15 Facts About Roy Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl

 Sean Gallup // Getty Images
Sean Gallup // Getty Images

Arguably the most popular of American painter Roy Lichtenstein's works, Drowning Girl is an iconic landmark of pop art. But beneath its bold lines, clever circles, and rushing waves lies the story of a 40-something artist who finally found his calling by looking to kids stuff.

1. LICHTENSTEIN FOUND INSPIRATION IN COMIC BOOKS.

Though comic books had been overlooked by art critics, Lichtenstein, a Manhattan-born painter, relished in their bold lines, vibrant colors, and use of word bubbles to convey speech and thought. While the artist was also a sculptor and lithographer, he'd become best-known for his comic-influenced paintings, which elevated comics' low-brow aesthetic to high art.

2. HE EVEN MIMICKED THEIR PRINTING PROCESS'S LOOK.

At a glance, Drowning Girl might seem like she's printed like old-school comics. But Lichtenstein actually recreated this aesthetic with oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Brushing paint over stencils he'd perforated with a dot pattern, he mimicked the "tonal variations with patterns of colored circles that imitated the half-tone screens of Ben Day dots used in newspaper printing."

3. DROWNING GIRL IS A RIFF OFF A DC COMIC PANEL.

Lichtenstein lifted the imagery of the drowning girl and her thought bubble from the splash page of the 1962 comic Secret Hearts #83. There, a story called "Run for Love!" featured a full-page illustration with a drowning dark-haired girl in the foreground. In the background lies a small, capsized boat, and a befuddled blonde man holding on to it. For his 1963 homage, Lichtenstein cropped the image, bumped up the color, thickened the line work, and changed the thought bubble wording from "I don't care if I have a cramp! -- I'd rather sink -- than call Mal for help!" to "I don't care! I'd rather sink -- than call Brad for help!"

4. THE MAN'S NAME CHANGE WAS BECAUSE HIS DROWNING GIRL DESERVED BETTER.

"A very minor idea," Lichtenstein has said of the revision of Mal for Brad, "But it has to do with oversimplification and cliché." Or to simplify, he felt that his cartoon representation of frustrated American Womanhood demanded a boyfriend with "a heroic name." Mal just wouldn't cut it.

5. LICHTENSTEIN WAS A GROUNDBREAKER.

American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein stands in front of art
Wesley / Stringer // Getty Images

His peers Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns had already been bringing popular imagery into their work. But by dabbling in comic motifs as early as 1958, Lichtenstein was the first pop artist to dive into cartoons and comics, beating even Andy Warhol whose brush with comic-based pieces came in 1960.

6. BEFORE DROWNING GIRL, HE PAINTED MICKEY MOUSE AND POPEYE.

In her book Roy Lichtenstein, art historian Carolyn Lanchner pinpoints the summer of 1961 as when the painter moved away from Abstract Expressionism, which was popular at the time, and toward cartoon imagery, which was overlooked if not despised. The acclaimed artist recounted this stage in his evolution by saying, "The early (paintings) were of animated cartoons, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Popeye, but then I shifted into the style of cartoon books with a more serious content such as 'Armed Forces of War,' and 'Teen Romance.'" He continued, "I was very excited about and interested in the highly emotional content yet detached impersonal handling of love, hate, war, etc., in these cartoon images."

7. LICHTENSTEIN USED AN OPAQUE PROJECTOR TO COPY THE DETAILS OF THE COMICS.

This machine allows opaque objects—like a pencil sketch—to be projected onto a screen, or canvas. He once described the process thusly, "From a cartoon, photograph or whatever, I draw a small picture—the size that will fit into my opaque projector ... I don't draw a picture in order to reproduce it—I do it in order to recompose it ... I project the drawing onto the canvas and pencil it in and then I play around with the drawing until it satisfies me." This process allowed Lichtenstein to work out composition and minor details on large canvases, like Drowning Girl which measures in at 67 5⁄8 inches by  66 3⁄4 inches.

