Monday, October 01, 2007

Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings...
And The Bed That Made America

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (ZP) -- The last time I stood inside of Thomas Jefferson's bedchamber, George H. W. Bush occupied the White House, Saddam Hussein had just been driven from Kuwait, and the Soviet Union was in the midst of its nervous breakdown.

Fall. Nineteen-Hundred and Ninety-One.

I'd just started eighth grade, all of 13 and already a troublemaker of some notoriety, and my Civics class was visiting the Founding Father's home as part of field trip.

And during that tour of Monticello, as I stood next to the bed of one of the greatest minds of the 18th century.

Principle author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Founder of the University of Virginia. Third President of the United States.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fascinating stuff, really.

But I had a mission back in 1991.

I just had to, well, touch IT.

On this visit, while the tour guide rambled on about architecture and agriculture and life on the man's plantation, I just had to touch IT again.

Wait... IT?

* * * *


, as in, Thomas Jefferson's alcove bed.

The place where not only Jefferson slept, but...

... Probably, Sally Hemings as well.

* * * *

Everything's in that one bedchamber, unspoken and buried beneath every nail and plank, just about every aspect of the social fuckedupness that was Virginia pop culture, from 1607 through 1865. The three-fifths of a man horseshit, chattel slavery realities and plantation pipe dreams, the myths of racial superiority, inferiority, and eugenics, the utter insanity of the human concept of race itself.

And Jefferson's bed, well, represents the most controversial interracial relationship in U.S. history.

Hemings and Jefferson probably stole precious moments in that bed, clandestine kisses and witching-hour moments of foreplay, caught up in the blatant hypocrisy of Colonial and Post-Colonial North America.

IT's quite comfortable, actually.

Hell, I'd hook up with Tommy Boy in the sucker. Homeboy really knew how to design a built-in bed.

* * * *

I waited for my moment this time, waited for the tour guide to be distracted by some old lady from Madison, Wisconsin, or Peoria, Illinois, or Birmingham, England...

And then, when the time came, I reached right over the rope barricade, pushed my fist down into the replica down mattress, left my own wrinkles in the very fabric of American history.

Fall. The Year of Our Lord, Twenty-Hundred and Seven.

At 29, I'm only slightly less of a troublemaker.

* * * *

Back in 1991, I'd pestered a poor tour guide about Hemings and Jefferson's rumored sexual relationship, about how the man behind the All Men are Created Equal Doctrine may have Founding Fathered as many as six children with a woman that he owned as property.

My overzealous questioning drew the scorn of one of the teachers escorting the field trip. I was warned, threatened with a detention slip, if I didn't simmer down.

I was such a rebellious arrogant brat - I told the teacher, in advance, that I was going to do it, going to sit right on the edge of the bed of Thomas Jefferson. That act, the educator warned me, would lead to both a phone call to my parents AND in-school suspension.

So when we entered the bedchamber during our class tour, I waited for the guide to be distracted, waited for the teacher in question to look right at me, and plopped my 13-year-old ass down on the bed where one of the greatest minds of the 18th century once slept...

... And maybe his mistress, occasionally, too.

One whole day. My act of civil disobedience earned me one whole day in detention.

Technically, it earned me three days of in-school suspension, but I skipped class for the other two, forged a note from my high school's disciplinary official regarding my satisfactory completion, and never served out my full sentence. The teacher never called my parents.

It was so worth it.

- # # # -


Jessica said...

You, my dear librarian, are a man after my own heart.

As a junior in high school, I transfered out of the history class of a misogynistic, racist pig and into the class of a popular black woman. Everyone thought she was cool. I thought she was cool.

So when it came time to pick topics for our final term papers, I chose to research Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemmings. My outline was ambitious, and my paper would have kicked ass in a classroom full of mediocre students, so I was surprised - and highly disappointed - when my idea was denied for being "inappropriate."

My idealistic and disobedient 17 year-old self felt like the cool teacher had given in to "The Man," and I have to say I still feel the same way.

God, I hated high school.

Miz BoheMia said...

I am SO laughing my ass off... faboo! *sigh* I would have SO gotten along with you in high school though I was probably too geeky for us to even talk... *shudder* High school no more... WOOH!

