Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tom!

Today marks the 268th anniversary of Mr. Jefferson's birth!  For those of you who do not know, I have a rather ardent fondness for Mr. Jefferson (okay, that might be an understatement...) and so I wanted to be sure to give him a small tribute here today.  Although there is no evidence that he celebrated his own birthday, I hope he doesn't mind.  To commemorate today, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation will be hosting some special events at Monticello in conjunction with the University of Virginia's Founder's Day celebration.  Also at UVa today is the first annual JEFFERSING! ON THE LAWN, which will feature a cappella groups, birthday decorations, and free cupcakes!  Mr. Jefferson will be in attendance (in the personage of Bill Barker) to join in the festivities.  Poplar Forest will also be distributing birthday cupcakes to all of its visitors today.

I could go on and on about what makes Mr. Jefferson such an inspiring man, why he's so relevant today, and about how awesome and dreamy he is... but I will spare you all that.  Instead, I'll share a few facts that many of you might know already, but hopefully will be new information for others.

Fun Fact #1: April 2, 1743 O.S. is the date engraved on Jefferson's grave (see photo below), but we celebrate the day on April 13.  In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII began the calendar system we use today, known as the Gregorian calendar.  This replaced the previous Julian calendar (named for Julius Caesar) which had fallen several years behind the solar calendar.  The British empire did not conform to this system for several hundred years.  In 1752, when Britain finally adopted this calendar system, Mr. Jefferson added the additional 11 days to his birth date.  (You can read more about the switch from the old style calendar on this page.)

The obelisk marking Jefferson's grave at Monticello

Fun Fact #2: Many people attribute the invention of the swivel chair (which he often referred to as his "whirligig" chair) to Mr. Jefferson, but there is no definite proof that he was indeed the first to add some spin to his seat.  In 1775, he purchased a revolving Windsor armchair in Philadelphia.  The chair was built with two seats on top of each other, revolving around a center spindle.  During his stay in New York as Secretary of State, Mr. Jefferson purchased several pieces of furniture from Thomas Burling.  Among this collection was another revolving chair, which has a design attributed to the French.  Knowing that Mr. Jefferson already had a similar chair at home and considering his recent residence in France, it is often suggested that he may have had a hand in designing these Burling chairs (Burling also made one of these chairs for George Washington).

Fun Fact #3: Speaking of inventions, how about the myth that he was the first to bring mac & cheese (which, by the way, is one of my all-time favorites!) to America?  The NY Times recently published an article about Mr. Jefferson's appreciation for macaroni, a dish he first encountered in northern Italy during a 1781 visit.  He had a macaroni machine imported to America and macaroni became a frequent dish on his table.  While he definitely introduced many Americans to macaroni, he was most likely not the first to serve it in this country.  A pasta factory in Trenton, NJ, owned by Giovanni Battista Sartori, was already in existence in the early 18th century and frequently provided supplies for President Jefferson at the White House.  Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife of 1824 mentions dressing the macaroni with cheese, but again, it is unlikely that Mr. Jefferson was the first to eat it this particular way.  (Click here to read more about TJ's macaroni.)

That's all I have time to share with you all today.  But don't worry, I'm sure more TJ Fun Facts will find their way to our blog soon.  So, once again, wishing Mr. Jefferson a very delightful 268th birthday!


lahbluebonnet said...

He looks pretty good for 268, doesn't he? If I had known, I'd have packed up the kids and driven them down for the festivities and say hi to TJ (BB). Oh well, doesn't matter. This cold is keeping me at home. Another year.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post. Happy Birthday to your favorite guy. I would have loved to have been there to celebrate with everyone. I have never been to Monticello but will get there maybe next year. I is one of my brothers' favorite places.
I went on google to find pictures of what the cupcakes looked like because I was curious. I found this like to some pictures of the celebration and a picture of the cake and cupcakes. Thought you and your readers might enjoy seeing them. The link address is...
Enjoy :))

Ashley said...

Laurie: It looks like they have a nice celebration every year, so I'm sure you will all be able to make it another year. Hope you are feeling better!

Rebecca: I've only been to Monticello once myself. Somehow our visits to Virginia never take us over that way. But I hope to visit again soon. Thanks for the link! The Monticello facebook page also added some pictures from yesterday's events - looks like everyone had a great time!!/TJMonticello