Smithsonian working with MU to restore part of Jefferson tombstone

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 | 6:19 p.m. CST; updated 11:59 a.m. CST, Thursday, December 6, 2012
A marble slab meant for Thomas Jefferson's tombstone has been crated up for shipment to the Smithsonian Institution as part of a restoration effort. Jefferson himself dictated the words on the marble slab: "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence Of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia."

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article contained incorrect information about Thomas Jefferson's connection to land-grant schools.

COLUMBIA — With its back to Francis Quadrangle, the original tombstone of one of the country's founding fathers has a space for an epitaph that's been empty for more than a century.

The slab memorializing Thomas Jefferson that once had filled that space rests in the attic of Jesse Hall — for now.

The 150- to 200-pound marble slab will be sent to the Smithsonian Institution for extensive restoration, nearly 130 years after the grave marker was first dedicated at MU.

The restoration project is anticipated to take up to a year and is being done for MU free of charge. When the slab is returned to the university, it is expected to be put on display for the public, John Murray, assistant director of business services for the university, said.

Carol Grissom, senior objects conservator at the Museum Conservation Institute, and her team at the Smithsonian will examine the damage that the slab has gathered over time and determine how to repair it.

"We will examine some samples using the scanning electron microscope and conduct other analyses," Grissom said in a news release. "We also know that the stone was previously broken, so we might try to take it apart first to get a better look at the internal damage."

According to a plaque on the front of the memorial, the tombstone was officially dedicated at MU on June 4, 1885. The epitaph has been kept in storage in Jesse Hall since 1895, though it was originally held in the university’s Academic Hall until the building famously burned down in 1892.

Grissom and her team also plan on finding out where the stone used to make the slab came from.

"Was it something that was imported, domestic or local?" Grissom said. "The information is historically significant, but it could also affect the treatment of the stone."

Time took its toll on the monument before it arrived at the university from Monticello, Va., leaving it cracked and weather-beaten. The worn epitaph, written by Jefferson himself, reads:

          "Here was buried

          Thomas Jefferson

          Author of the Declaration of American Independence

          Of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom

          & Father of the University of Virginia."

MU was the first state university in the Louisiana Territory, which included over 800,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River, purchased from France in 1803. Jefferson played a major role in obtaining this land. MU is even modeled after the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded in 1819.

*"Something like that is obviously important to the country’s history, and Thomas Jefferson was a very important part of the university’s history," Murray said. "MU was the first state university to be located in territory secured by one of Jefferson’s greatest political achievements, the Louisiana Purchase."

Supervising editor is Simina Minstreanu.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Ken Gebhardt December 6, 2012 | 8:14 a.m.

When I worked at the University of Missouri in the early 1960's, my Dad asked me if I knew where this tombstone was at Jesse Hall. Well Dad & I went looking for the tombstone and found it in the weeds on the North/West side of Jesse Hall. I did not know the tombsone was there, but Dad had read it somewhere. We are so very thankful that it is being taken care of, but do want it to stay at the University of Missouri. It is very important to our History.
Martha Gebhardt

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.