8. THESE LICHTENSTEIN PIECES ARE REGARDED AS PARODIES.

He also crafted works inspired by Cézanne, Mondrian, and Picasso, which were likewise dubbed "parodies" by art critics. But Lichtenstein rejected this description—he didn’t want viewers to think he was mocking the works of others. Instead, he insisted, "The things that I have apparently parodied I actually admire."

9. DROWNING GIRL HAS HIGHBROW INSPIRATIONS AS WELL.

Hokusai's famous print, The Great Wave off Kanazawa, inspired Lichtenstein
Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The pastiche-loving pop artist confessed that his use of blacks and blues to create the waves and the curls of the girl's hair was influenced by Japanese printmaker Hokusai's world-famous wood-block print The Great Wave off Kanagawa. "In the Drowning Girl the water is not only Art Nouveau," Lichtenstein explained, "But it can also be seen as Hokusai. I don't do it just because it is another reference. Cartooning itself sometimes resembles other periods in art—perhaps unknowingly ... They do things like the little Hokusai waves in the Drowning Girl. But the original wasn't very clear in this regard—why should it be? I saw it and then pushed it a little further until it was a reference that most people will get ... it is a way of crystallizing the style by exaggeration."

10. BRAD WAS A RECURRING CHARACTER.

While that cad Brad doesn't make into the frame of Drowning Girl, the mentioned boyfriend can be found in Lichtenstein's 1962 painting Masterpiece. There, a blonde woman says through speech bubble, "Why, Brad darling, this painting is a masterpiece! My, soon you'll have all of New York clamoring for your work!" But between the scenes something bitter must have befallen this mysterious beau. In 1963's I Know How You Must Feel, Brad ...”, he's out of frame, leaving a brooding blonde girl thinking, "I know how you must feel, Brad…"

11. CROPPING AND TWEAKING COMIC PANELS MAKES THEM UNIQUELY LICHTENSTEIN'S.

The provocative painter became known for focusing in on expressions of comic panels, and revamping their thought bubbles to play to a new context. In a recent re-assessment of Drowning Girl, Expressionist artist Vian Shamounki Borchert felt Lichtenstein's cropping suggests a woman drowning in her own tears over that dreadful Brad. Meanwhile, art critic Kelly Rand saw the hurt heroine as being "in a suspended state of distress," pointing out that the lack of any context leads the viewer to ask what’s happening. Had the boat and the heroine's lamentable beau been left in the frame, the meaning of the image would have shifted to a far more literal sense of peril.

12. APPROPRIATION FROM COMICS MADE DROWNING GIRL.

Drowning Girl had a coveted spot in some of Lichtenstein's early '60s art shows, and over the years has become one of his most adored creations. But even as his comic-inspired pieces made him famous in his 40s, a debate raged over whether this comic appropriation or parody was art at all. In 1963, New York Times critic Brian O'Doherty infamously declared Lichtenstein "one of the worst artists in America," bristling that the painter won praise as he "briskly went about making a sow's ear out of a sow's ear." Then in 1964, Life magazine covered the brewing art scene kerfuffle with the hurtful headline “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?

13. THE TIDE TURNED FOR DROWNING GIRL.

Critics may have initially huffed, but over the decades, no one could deny that Lichtenstein's comic-influenced works had a lasting allure. Art collectors paid out enormous amounts to claim them as their own. Drowning Girl was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1971, and has been a proud part of their permanent collection ever since. Lichtenstein won redemption in 1986, when Life re-evaluated his works, declaring him "always the most thoughtful of the pop artists ... [who] had the most to say. Those cartoon blowups may have disturbed the critics, but collectors, tired of the solemnity of abstract expressionism, were ready for some comic relief. Why couldn't the funny pages be fine art?'' Ultimately, this daring artist's re-interpretation challenged art critics and broader audiences to examine their own biases. As his work grew in popularity, so did the art community's respect for comics and cartoons. Lichtenstein—who lived until 1997 and the ripe age of 73—had the chance to see the sea change he'd begun in the world's understanding of art.

