Dan Jordan: Mr. Monticello prepares for L&C mania
Being director of Monticello has many advantages, not least the spectacular view outside Dan Jordan's low-ceilinged office tucked into the gift shop. And for a historian, living on Mr. Jefferson's mountain must be like being a kid in a candy store.
"It's magic being up here alone," agrees Jordan, who gets his daily exercise walking on the path called "the Roundabout."
Living on Monticello Mountain also means an easy commute to work and not having to find a parking place, as the director's residence is one of the few modern touches allowed on the mountain. The downside? Monticello is open every day except Christmas.
"And so are we," says Jordan, who typically hosts parties of 200 or 300.
How does one become head of one of America's most beloved landmark's? Jordan calls his appointment "providential." But more likely it's the former Virginia Commonwealth University prof's passion for public history, which "assumes that history is too important to be left to historians or to be left in the classroom."
During Jordan's 17-year tenure at Monticello, its former master has continued to make news. The DNA results confirming Jefferson's likely relationship and children with Sally Hemings took Jordan by surprise in 1998, but he acts as though such imbroglios are a fringe benefit. "Jefferson was controversial. That's what makes him more interesting," he says.
And it's not just the Mr. J who draws fire. Some of Monticello's high-profile visitors the Clintons, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher are lightning rods, too. "We're used to controversy," says Jordan. "All we can do is try to get it right."
The wide array of people he encounters is Jordan's favorite part of the job. This particular day, he has just gotten off the phone with Ken Burns, and David McCullough called this morning. And while President George Bush will not be here in January to kick off the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, Jordan's already met him and every president since Jimmy Carter.
Does Jordan ever get the tiniest bit sick of ole TJ, living 24-7 in Jefferson's shadow? He laughs, "We've got 325 people working at Monticello trying to keep up with one man who lived 200 years ago."
Good thing he finds the third president "endlessly fascinating."
What brought you here? Being named director of Monticello, effective January 1985.
What's worst about living here? It's 700 miles from our son, daughter-in-law, and two of our four perfect grandchildren.
Favorite hangout? In the fall, Section 121 at the Carl Smith Center. Otherwise, Pizza Bella.
Most overrated virtue? Piety
What would people be surprised to know about you? That I went through Ole Miss on an athletic scholarship and was a varsity letterman in baseball and basketball, though the Peter Principle set in quickly in the Southeastern Conference, then as now.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Whatever it is that keeps me from being able to dunk a basketball.
What accomplishment are you proudest of? Helping to make Monticello more educational, scholarly, and inclusive.
What do people find most annoying about you? I'm addicted to keeping "to do" lists for myself bad enough but also for colleagues, which is even worse.
Whom do you admire? At the moment, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the entire Corps of Discovery, including Seaman, the Newfoundland dog.
Favorite book? Bernard Mayo's Jefferson Himself, a classic in print since 1942.
What subject causes you to rant? Intolerance, and the scourge of historical amnesia among young people.
What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Advances in medical science.
What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? The relentless growth of impersonal technology and a decline in civility.
What do you drive? A Jeep Cherokee
What's in your car CD player right now? It's guaranteed to be classical music, Roy Orbison, or Sousa marches.
What's your next journey? To Florida for a mix of business and pleasure.
What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? My police blotter is clean, but the most trouble I've ever been around, by far, was during the year and a half I taught American history in the Maximum Security Division of the Virginia State Penitentiary.
What do you regret? Any act of unkindness, or any lost opportunity.
Favorite comfort food? A day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine.
What's always in your refrigerator? Bottled water
Must-see TV? The Cavalier football team on the road.
Favorite cartoon? Anything by the late Jeff MacNelly, especially "Pluggers."
Describe a perfect day. Tea for two.
Walter Mitty fantasy? To slip a high and tight pitch past Barry Bonds.
Who'd play you in the movie? Anybody other than Vin Diesel.
Most embarrassing moment? At a formal dinner in Paris, when I couldn't find a way to open a handsome gift presented by Ambassador Pamela Harriman and had to be rescued by my other dinner partner, the French actress Anouk Aimée.
Best advice you ever got? "Play the game all out, smart, to win, and with class," which was the New York Yankee standard in the DiMaggio era.
Favorite bumper sticker? "Go to hell, cow college," which has special meaning for Ole Miss alums.