MARK HOLMBERG: Why did new Thomas Jefferson statue take 225 years?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Finally, 225 years after the state capitol he designed was built, there’s a new, beautiful, stand-alone statue to Thomas Jefferson to greet visitors to the influential building. It was unveiled Friday.

The question: why did it take so long?

There are many statues at the state capitol,  including Williams Smith, Stonewall Jackson and medical pioneer Hunter Holmes McGuire.  [BONUS: Click here for all of Mark Holmberg's reports]

Even the often-drunk Edgar Allen Poe, who wasn’t a statesman, general or architect, has his own sculpture.

The most critically-acclaimed statue in this city of monuments is Houdon’s George Washington, which has occupied a most-honored place inside Jefferson’s famous building for 216 years.

And, of course, Washington is honored again at the capitol’s grand entrance with the giant equestrian statue. Yes, there’s a sculpture of Thomas Jefferson below Washington’s horse,  along with other statesmen gathered in a circle, all in danger if Washington’s horse were to relieve itself.

It’s kind of hard to believe this famous Virginian, the third president of the U.S., a vice president, our second governor, author of the Declaration of Independence and forward-thinker about religious freedom and yes, even the ending of slavery, didn’t rate special treatment  along the lines of George Washington.

As Gov. Bob McDonnell said at the unveiling, there isn’t a job on the Commonwealth that Jefferson didn’t do.

Perhaps Washington would have enjoyed the centuries-long snub. According to noted historian Ron Chernow, the nation’s father looked down on Jefferson, a man rumored to have dallied with his slaves. And like her husband, Martha Washington ended up with a deep dislike of Thomas Jefferson, whom she called “one of the most detestable of mankind,” according to Chernow. When Jefferson visited her at Mount Vernon before he became president, Martha said that it was the second worst day of her life—the first being the day her husband died.

So, finally, this beautiful new statue.

It was funded by local business leaders Tom Farrell, Bill Goodwin and Brent Halsey and their families.

It was created by a team of StudioEIS craftspeople in New York, led by that firm’s co-founder  Ivan Schwartz, who spoke of the honor of having a sculpture in the same building (sort of) as Houdon’s Washington.

Jefferson’s statue is situated in a subterranean rotunda, greeting visitors using the new entrance to the capitol that was built five years ago.

Even though both Washington and Jefferson were 6-feet-2-inches tall, Houdon’s statue is lifesize and the new Jefferson is scaled a little larger.

So finally, Jefferson has a leg up on Washington, even if he’s basically in the basement of a new addition to his grand old building.

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