Sitting Down with the Madisons
On Saturday, Brett and I headed to Montpelier to celebrate James Madison’s Birthday. We were excited since it was the first time we would see the wreath lying at his tomb. Little did we know it would be a day we would never forget.
As we drove down Constitution Highway, just before arriving at the main gate, the sky threaten us by dropping a few rain drops on the window. Brett and I looked at each other and it was as if we were communicating the same words, “We are going to get wet today.” But as we drove up the long drive with the Montpelier Mansion as a backdrop, the rain stopped and we both breathed a sigh of relief.
We parked in the overflow parking lot having arrived with just fifteen minutes to share. I quickly gathered my important items and Brett grabbed our umbrella. We made our way down the road to a side road. From here we could see the family cemetery in the distance. There was a crowd of people already there. We could also hear music. I smiled at Brett as we head to the path.
Just as we arrived at the path which is located across from the Slave Cemetery, we saw a gentleman talking to what we assumed were exchange students from James Madison University. He was explaining to them the roles of the slave on the plantation. I caught myself smiling thinking about the history that would be shared today.
As we walked down the path, you could see just over the ridge a small hill and fence line. I looked up just in time to see a herd of horses running over to the fence line. It was as if they too heard the music and wanted to come and see what it was all about.
When we arrived at the family cemetery, we realized that the ceremony was going to include the United States Marine Corps. If you have been following the blog and have read about us, you know that I am a former Marine and Brett is a retired Navy Corpsman. It was such a wonderful surprise to see these young Marine honoring such a great man.
The master of ceremony was the new CEO of Montpelier, Kat Imhoff. The ceremony started off with remarks from her followed by the Marine Color Guard and Invocation. There was a presentation give to James Madison and the people of Virginia by Governor McDonnell through one of his representatives declaring Saturday to be James Madison Appreciation Day. In the remarks it was really quite exciting to hear the governor state that James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia. I looked at Brett who was video-taping the ceremony on the other side of the wall and gave him a smile and thumbs up.
The main speaker was Jonathan Alger, President of James Madison University. In his speak, Mr. Alger called for a “Return to Madison”. There were birthday wreaths presented by several public organizations and locations in honor of Mr. Madison as well as a wreath presented by the Marines by order of President Obama.
After the ceremony and just a small passing sprinkle, Brett and I had a chance to meet Mr. Alger and Ms. Imhoff. We also had a chance to say “Hello” to some of the other staff members we had met during our visit in October. One of them was Tom Chapman, one of the staff that works with the archaeology department. We renewed our invitation for Tom and others to visit us at Belle Grove.
Afterwards we headed to the Visitor Center to purchase our tickets to tour the house. We have seen the mansion many times and could almost do tour ourselves. But we were more interested in seeing “Mr. and Mrs. Madison”. We skipped the film and headed to the Mansion hoping to get into one of the tours. There we were greeted by a staff member helping to direct people. When we asked where the Madisons were, he told us that they were meeting people in the Constitution Room located in Nelly Madison’s wing. We asked if we could skip the tour and go straight there and we were happy to hear that we could.
As we entered the room, we observed Mr. Madison sitting with a young girl on one side of the room deep in conversation. Her father was sitting across the aisle tapping the conversation on his cell phone. Mrs. Madison was on the opposite side of the room also holding a conversation with a young boy. It was really fun to watch the children interacting with these two actors as if they were the real people. Of course I can’t say anything about that. When I met them in December, you would have thought I was meeting the man himself then too!
Once the conversations were done and the family made their way out the door, we sat down and spoke to the Madison. All I can say is, “Wow!” It was really a lot of fun discussing history with them and talking about our plantation and his birthplace. Both were just so knowledgeable about the Madison that I could see why other people have told us that these two re-enactors were the best. We talked about the possibility of them coming to Belle Grove for a birthday celebration next year. Mr. Madison even made the suggestion that we have them come to Belle Grove in September to celebrate his and Dolley’s anniversary. He explained it would be good because his father and mother, James Madison Sr and Nelly Conway Madison were also married on September 15th. This would be one of many things I would learn from Mr. and Mrs. Madison during our visit. He even asked if he could provide a menu for the dinner!
I think the best part of the visit was when we were discussing our final upcoming public hearing on Tuesday, March 19th with the Board of Supervisors of King George. Mr. Madison offered to come and speak on our behalf. Now wouldn’t that be something! To have Mr. Madison walk into the board room and give his blessings for our business. We were so touched!
We also asked Mr. Madison if he would consider giving us a list of books he would like to see in our library. We most definitely need a shelf of “recommended reading” by James Madison. We also discussed our Cookie Contest that is currently going on. We explained that the theme is “a Cookie James Madison would like”. This seemed to please them both.
All told we spent the better part of an hour talking with them. For Brett and me, it was truly the highlight of our whole trip. While I know that this isn’t really Mr. and Mrs. Madison, it really makes me wish I could have really known the man and woman. What great things he must have said and what a wonderful personality she must have had. But if this is as close as we could come to the real persons, I have to say, we got the best that there could have ever been.
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