Straight from the files of “Historical Shit That Can’t Be Made Up,” we woke up this morning to a pretty unbelievable email from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation with the subject line, “Taste: Chocolate at Monticello.”
Oh my, we thought, before opening it. Surely someone in TJ’s PR office might be sensitive to and knowledgeable enough of, er, certain Jefferson proclivities to be wary of harping about his “taste” for chocolate!?
From the good folks at Monticello, who seem to be trying out synergy marketing, no matter how crude or ill-advised the subject area may be (emphasis ours):
“Join us for a day of pure chocolate indulgence at Monticello!
Celebrate your love for chocolate at Taste: Chocolate at Monticello with a full day of chocolate-themed events. Learn how chocolate was a favorite of Jefferson’s and how it was prepared and served at Monticello. Enjoy a chocolate-making demonstration and savor several pairings of chocolate and Virginia wines.
Create your own itinerary with your friends or surprise your significant other for a special Valentine’s Day treat. ‘Taste’ includes a chef demonstration, keepsake recipes to try at home, and numerous indulgent chocolate tastings. House tour included.
Thomas Jefferson loved chocolate? No shit, we imagine at least one woman would say.
The Monticello Chocolate Experiece (www.monticello.org/chocolate) is taking place on February 4th and is open to people of any race who can cough up the $49 fee.
We’ve visited Monticello twice in the past three years. For the way the former slave plantation represents the life of Thomas Jefferson (one of the most brilliant and complicated Americans of the Revolutionary generation), the life of the young Republic, and the way in which slavery is such an integral part of the American story, it is a location that every American citizen should visit at least once in their lives. It is simultaneously a place of remarkable architectural and natural beauty, a reminder of unspeakable cruelty, and the birthplace of a great deal of American intellectual thought.
And yet, it’s a place that (like Jefferson himself) is very much of two minds when it comes to its conflicting roles with freedom and slavery; furthermore, we find that it “markets” itself rather strangely.
Both times we’ve visited Monticello (in 2008 and 2011), we’ve gone on two tours: a regular “house” tour, and a special tour of the part of the plantation where the slave quarters once stood. Both times, we had the same guide for the slave tour, a black woman who (not surprisingly) had no trouble speaking about Jefferson’s ownership of hundreds of slaves and his history with the Hemings family. But our two tours of the house were very different.
The first time we went inside, the docent (a middle aged white man) started with slavery right away. He openly talked about the Hemings’s construction work in the house itself, how slaves had built the entire plantation, and how Jefferson used slaves as collateral in maintaing his lavish lifestyle, despite leaving his estate deeply in debt. The second time was very different. The young volunteer (a young white college student) was extremely nervous talking about slavery. She avoided it is much as possible, and whenever any of the people in our tour asked a question (which were all about slavery) she demurred and cast as much doubt as she could on the question of whether Sally Hemings’s descendants were related to the Jeffersons or not.
It is the crude marketing of Monticello we find to be the strangest. Since we bought our tickets to visit with a credit card, we’ve been bombarded with email and snail mail advertisements, begging for money to keep the estate open to the public. Given our own history and ancestry from slaves, it’s rather ironic to open our mailbox and find the one-time owner of hundreds of slaves (who left all of them and his closest kin at the mercy of his creditors) asking us for money.
But tying this controversial yet extremely important American landmark into themed events — especially one that peddles a Jeffersonian indulgence of chocolate, with no apparent sense of irony — well, that’s one even we can’t imagine an inventor as prolific as old TJ himself could ever have come up with.