The unhappy grandpa is back
In the city that never stops alluding to Jefferson, it's great to get a fresh perspective once in a while. Back in March, the Hook talked to Alan Pell Crawford, author of the new book, Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson. Now the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society (ACHS) and the Charlottesville Senior Center Inc. are bringing him to Charlottesville as part of the Last Wednesdays lecture series, so that he can dispel assumptions surrounding geriatric Jefferson once and for all.
In Twilight at Monticello, Crawford digs past Jeffersonian superficialities and deep into the nitty-gritty. While Jefferson lived to be 83, greatly exceeding the life expectancy of his day, his golden years were not the typically imagined walk in the park. Crawford reveals that boils, bowel problems, and rheumatism plagued his old age.
One of his greatest legacies, the University of Virginia, opened a year before his death, but it was roiled by drunken student brawls against foreign faculty members. Perhaps Jefferson's most magnificent elderly hardship mentioned by Crawford was his never-diminishing debt of $107,000–- equivalent to several millions by today's standards. In a heartbreaking contradiction, Jefferson, a man strongly opposed to lotteries, asked the General Assembly to hold a lottery for him.
Richmond-native Crawford is a former U.S. Senate speechwriter, Congressional press secretary, and a magazine editor. He recognizes that many alternative sources portray Jefferson's later years relaxing around Monticello, but he contends, "It's a more interesting place if you know the things I know."
As for Monticello, Twilight surveys all the architectural facets that aided Jefferson in his affairs. Crawford shows us Jefferson's nephews dismembering a slave. He admits he believes Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings' children "Because the alibis are weak."
Twilight at Monticello is a symbolic transition from the light portrayal of the third president's descent into old age and darkness. Crawford is also the author of the bestseller Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America, another dark non-fiction piece that tells the tale of Nancy Randolph's adultery and infanticide. He speaks at the Senior Center Inc. (1180 Pepsi Place just off Route 29 North) Wednesday, July 30. A Question and Answer session follows his presentation.