14. WOMEN IN PERIL BECAME A THEME FOR THE PAINTER.

 A guest views 'Crying Girl' by artist Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein's Crying Girl
Ben Pruchnie // Getty Images

Now heralded as a "masterpiece of melodrama," Drowning Girl is by far the most famous of these. Other titles from this unofficial series include Crying Girl (1963), Crying Girl (1964), Hopeless, In the Car, and Oh, Jeff...I Love You, Too...But.... Each painting hints at a story, which the viewer is urged to imagine. It's believed this invitation to collaboration is a major part of what has made Lichtenstein's comic art, and particularly Drowning Girl, remain a popular attraction to museum visitors, even decades later.

15. LICHTENSTEIN BECAME CELEBRATED AS NOT JUST A PAINTER, BUT A STORYTELLER.

In 2012, Washington's National Gallery of Art helped put together a rousing Lichtenstein retrospective which did not shy away from his comic-inspired art, but rather relished in it. More specifically, a conversation emerged about the carefully selected images Lichtenstein plucked from comics. National Gallery curator Harry Cooper told NPR the artist "really looked hard for these comics that had a kind of crux of the story in them," then applied his unique perspective to them to open them up to an audience who might never touch a comic book, but could nonetheless be enchanted with their stories. With that, he helped elevate pop art to a place where it could not be ignored or written off as a "just a gimmick, just a joke." Though Lichtenstein experimented in many forms of art and style over his long career, it was his embracing of comics in works like Drowning Girl that secured his legacy as a painter, a pop art pioneer, and a visual storyteller in his own right.

15 Facts About Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on Its 30th Anniversary

MGM
MGM

In 1989, a couple of slackers from San Dimas, California hopped inside a time-traveling phone booth and gathered a gaggle of key figures from the past so they wouldn’t fail their high school history class. In 1991, they were at it again. Now, 30 years after Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter first cemented their place in sci-fi history as the lovable duo, the long-awaited threequel—Bill & Ted Face the Music—has been officially confirmed. Here are 15 things you might not know about the most excellent original film.

1. Bill and Ted were born in an improv class.

The idea for the characters of Bill and Ted came about in 1983, when UCLA classmates Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson formed a student improv workshop with a few of their peers. “One day, we decided to do a couple of guys who knew nothing about history, talking about history,” Solomon recalled to Cinemafantastique in a 1991 interview. “The initial improv was them studying history, while Ted’s father kept coming up to ask them to turn their music down.” (Solomon played Ted, Matheson was Bill.)

2. Originally, it was Bill & Ted & Bob.

When the skit originated, there was a third character, Bob. But “Bob” wasn’t as into it as Solomon and Matheson, so the trio became a duo.

3. Bill wanted to be Ted and Ted wanted to be Bill.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Keanu Reeves playing Ted Logan, or another actor besides Alex Winter in the role of Bill S. Preston, Esq., but each actor actually auditioned for the opposite role. But when Solomon and Matheson saw their audition tapes, they thought the opposite would work better. In an online chat with Moviefone, Reeves claimed that he didn’t even know their roles had been switched until after he had been cast. “I got a call saying that I got the part,” Reeves recalled. “So I went to the wardrobe fitting… assuming I was playing Bill, and I get there and Alex Winter, who eventually played Bill, went to the wardrobe fitting thinking he was playing Ted. Then we were informed that that wasn't the case.”

4. Pauly Shore also wanted to be Ted.


Getty Images

Pauly Shore was among the hundreds of actors who auditioned for the role of Ted. In 1991, Shore hosted an MTV special, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Premiere Party, in which Shore corners Reeves in a back room to talk about his failed audition. Lucky for America, Shore did go on to find fame apart from Bill & Ted, and bring the phrase, “Hey, Bu-ddy!” into the popular lexicon.

