The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports 2013 will bring something old and new to the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. The first tombstone of Thomas Jefferson, the president responsible for the expansion of America into the Louisiana Purchase, will soon be moved from campus to the Smithsonian in Washington, where it will undergo extensive repairs and renovations. Former MU administrator Kee Groshong reminisced with the news media outlet about the stone epitaph.
How long has the slab been in Missouri?
The 160-pound slab of gray marble was moved from Monticello in 1882 and dedicated at the university in 1885. The piece was on display for decades in Academic Hall before it was moved to Jesse Hall. Groshong told the Post-Dispatch the slab would be brought out for Tap Day ceremonies in the 1960s, but the stone was too fragile for even brief appearances. The piece of American history was put into storage.
Why is the marker being restored now?
Groshong always kept an eye on the tombstone while it was in attic storage. He has known about the piece since he was a student on campus in the early 1960s. The retired vice chancellor began to inquire about restoring the monument about 18 months ago. Eventually, he talked to the Smithsonian, which agreed to do the restoration work for free.
Why was the tombstone moved to the middle of Missouri?
Reasons for the move from Virginia to Missouri varied. Souvenir hunters at Monticello would touch the slab and try to take pieces of it, thereby making the stone weaker. Some of the edges are worn off. Instead of sturdier granite, the marble stone is more fragile as the surface is crumbling. When people tried fixing pieces of the stone, the glue wouldn't hold. Jefferson's family agreed to give the old tombstone to Mizzou since it holds the distinction as the first public university in the former Louisiana Purchase Territory, according to the Associated Press.
How fragile is the stone?
Marianne Marti told Mizzou's alumni magazine , "Just beneath the surface, the material is friable, or sugary. If you touched it, it would rub away." Restoring the piece begins with a deep cleaning of the stone before a chemical treatment to make the stone more solid.
What does the gravestone say?
The rectangular slab is about six feet tall with the following inscription, written by Jefferson himself before his death on July 4, 1826: "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of Independence Of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia." Scholars find the inscription fascinating as Jefferson made no mention of his time as president in his epitaph.
William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He currently resides in Branson.