Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Monticello Levy Lion Saga Continues, Part IV

Saunders Trail Pond
A beautiful walk on Saunders Trail at Monticello re-energized me concerning the topic of the Levy Lions. One of the great Charlottesville mysteries, that has yet to be solved, is what happened to 4  ~ very public ~ life size lion statues that resided at Monticello up until the late 1920's. My quest to track the Lions began after reading the fascinating book, Saving Monticello, written by Marc Leepson. In his book it was reported that one of the 4 massive lion statues, which I refer to as the Canterbury Lion, was only a 10 minute drive from my house! To follow the tale of the lions, first click here => to read my original blog post about the Levy family history.

The Canterbury Road Lion Statue
Yesterday, after walking the trail, I decided to check in on the Canterbury Lion statue. After residing 33 years at this location for all to see, I was shocked to find that it had been MOVED. I gasped and drove by twice just to make sure I was seeing things correctly. The lion was GONE and the house under renovation. My mind is swirling with questions... "Where is it", "How in the heck did they move it", "Did it get damaged", "Was it sold"! Fortunately, I received an email from the daughter of the family that lived in the home. As life goes, her father passed away and the house was sold. I was relieved to learn that the 3000 lb lion was harnessed and hoisted by fork lift into a special truck to take a little road trip over the mountain to his new home. He is now safe and sound with the Granddaughter of the original purchaser, gazing up at the little mountain that is Monticello.

1925 photo of Cary Jean sitting on the Canterbury Lion 
For nearly 95 years the Canterbury Lion has been purported to be one of the "Foot on Ball" lions or at least a lion that was purchased at Monticello. It was purchased, by Herbert Collins, the Grandfather of the family that resided on Canterbury Road, at Monticello in 1923. His Granddaughter, Sherrie, provided the wonderful photo of her mother sitting on their Lion. We have dated the photo to 1925 based on her mother's age of 2 years old. Getting the car dated might provide another clue.

Historic photographs show that there were 4 life sized lion statues at Monticello during the Levy family reign. The "Foot on Ball" pair was even on the back of the $2.00 bill for the world to see. Read my second blog post to get familiar with all 4 lions and then read my last blog about more of this mystery.

1912 photo by Holsinger Foot on Ball lion W. Port. Monticello
Recently I unearthed a clue concerning the West Portico Lions. Before any piece of ground is touched at Monticello, the archaeology team gets to work. Interestingly that is exactly what happened on the West Portico stairs where a pair of Levy Lions once stood. Detailed measurements made by the team put the brick platform width at 18" (referred to as the west portico cheek wall @ 1.5'). To further complicate matters, historic photos show a slate cap that appears to overhang the excavated cheek wall. As pictured, the base of the Levy Lion Statue fits within the slate top, therefore one must conclude that the base width of a standing Levy Lion statue would have to be smaller than the width of the slate cap. It appears the cap was replaced in 1938, long after the lions were removed from Monticello so an estimate must be derived based on photographic evidence.

The base of the majestic Canterbury Lion is 20" wide by 60" long. It is possible that it could fit on the slate cap given we do not know its exact width. The oral history insists that the Canterbury Lion has a connection to Monticello. I have found no photographic evidence or written documentation that there were more than 4 large lion statues at Monticello (2 Ball on Foot and 2 Sitting with Shield). If this lion never sat on the West Portico, it is possible we have a 5th lion that was possibly stored inside the home as the vast majority of historic photos are of the grounds at Monticello. Conveniently, Mr. Collins owned a moving company so it certainly would have been an easy pitch to The Foundation - "If you want to get rid of a 3000 lb lion, I can move it - TODAY".

Side view of 2 Levy Lions that remain lost in history.
There are still 2 "sitting with shield lions" that are unaccounted for. Crucial information has been found concerning the search for the Lions and I can't wait to reveal the details in my next Levy Lion blog post. So stay tuned!

A special thanks to Sherrie Breeden who was determined to move this massive beast and keep him as part of their family legacy. I am so grateful for her continued communication and for providing historic family photos for all to enjoy!



  1. I remember reading these poat s and can't wait to read the next instalment. Fascinating!

  2. Glad u are enjoying the mystery Rita and following along! It's been a fun project.

    I dug deep to find the next information which is the best yet and I hope to share Sunday!


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