5. No, Bio-Dome is not Bill & Ted's threequel.

Speaking of Pauly Shore ... For years, rumors circulated that the script for 1996’s Bio-Dome—starring Shore and Stephen Baldwin—was actually written as the third film in the Bill & Ted franchise. In 2011, Winter laid this rumor to rest when he told /Film that the story is “total urban legend as far as I know. No one involved in that movie had anything to do with Bill & Ted. So unless they were just going to try and reboot the franchise with that concept and different actors, I can’t see a connection.”

6. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter weren't quite nerdy enough.

The casting of Reeves and Winter posed a problem for the script. “Bill and Ted were conceived in our minds as these 14-year-old skinny guys, with low-rider bellbottoms and heavy metal T-shirts,” Solomon told Cinefantastique. “We actually had a scene that was even shot, with Bill and Ted walking past a group of popular kids who hate them. But once you cast Alex and Keanu, who look like pretty cool guys, that was hard to believe.”

7. George Carlin was a happy accident.


Getty Images

In a 2013 Reddit AMA, Alex Winter called the casting of George Carlin (as Rufus, Bill and Ted’s mentor) “a very happy accident. They were going after serious people first. Like Sean Connery. And someone had the idea, way after we started shooting, of George. That whole movie was a happy accident. No one thought it would ever see the light of day.”

8. The time machine was originally a van.

In Solomon and Matheson’s original script, it was a 1969 Chevy van that served as Bill and Ted’s time machine. But in the course of rewriting the script for Warner Bros., who showed early interest in producing the project, there was concern that a motor vehicle as time machine would ring too closely as a rip-off of Back to the Future, which arrived in theaters in 1985. It was director Stephen Herek who suggested a phone booth, as he thought it could lend itself to something akin to a roller coaster in the visuals. (The phone booth’s similarity to Doctor Who’s TARDIS was apparently not a big concern to the studio.)

9. Some Nintendo lover has that phone booth.

As part of a promotion for 1991’s Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure, Nintendo Power magazine gave away Bill & Ted’s phone booth as a contest prize. The lucky winner was one Kenneth Grayson, who Reddit tracked down for an AMA in 2011. Grayson spent much of the chat answering questions about whether or not any X-rated activities had ever taken place in the phone booth.

10. The script was written in four days. By hand.

In 1984, Solomon and Matheson wrote the script over the course of just four days. They wrote it by hand, on note paper, during a series of meetings at a couple of local coffee shops. The 2005 box set, Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection, features some of their handwritten notes.

11. Sci-fi wasn't part of the plan.

Keanu Reeves, Dan Shor, and Alex Winter in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
MGM

Though Matheson is the son of legendary sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend, he didn’t intend for Bill & Ted to be a science-fiction movie. “I try to consciously fight it, out of a desire to break away, but maybe I have a predilection toward that because of my dad,” Matheson told Starlog Magazine of the inevitable fantasy elements that emerged. “He’s a great writer and craftsman, and always has suggestions.” In fact, it was the elder Matheson’s idea that the time travel story be its own movie. “We were going to write a sketch film, with this as one of the skits, but my dad said, ‘That sounds like a whole movie,’” Matheson recalled, “And he was right!”

12. Bill and Ted almost traveled straight to television.

Shortly after principal photography on the film was completed in 1987, the film’s financiers, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt. A straight-to-cable release was the most likely path for the time-traveling comedy until Orion Pictures and Nelson Entertainment bought the rights in 1988 for a 1989 release. Because of the delay to theaters, references to the year—which had been filmed as “1987”—had to be dubbed for 1988, resulting in a few scenes where the actors’ lips don’t quite match the sound.

13. Their journeys continued in a variety of media.

In addition to the 1991 sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the Bill & Ted franchise includes 1990’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, an animated series for which Reeves, Winter, and Carlin provided the voices. It lasted for one season. The title was revived as a live-action series in 1992, which included none of the original cast and ran for just seven episodes. In 1991, Marvel Comics launched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book, written by Evan Dorkin.

