Monthly Archives: December 2012

Lorri’s Book Review: Saving Monticello

savingmonticello2 Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built, by Marc Leepson, is an extremely fascinating book.

From the first page until the last page, I was completely engrossed with the drama presented within the pages. I found it difficult to put down, during the moments that I had to. The missing years and missing events concerning Monticello, after Thomas Jefferson’s death, have either been overlooked or not mentioned to any great extent within the chapters of history.

The Levy family basically went unnoticed within the historical context of Monticello, after Jefferson’s death in 1826. If it were not for them, Monticello would not be the historical landmark it is today. The family members were Jefferson devotees and admirers. They loved what he stood for, what his ideals were, what he represented to Americans.

When Jefferson died, he died with an extreme amount of debt. This was the determining factor that led his heirs to sell his estate. It was bought by a druggist by the name of James Turner Barclay. During his years of ownership the house fell into disrepair. As you can see on the cover of the book, Monticello at that time, was in extreme architectural devastation and ruin.

Monticello went up for sale in 1834, once more, and Uriah Phillips Levy, a Jewish-American, purchased it. He was was a United States Navy Lieutenant. He began to repair the estate out of his own money. He spared no expense in order to retain the architectural integrity of Monticello, and keep it in its original state. That lasted until the Civil War when it landed up in the hands of the Confederacy (like many other homes and estates).

Once the war ended, Uriah’s nephew, Jefferson Levy took ownership. He was an unmarried businessman, who endeavored to keep up the ruined exterior and interior. He initiated repairs, restoring the house and grounds of the estate, and even tried to find the original furniture that Jefferson owned. He was tireless in his efforts, and spent tens of thousands of dollars, possibly one hundred thousand dollars, of his own money to restore the house to maximum condition.

That mattered little to a woman named Maud Littleton, who fought tooth and nail to have Monticello’s ownership removed from Levy. She was a wealthy socialite, married to a congressman. She petitioned Congress to purchase the estate from Levy’s hands, right out from under him, so to speak. He was against this, and an extremely bitter and long fight ensued, lasting over twenty years. The facts concerning this battle depict incredible moments in congressional affairs, legal affairs and Levy’s struggle to maintain ownership under the deceitful implications made by Littleton.

The woman was obsessed with the fact that Levy owned Monticello. She literally lied in front of Congress and the nation, literally stated the house was in disrepair, when in fact it had been repaired, lied about anything and everything in order to make firm the fact that she wanted Monticello taken out from under Levy’s ownership.

Saving Monticello
, documents from actual historical records (some of which are shown within the pages), newspaper accounts, lawsuits, county and civic documentations, brochures, etc., and extremely factual research the intensity of the battle over Monticello. It is apparent that there was an underlying tone of antisemitism fostering Littleton’s harsh stance. History was washed over in that respect.

And so goes the story, ending in 1923 when Jefferson Levy gave in and sold the estate for $500,000 to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. The Levy’s had ownership of the estate for a few months shy of ninety years, much, much longer than the Jefferson family owned it.

But, it did not end there, because the Levy family was never given their due. Historical records and even the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation did not readily acknowledge the Levy family’s contribution and steadfast repairs. Even during the tours, there was no mention of them or their endeavors.

It took decades before they were acknowledged by the Foundation, and even at that, depending on the tour guide today, they are not always mentioned.

In the book, Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built, Leepson has given the reader an amazing overview of actual facts, data, events, timelines and the struggles that the Levy family endured. The story is compelling, especially to the history lover. He has left no stone unturned in his presentation of documentation, and his research is to be commended. His writing is brilliant. I gained so much knowledge from reading Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built.

This review does not delve into the intensity of the issues regarding Monticello, as stated in the pages of the book. But, as a history lover and as a person who has been to Monticello on a few occasions, I found the book quite compelling, extremely detailed, and found it to be of historical importance.

This book should be on every high school, university, college, and public library shelf. Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built, by Marc Leepson, is a major contribution of educational and historical value, and is masterfully and magnificently written.

You can read more about Marc Leepson, and read more about the Levy family, here.

December 24, 2012 – 11 Tevet, 5773


Filed under Book Reviews, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction

Winter Reflections

winter reflections

Today is the Tenth of Tevet, and is a Jewish fast day (a minor fast). The Tenth of Tevet marks the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem 2,500 years ago. Read about it here, and also here.

winter 6

The poem below is from a Jewish prayer book of mine. I have always found it to be extremely comforting.

