The University of Virginia – as Mr. Jefferson’s University – has an impressive legacy to boast of. Even if you were not lured to UVA by its historical importance, you should still know about these hallowed grounds on which you walk. You never know when these fun facts can come in handy: I got free drinks during Spring Break from a pleasant gentleman simply because he was a big fan of Thomas Jefferson (scout’s honor). Everyone should really go on a historical tour, but in the meantime, check out a few stories and fun facts:
1. Rotunda Low-Down: Most universities in Jefferson’s day were affiliated with religion, either officially or taught by clergymen of sorts. In supporting his dedication to the separation of church and state, Jefferson dictated that the center building of his university be a library and forbade religious services from being held within its walls. The Rotunda was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome (a pagan temple), making our secular center UVA’s very own temple of knowledge. Originally, Jefferson envisioned the Dome Rome painted blue with gold gilt stars replicating the night sky, with a moveable seat to move and place each star. If Jefferson’s plan had been carried out, it would have been America’s first planetarium.
2. Frank Batten, whose $100 million dollar gift to UVA established the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, was a co-founder of The Weather Channel. He also served as chairman of the Associated Press from 1982-1987.
3. Speech! Speech! President Roosevelt addressed UVA graduates in Memorial Gym on June 10, 1940 – the morning that Roosevelt learned Mussolini had attacked France. Known as the “Stab in the Back” speech, Roosevelt said, “On this tenth day of June 1940, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.” Among the students seated was his son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr.
4. Started from Pav VII Now We’re Here: The cornerstone of the university was laid on October 6th, 1817 in the presence of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Jefferson started construction at Pavilion VII, built the other pavilions out of numerical sequence, and ended work with the construction of the Rotunda. He knew that if started from the Rotunda and worked his way down the lawn, the state would most likely cut off his funding before all ten pavilions were constructed.
5. Wa-Hoo-Wah: Edward H. Craighill, Jr. composed the lyrics to the “Good Ole Song” in the 1893.
6. A Cow on the Rotunda: In May of 1965, a cow mysteriously wound up on the dome of the Rotunda. For thirty years, no one knew how or why it happened, until Alfred Berkeley III, UVa graduate and former president of NASDAQ, admitted that he and several of his DKE fraternity brothers helped execute the prank.
7. The Royal Treatment: On July 10, 1976, Queen Elizabeth II of England and her husband Prince Philip visited a luncheon in the Dome Room. Over 18,000 people gathered on the Lawn to greet them. While facing the Rotunda, Queen Elizabeth remarked, “It is a moving experience to stand amidst the beauty he [Jefferson] created at this University.”
8. Houdon: Found in the Rotunda, the bust of Jefferson made by French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon while Jefferson lived in Paris as US foreign minister to France was cast from real-life. Due to its likeness, the bust was the used as the basis of Jefferson’s profile found on the pre-2006 nickel.
9. Gardening: Jefferson loved to garden, or as he said, “to embellish grounds by fancy.” He thought of landscape design as being essential to architecture design as a whole.
10. Corks and Curls Statistics: In the 1893 Corks and Curls – UVA’s yearbook – there is a “Statistics” page that outlines some random facts. For example, “…two out of every three indulge in the ‘national game’ of base-ball, and nearly one-half of the voters uphold the noble sport of foot-ball”; “The large majority regards Greer Baughman, of Richmond, Virginia, as the College ‘dude.’”; and “Moustaches and eye-glasses are much more fashionable than they were last year.”