14. Back in the late 1980s, you could eat Bill and Ted.

As a tie-in to the animated series, you could—for a short while—actually start your morning with a bowl of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, which was touted as “A Most Awesome Breakfast Adventure.”

15. Bill and Ted will ride again.

Over the past several years there has been a lot of buzz about a third Bill & Ted movie coming to theaters. In 2011, Winter tweeted that the script had been completed and that he was getting ready to read it. When asked about the possibility of a threequel in 2013, Reeves told the Today Show, “I'm open to the idea of that. I think it’s pretty surreal, playing Bill and Ted at 50. But we have a good story in that. You can see the life and joy in those characters, and I think the world can always use some life and joy.” Several references to the possible project have been made since then, and it's now been confirmed that the third film, Bill and Ted Face the Music, is currently in pre-production.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, via a report from the Cannes Film Festival, Matheson and Solomon co-wrote the script and Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) is attached to direct. Reeves and Winter will, of course, be reprising their roles, which "will see the duo long past their days as time-traveling teenagers and now weighed down by middle age and the responsibilities of family. They’ve written thousands of tunes, but they have yet to write a good one, much less the greatest song ever written." Excellent!

25 Things You Might Not Know About Thomas Jefferson

iStock
iStock

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third president of the United States, penned one of the greatest documents of the modern world in the Declaration of Independence. While that’s certainly a career highlight, it’s far from the only interesting thing about him. For more on Jefferson’s life, accomplishments, and controversies, take a look at this assembly of 25 facts.

1. He was addicted to learning.

Born April 13 (April 2 on the pre-Gregorian calendar), 1743 at his father’s Shadwell plantation in Virginia, Jefferson was one of 10 children (eight of whom survived to adulthood). While he attended the College of William and Mary (he graduated in 1762), he was said to have studied for 15 hours daily on top of violin practice. The hard work paid off: Jefferson moved into law studies before becoming a lawyer in 1767. Two years later, he became a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, the Virginia legislature. His autodidact ways continued throughout his life: Jefferson could speak four languages (English, Italian, French, Latin) and read two more (Greek and Spanish).

2. His greatest work was a study in contradiction.

As a member of the Second Continental Congress and the “Committee of Five” (a group consisting of John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson brought together for this purpose), Jefferson was tasked with writing the Declaration of Independence, an argument against the 13 colonies being held under British rule. While the Declaration insisted that all men are created equal and that their right to liberty is inherent at birth, Jefferson’s plantation origins meant that he embraced the institution of slavery. In any given year, Jefferson supervised up to 200 slaves, with roughly half under the age of 16. He perpetuated acts of cruelty, sometimes selling slaves and having them relocated away from their families as punishment. Yet in a book titled Notes on the State of Virginia (which he began writing during his stint as governor and published in 1785), Jefferson wrote that he believed the practice was unjust and “tremble[d]” at the idea of God exacting vengeance on those who perpetuated it. Though Jefferson acknowledged slavery as morally repugnant—and also criticized the slave trade in a passage that was cut from the Declaration of Independence "in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia”—he offered no hesitation in benefiting personally from it, a hypocrisy that would haunt his legacy through the present day.

3. He didn't like being rewritten.

After drafting the Declaration, Jefferson waited as Congress poured over his document for two days. When they broke session, Jefferson was annoyed to find that they were calling for extensive changes and revisions. He disliked the fact the passage criticizing the slave trade was to be omitted, along with some of his harsh words against British rule. Benjamin Franklin soothed his irritation, and the finished Declaration was adopted July 4, 1776, spreading via horseback and ship throughout that summer.

4. He recorded everything.

After inheriting his family’s Shadwell estate, Jefferson began constructing a new brick mansion on the property he dubbed Monticello, which means “little mountain” in Italian. For operations at Monticello and the properties he would acquire later in life, Jefferson was preoccupied with recording the minutiae of his daily routine, jotting down journal entries about the weather, his expansive garden, and the behavior of animals on his property. He kept a running tally of the hogs killed in a given year, mused about crop rotations, and noted the diet of his slaves.

