us all about Madison’s indentured servant, who eventually was freed by Daniel Webster years after Madison’s death. Jennings lived to see the end of slavery and ended up publishing the first White House memoir … his is a fascinating story.
Fun Dolley Facts … She personally knew 12 U.S presidents, and her funeral in 1849 was the largest funeral in Washington DC history at that time.
It was about then, I took a quick glance at Tracy’s notes (she is the official Travels With Mai Tai Tom scribe), and I couldn’t believe how many notes she had taken on this tour. I believe she will be publishing her own Madison book in the near future. Tracy and I both thought the Montpelier tour more fascinating than the one at Monticello.
Back outside, we shot a few more photos of the house, including the gazebo James Madison built on the front lawn of his home
Next, we headed over to Montpelier’s Walled Garden (lucky Tracy).
James and Dolley’s large property once boasted a number of horticultural features including a house garden filled with both ornamental and edible plants.
After the property was purchased by the DuPont family, it was turned into a walled formal garden, which kept it more in keeping with the style of the time. The views were magnificent.
A few more photos …
…and it was time to head to Washington DC.
Turning along the highway we came upon a barn where we slowed to take a few photos.
The countryside throughout Pennsylvania and Virginia had been stunningly gorgeous.
As we drove through Locust Grove, I went out on a limb and stated, “You know I think Stonewall Jackson’s arm is buried here somewhere.” However, by the time I finished the sentence we were through Locust Grove, so we just bade a farewell to arm.
However we still weren’t done with old Stonewall. Not much further stood the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. This is where the Stonewall Jackson Shrine is located. We didn’t have a lot of time, but I asked Kim if we could stop (he had taken over driving duties, so I could cough freely without driving) since we had missed Stonewall’s arm.
We were on a pretty tight schedule since we did not want to hit DC during rush hour. When I told the Ranger we only had about 30 minutes to visit the military park, I could tell he was thinking, “Damn Yankees!” … and not the one starring Tab Hunter.
He begrudgingly gave us directions to the shrine, which is the spot where Jackson died after being wounded (by his own men) at the Battle of Chancellorsville. We walked the short distance to the monument and soon we were, just like Willie Nelson, on the road again.
In less than two hours, we dropped the car, and got a Lyft to our home for the next two nights, the Hotel Lombardy. Exiting the car, there was a sign on on adjacent building indicating that James Monroe had once lived there. There’s no escaping these presidents.
Speaking of which, we dropped our luggage and quickly made our way to the National Portrait Gallery to check out a couple of paintings that had made the news recently. We had come to look at the portraits of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle.
Digression: When we were at Montpelier earlier in the day, we learned that President Zachary Taylor gave the eulogy at Dolley Madison’s funeral. In it, he called her the “First Lady,” and a term was coined.
Interestingly (at least to the four of us), when we saw the portraits on television, we thought the portrait of Michelle was much better, but when we entered the crowded room where her portrait stood, we were a tad disappointed. The painting’s colors were really washed out.
Conversely, when we finally reached the room where President Obama’s portrait was hung, it was incredibly vibrant. The room was also incredibly crowded, by far the most crowded of any room we visited. There was a long line to see the portrait, and then of course to wait for everyone to take a photo or three (we were guilty, too).
Nearby were the portraits of a couple of recent presidents. Having visited the National Portrait Gallery the last time we were in Washington D.C., we went searching for something a little different than presidents.
It was on to the Great Hall of the Gallery, which was at one time the “largest room in America.” This space served as the first national museum and was “the spot where the Declaration of Independence was publicly displayed between 1841 and 1871.” Guests at Lincoln’s second inaugural ball “walked through this room to join a receiving line in what is known as the Lincoln Gallery.” After a fire in 1877, the room was remodeled in an American Victorian Renaissance style.
But I was more interested in some sports stars in a nearby gallery. We climbed the stairs to the third floor mezzanine to a gallery dubbed “Champions,” where a number of paintings caught our eye.
From Mickey Mantle to Jim Brown …
… to Willie Shoemaker to Arthur Ashe to Bobby Hull …
… the room provided me with many memories.
I said to Kim, “No Chargers or Padres, huh?” He quipped, “Nope, this room is for champions.” Ouch! As we exited, I thought I heard someone say, “It ain’t ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” which was prophetic since our stay here wasn’t quite over.
Before leaving we saw Brumidi’s “Study for the Apotheosis of Washington in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol Building.” We had seen Brumidi’s dome painting in Philly, and this told the story of how Brumidi decided to paint George Washington in the center of the Capitol dome, “having ascended to the heavens.” To complete our George fix, we stopped by his statue, too.
Before leaving, we walked out to the courtyard area, which we remembered was pretty cool from our last visit. it still is.
Back at the Hotel Lombardy, we enjoyed cocktails in their very retro bar. I felt I was back in the 20s (the decade, not my youth), and that makes sense because the hotel was built in 1926. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lombardy)
Soon it was time for the short walk to our restaurant. It was warm, but the skies were rapidly darkening. Inside, before you could say “Party of four,” the skies opened up, and we were provided with an evening of torrential rain entertainment dining safely inside Founding Fathers.
A bottle of white wine with some delectable deviled eggs were the perfect start. Dinner was excellent. My steak frites were perfect, while Tracy enjoyed a four-corn salad (corn, popcorn, cornbread and a secret ingredient we couldn’t figure out). Kim opted for the pork chop, while Mary enjoyed a rotisserie chicken with green beans. By the time we finished, so had the rain. Timing is everything.
Tomorrow would be our last day of vacation.
It had all gone by too quickly, but we would make the most of our final day. We’d visit two museums (one being the hottest ticket in town), a huge (and I mean huge) basilica and eat lunch at our favorite Washington DC haunt.
Next – Chapter Nine: Our History Lesson Concludes
Day Eight: It’s A Magazine & A Museum, A Visit To Jerusalem in 3D, This Is Big, My Meeting With The Pope, Serving You Since 1856, Last Tickets Of The Day, Enlightening Museum, Absorb & Learn, Tommy B Goode and There Will Be A Test When You Get Home