Saturday, January 11, 2014

Historical Levy Lion Library Research

Early Humane Society Activists, 1915 by Holsinger
My continued research of the Levy Lions has educated me as to where to find local historic information. I'm impressed to learn that there is a wealth of cataloged articles and photographs online. I couldn't help but pick up facts about not only my topic of research but other local trivia. At the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society (ACHS) around the backside of the Main Library downtown, Librarian Ms. O'bryant immediately steered me in the right direction. She presented to me a wonderful book with photographs taken from 1887 - 1925 by "the" local professional photographer, Rufus Holsinger. Two photos in the book stand out in my mind, Charlottesville's First Automobile and Women Distributing Pamphlets for the Humane Society. It's so easy to travel off topic down another thread. For now, I'm focused on obtaining the detailed history of the four life size Levy Lion statues that were once standing at Monticello. With each blog post, I discover a bit more and sort out the oral details with corresponding published accounts.

1950s Rear of Lions w Ellen Buckner Wills & sons at Belle M.
My original blog post about the two pairs of Levy Lions that were at Monticello led me down the path to determine what happened to these historic statues. In my last blog post about the Lions, I questioned if the oral history was true that the pair of Ball Foot Lions resided at Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville. The Curator at the plantation, John Lamb, has verified that the owner of the Lions, that donated them to Cheekwood Gardens, also owned Belle Meade Plantation from 1938 to the early 1950s. John provided two photos of the lions. In one undated photo they were nearly lost in overgrown brush but in another they were positioned at the entry into the Gardens.

Microfilm Reader at Main Library
The Daily Progress newspaper microfilm located in the reference room at the Jefferson Madison Regional Library holds a wealth of information. Scanned images of the newspaper from 1893 - 1923 are online without an index. The difficulty is that you can not keyword search and have to visually examine each page. But fear not, fortunately an experienced Librarian can aid with your search and Ms. O'bryant at the ACHS handed me a gem of a find - an index of "some" key headlines and amazingly it led me directly to the Lions. Because my search was for articles published in the year 1928, I had to search "old school" through a microfilm reader. Actually this process ended up being easier than online (sometimes older is better)!

My closeup of one of the ball foot Lions from Holsinger 1912
I also checked out one of the most interesting libraries in Charlottesville, the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. To access material you have to show an id, log in and materials are brought to you. No coats, handbags, paper, pen, backpacks, etc can be taken into the reading room. You are provided their pencil and paper and that's it. You really do have a sense that the materials that you are handing are special and protected (and they are). Thankfully, many photographs that I was searching for were located online, accessible from my computer at home.  A quick save to my hard drive was all that was required to obtain wonderful images of the Lions which allowed me to enhance and crop.

One of 2 Lions at New York Public Library
Interestingly, I unearthed several published columns in The Daily Progress from 1928 and 1929 referring to the whereabouts of the Levy Lions. Published on Friday, November 16, 1928 was an ad for the November 17 auction that was to sell off furniture and furnishings not belonging to Thomas Jefferson. Librarian O'bryant planted a seed that may be the auction did not happen at Monticello and interestingly I found a short column in the November 17th newspaper that mentioned as part of the sale, "some garden statuary that came from Italy was shipped to Plaza Art Rooms in New York City for exhibition and sale." Wow, that is an amazing discovery! Some items were sent elsewhere and not auctioned on site at Monticello. Gives me a good excuse to go back to New York to do a bit of research.

November 16 1928 The Daily Progress
Apparently in 1929 local citizenry became curious as to the disposal of the two Ball Foot Lions that were pictured on the back of the $2.00 bill.  It was remarked that they were printed on the bill but were not currently at Monticello or even there in Thomas Jefferson's day, that the lions were placed shortly after purchase of Monticello by Mr Levy. The famous Lions went a missing at some point - who had them? It was published a few week later that Mrs. Mark Henderson purchased them from the foundation (no reference to "at auction") and gave them to her sister in Nashville. Hence, the future fate of two of the four Lions was to reside in Nashville. I'm concluding that this was the same Mrs. Mark (Josephine) Henderson that owned Michie Tavern and coordinated the Tavern's move, board by board, from Earlysville to its present location down the road from Monticello.

One of the 2 Lion Statues w Shield Holsinger 1912
I've still not been able to sniff out the location of the pair of lost Lions with Shields. Did they end up being shipped to New York? There was an oral reference that the Ball Foot Lions were found in a junkyard. May be instead the shield pair ended up in a junkyard and not the ball foot pair.  Time to head back to the Small Collections Library to search meeting minutes of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation for clues.



  1. Really enjoying your sleuthing!

  2. Thank you Rita! I was just given a tip about the whereabouts of the Lions with Shields... more to come soon...


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