I wonder if
anything is impossible
to a G-d
who can make
evergreen trees with black trunks
cast blue shadows
on white snow



Today we should reflect on our deeds, and repent for our wrongs.
Speaking of reflecting…I was listening to the news last night, and there was a segment on a man who has a very short time to live. One of his doctors suggested he make a “bucket list”, and so he did. One of the top items was for him to have an iconic type of portrait taken. It was made possible, and he had his photograph taken by a professional photographer. He said, “It’s very important to me to have some kind of image that will remind people of where I was and that I was here, and that’s the most important thing to me,” I thought his statement was so poignant…I shed a few tears.

Here is the online post of his NBCLA TV segment.
My goodness…what a heartfelt story.

Wilhelm Brasse, Auschwitz photographer dies at 95. He was a former prisoner, himself who was forced to take the photographs.

December 23, 2012 – 10 Tevet, 5773


Filed under Photography, Uncategorized

Winter, Poem, Shabbat

mt view thru

Winter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.

Matsuo Basho

Today in Jewish history: The Torah was translated into Greek (246 BCE)

Shabbat Shalom!

December 21, 2012 – 8 Tevet, 5773

© Copyright 2010 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.


Filed under Photography

Blog Name Change


I have renamed my blog. I will still be posting the same type of content, but wanted a different name.

Please be patient with me over the next couple of weeks. I will be redesigning my page at some point, and will be testing out various themes. What you see one moment, might not be the same theme the next moment.


Filed under Uncategorized

Lorri’s Review – The Septembers of Shiraz

theseptembersofshiraz The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer, is an excellent novel, written with colorful and detailed word imagery, covering a one-year period from September 1981 to September 1982. Sofer was ten years old when her own Jewish family escaped Iran. That fact might just be the event that gives her insight into the Jewish condition and also sensitivity regarding the plight of the oppressed and the poverty stricken during the post Iranian Revolution years.

When Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won’t be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised.”

Isaac Amin is an Iranian Jewish gem dealer. His office is stormed by two Revolutionary Guards, as he is suspected of being a spy due to his wealth and frequent trips to Israel, and also due to the fact he has ties to the Shah. He is arrested, imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and in constant fear for his life, living under stark circumstances, and within the confines of Anti-Semitism. Armin has nothing but time on his hands to think, and he is fearful about his wife and nine-year old daughter, who do not know of his whereabouts. He thinks about his son, Parviz, who is a student, living in Brooklyn, with his own set of insecurities and problems. Within the prison walls is one humane guard, who takes it upon himself to be Amin’s caretaker, during Amin’s darkest hours and days. Armin knows he can rely on him.

Imprisonment gives Amin time to think about his life, and what is meaningful to him. He realizes he has worked his entire life with valuable jewels, but has not put as high a value on his family as he should have. Amin wishes he could be set free so he could try to redeem himself with his family.

Meanwhile, Farnaz, his wife, is in constant distress, trying to cope with the situation and run the household without knowing where her husband is (telling her daughter that Amin has gone on a trip). She searches for him to no end. Farnaz thinks that her housekeeper has turned Amin in. This mistrust gives her to contemplate her relationship, with those who work for her, wondering if she has been misguided, and wondering if she has treated them as well as she thinks she has. She has been a self-absorbed person, to some degree, throughout the years, and is now realizing what is most precious to her.

The Amin marriage has become a sterile one, emotionally. The family is used to the finer things in life, which seems to have overtaken the loving and caring relationship their relationship once was.

Dalia Sofer brings us a strong story line, in The Septembers of Shiraz, bringing us glimpses of life after the Iranian Revolution, and her characters are extremely believable. She infuses emotional estrangement, Jewish identity and assimilation with the bravery and humanity of souls, bringing us sympathetic characters within a harsh and cruel environment. Her first novel is a page-turner, a definitive novel with descriptive images, a realized, poignant and thought-provoking historical work of fiction, reading more like non-fiction.

December 20, 2012 – 7 Tevet, 5773


Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Novels

Wintry Days

wintry tree

wintry island

Visit Nature Notes Wednesday for more lovely views from around the world.

© Copyright 2010 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.


Filed under Photography