And "...the utter insanity of the human concept of race itself" stood out to me... beautiful and oh so true and about time I read someone say it! Being Iranian/Danish so many people have told me how interesting it is that both nationalities are Aryan when all I wanna do is tell them to stuff it as the concept of race is not genotypically differentiated and therefore is nonexistent so AAAHHH!... bravo amigo mio!

Still laughing...

Cat. said...

I'm not commenting on the rebellion here, but I will totally agree that the beds in that house totally rock! Must be something in the air--I got in trouble just for saying that to my husband, whose reply was "Uh-uh, we are NOT redesigning our bedroom!!"

I always had a huge crush on ol' TJ. Now I know why: the man knew beds. ;-)

The ZenFo Pro said...

Lol, I left out the part about having been banned for life, supposedly, in 8th grade... Mont. obviously keeps poor records :)

You know, your paper story is an example of the rather disturbing dynamicism behind racism, sexism, etc. People treat certain historical events as things, well, that if we don't talk about, they'll just go away. People of all backgrounds try that shit all the time.

And, well, you're a librarian, too, hon - ain't no group o' people who know more about the stupidity of academic censorship than librarians.

Lmao, chica, we would've definitely gotten along in high school :) Geeky? Lol, aside from being a petty thug, outside of the classroom, I was also captain of my school's "Battle of the Brains" squad my senior year. Think that probably explains my dorkiness :)

Race, yeah, is a social construct. Sure, there are subtle physiological differences, evolutionary markers that indicate the ancestral regional origin based of environmental conditions (i.e. people from Europe are "whiter" that others because of the year-round fluctuations in sun exposure caused by seasonal change - over thousands of years. At least, that's the theory I ascribe to), but, well, for the most part, no human being is that much different from the guy or gal on the other side of the friggin' planet.

And gracias!

That alcove bed is friggin' awesome! It's way it both divides up the study and the bedroom, built as part of the wall. I'm told that Jefferson designed it this way because he liked the freedom of being able to just, well, chill whenevber he was working or, er, playing ;)

Cooper said...

I would expect nothing more from you Jason.

EsotericWombat said...

I would expect nothing less =P

Great story dude.

Seeing as the race bullshit is still around I wonder what hope there is of clearing out the gender/sexuality bullshit.

No one bed that can act as a symbol for that though.

Julie said...

ha! i went to monticello when I was a senior in high school. i love jefferson but yeah he was a confused dude!

hey thanks for helping me with my web design project yesterday. i know you were super-busy buti just thought with the blog you'd be the best person to ask for help. You're AWESOME!

The ZenFo Pro said...

Heh. Nothing MORE????

Oh, I could do so much more...

It's a comfy bed, and, lol, I do have some strange fetishes.



Rock Hudson's bed, maybe? I mean, the guy was a Hollywood stud, forced out of the closet by an illness - even Reagan had to acknowledge it.


Don't get me wrong. TJ was probably oneofthe three greatest presidents of all-time. But... yeah. Confused. Good way to put it.

And no problem.Lol, guess I'm good for something at work :)

Just remember: CSS rules the Blogosphere. And it's easy :)

julie said...

haha. but CSS is also a band too.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Lmao, yeah, but you're not in a Brazilian Disco-Pop class, either :)

pia said...

Great story. I would have wanted to know :)

On my Senior trip somebody was almost arrested for touching a book in the Library of Congress, and the tour guide talked about the hippie scum who had invaded the pentagon. Everybody on the bus turned to look at me--but instead of laughing and agreeing with the guide, they let me know that they agreed with me--well many people

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steph said...

What the fuck is THAT comment about?
Anyway, I bet what you did to that bed is very tame compared to what other depraved souls might have done over the years.
Horny tour guides especially.

Xmichra said...

lol... well now THAT is something to brag about!! now if only you could have used the bed..

Cooper said...

Wow, I get those too but askimet picks them up......

I just assumed it meant you a cool mofo.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Thanks, chica!

Lol, there's a reason I've never had a desire to work at the ol' LOC. Great institution, but they've always had a "batshit staff" problem... ;)

And thanks for the email, too.

Um, okay. Thanks for the manifesto. I deleted it, because, well, it's obvious somebody just forgot their meds...

Heh, the majority of Cyberspace, sadly, is made up of spiders, crawlers, trolls, and indexing bots. Bound to get some of it eventually.

Ya know, I've always wondered about that...

Heh. There's always the next trip ;)

Heh. Nothing like strange manifestos in a comments field...