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The Riddle Behind the Statues

On we go.
David McCullough

I love learning the story behind places and monuments. And in this case, a few of these stories make fun riddles.

University of Virginia Rotunda

The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. During a tour guided by a UVA senior we learned that the clock in the rotunda was the first bullet proof clock in America. It seems that in the early days of the university, drunken students liked to shoot at the clock which they felt had too much influence on their pampered lives. We also visited Edgar Allan Poe’s room—13 West Range—still maintained by the Raven Society at the University.

Thomas Jefferson statue in Rotunda

Inside the University of Virginia rotunda was an amazing marble likeness of our third president. The cloak on the statue has several broken fringes. During an 1895 fire students dragged the 3000-pound statue out on a mattress, and did some minor damage during the rescue.

According to our guide, when the monument was unveiled in 1861, Jefferson’s grand-niece was present—and fainted dead away. When they revived her, she said the monument lacked only red hair and freckles to make it appear lifelike.

Then our guide posed a great riddle: What is the key difference between the real Thomas Jefferson and his statue?

Winston Churchill at the British Embassy

Our second riddle is related to a bronze likeness of Winston Churchill located on the grounds of the British Embassy in Washington D.C. We learned about this statue from the book, Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough. (Thanks for the tip on the book, Dick.) Laurie and I listened to the audiobook version and several times a chapter covered a place that we were coming to within a few days. The Washington on the Potomac chapter gave fascinating insight to our capitol city—and told us about the statue of the British wartime leader.

So, the second riddle is: What is significant about the placement of the feet on Churchill’s statue—and how is it related to Downton Abbey?

The two riddles are:

1. What is the key difference between the real Thomas Jefferson and his statue at the University of Virginia? 

Answer: Thomas Jefferson did not weigh one-and-a-half tons. Yes, this is “guide humor,” but I liked it. And he went on to describe how the statue was damaged during the rescue from the rotunda fire. In terms of size, and other factors, it is reportedly an incredible likeness.

2. What is significant about the placement of the feet on Churchill’s statue—and how is it related to Downton Abbey.

Answer: One of Churchill’s feet is on British soil and the other is on American soil–to represent that he is half American because his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, was a Brooklyn born-socialite. It was trendy during that age for the daughters of wealthy American families to marry the sons of English gentry, in part to save cash strapped estates. If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, you’ll remember that was the premise of the marriage of Cora to Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham.

Ulysses S. Grant statue in front of U.S. Capitol

Trip Update: We’re staying with our friends John and Stephanie in western Massachusetts—people we haven’t seen in over two decades. Had a great hike to the top of Mount Greylock—the tallest mountain in the state. And, the home of the American Wizarding school. Tomorrow we set off for a few days in Boston then four days in Maine. Laurie will get fresh lobster—one of her objectives on this trip.

6 thoughts on “The Riddle Behind the Statues”

  1. What? a continuing story/question? So now I hafta make sure to read you
    next time too! (as if I haven’t been!) LOL

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