5. He doubled the size of the country.

Jefferson’s greatest feat as president, an office he held from 1801 to 1809, was the Louisiana Purchase, a treaty-slash-transaction with France that effectively doubled the size of the United States. The deal took careful diplomacy, as Jefferson knew that France controlling the Mississippi River would have huge ramifications on trade movements. Fortunately, Napoleon Bonaparte was in the mood to deal, hoping the sale of the 830,000 square miles would help finance his armed advances on Europe. Bonaparte wanted $22 million; he settled for $15 million. Jefferson was elated, though some critics alleged the Constitution didn’t strictly allow for a president to purchase foreign soil.

6. He fought pirates.

Another instance where Jefferson pushed the limits of his Constitutional power was his fierce response to Barbary pirates, a roving band of plunderers from North Africa who frequently targeted supply ships in the Mediterranean and held them for ransom. Under Jefferson’s orders, American warships were dispatched to confront the pirates directly rather than capitulate to their demands. The initial Navy push was successful, but the pirates were able to capture a massive American frigate—which an American raiding party subsequently set fire to so the ship couldn't be used against them. A treaty was declared in 1805, although tensions resumed in what was known as the Second Barbary War in 1815. Again, Naval ships forced Algerian ships to retreat.

7. He helped popularize ice cream in the U.S.

Jefferson spent time in France in the 1700s as a diplomat, and that’s where he was likely introduced to the dessert delicacy known as ice cream. While not the first to port over recipes to the United States, his frequent serving of it during his time as president contributed to increased awareness. Jefferson was so fond of ice cream that he had special molds and tools imported from France to help his staff prepare it; because there was no refrigeration at the time, the confections were typically kept in ice houses and brought out to the amusement of guests, who were surprised by a frozen dish during summer parties. He also left behind what may be the first ice cream recipe in America: six egg yolks, a half-pound of sugar, two bottles of cream, and one vanilla bean.

8. He bribed a reporter.

Presidential scandals and dogged newspaper reporters are not strictly a 20th or 21st century dynamic. In the 1790s, a reporter named James Callender ran articles condemning several politicians—including Alexander Hamilton and John Adams—for various indiscretions. In 1801, he turned his attention to Jefferson, whom he alleged was having an affair with one of his slaves, a woman named Sally Hemings. Callender went to Jefferson and demanded he receive $200 and a job as a postmaster in exchange for his silence. Disgusted, Jefferson gave him $50. Callender eventually broke the news that Hemings and Jefferson had been involved, a relationship that resulted in several children. Jefferson supporters ignored the story—which modern-day DNA testing later corroborated—but Callender was never in a position to gather more evidence: He drowned in the James River in 1803.

9. He had a pet mockingbird.

Even before the Revolution, Jefferson had taken a liking to mockingbirds, and he brought this affection to the White House, which they filled with melodious song. (And, presumably, bird poop.) But he was singularly affectionate toward one mockingbird he named Dick. The bird was allowed to roam Jefferson’s office or perch on the president’s shoulder. When Jefferson played his violin, Dick would accompany with vocals. Dick and his colleagues followed Jefferson back to Monticello when he was finished with his second term in 1809.

10. He invented a few things.

Not one to sit idle, Jefferson used his available free time to consider solutions to some of the problems that followed him at his Monticello farming endeavors. Anxious to till soil more efficiently, he and his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, conceived of a plow that could navigate hills. He also tinkered with a way of improving a dumbwaiter, the elevator typically used to deliver food and other goods from one floor to another.

11. His wife had a curious connection to his mistress.

Jefferson was married for just 10 years before his wife, Martha Wayles, died in 1782 at age 33 of unknown causes. Curiously, Jefferson’s involvement with his slave, Sally Hemings, was part of Martha's convoluted family tree. Martha’s father, John Wayles, had an affair with Sally’s mother, Elizabeth Hemings—meaning most historians think Sally and Martha were half-sisters.

12. He's credited with creating a catchphrase.

During his second term as president, Jefferson was said to have run into a man on horseback near his Monticello estate who proceeded to engage him in a lengthy complaint of everything wrong in Washington. Reportedly, the man had no idea he was speaking to the commander-in-chief until Jefferson introduced himself. The man, deeply embarrassed, quickly spouted “my name is Haines” and then galloped away. True or not, Jefferson is credited with originating the resulting catchphrase that was popular in the 1800s, with people saying “my name is Haines” whenever they wanted to feign embarrassment or were forced to leave abruptly.

13. He was served with a subpoena.

Long before Richard Nixon landed in hot water, Thomas Jefferson resisted attempts to compel him to testify in court. The matter unraveled in 1807, when James Wilkinson insisted he had sent Jefferson a letter informing him of Aaron Burr’s plot to invade Mexico. Government attorneys wanted Jefferson to appear with the letter, but the president—who said that the country would be left without leadership if he traveled to Richmond to answer the subpoena—refused to appear, an act of executive willpower that was never challenged in court.

14. He had a secret retreat.

Though Monticello remained Jefferson’s pride and joy, he had another residence for times when he wanted to be alone. Poplar Forest, located near Lynchburg, Virginia, was an octagonal home that he had built to exacting detail: The windows were measured so they would bring in only Jefferson’s preferred amount of sunlight. The home took years to construct and was nearly ready by the time he left office in 1809. It’s now open to the public.

15. He was a shabby dresser.

After taking office, Jefferson offended some in Washington who believed the president should be an impeccably-dressed and polished social host. While many of his stature would opt for a carriage, Jefferson rode a horse and dressed in plain and comfortable clothing. He acknowledged only two official White House celebrations annually: the 4th of July and New Year’s Day.

16. He was an early wine connoisseur.

Centuries before wine appreciation became a national pastime, Jefferson was busy accumulating an eclectic wine cellar. His love for the drink coincided with his trip to France, where he was introduced to the various tastes and textures. He kept a well-stocked collection at Monticello and also tried growing his own European grapes, but was never successful.

17. He shocked people by eating a tomato.

Jefferson’s multitudes of crops included what were, for their time, unique and sometimes puzzling additions. He grew tomatoes when their consumption in Virginia was uncommon, and, according to one account from 1900, Jefferson reportedly appalled some onlookers when he would consume one in front of witnesses.

18. He probably had a fear of public speaking.

Without today’s methods of addressing the public—radio, television, and Twitter—Jefferson was largely free to succumb to his reported phobia of speaking in public. While working as a lawyer, he found himself unable to deliver orated arguments as eloquently as he could write them. When he did speak, it was apparently with a meek disposition. One listener to his inaugural address in 1801 described Jefferson’s speech as being in “so low a tone that few heard it.”

19. He harvested opium.

At Monticello’s sprawling vegetable and plant gardens, Jefferson grew over 300 different kinds of crops, flowers, and other sprouts. Among them were Papaver somniferum, the poppy seed that can be used to create opioid drugs. Common in Jefferson’s time, the plant is now under much closer scrutiny and the estate was forced to pull up their remaining crop in 1991.

20. Abraham Lincoln was not a fan.

Though they weren’t contemporaries, Abraham Lincoln sometimes seethed with animosity toward Jefferson. William Henry Herndon, Lincoln’s onetime law partner, wrote that Lincoln “hated” Jefferson both for his moral shortcomings and his political views. But Lincoln also recognized the potency of the Declaration, citing its words as proof of equality among the population. “All honor to Jefferson,” he said, for making the document a “stumbling block” for anyone arguing in favor of tyranny. But he still never liked the guy.

21. He sold a lot of books to the Library of Congress.

Jefferson, a voracious reader, was dismayed when the War of 1812 resulted in British forces burning the Capitol in Washington and reducing its 3000-volume library of books to ashes. To repopulate the repository of knowledge, Jefferson sold Congress his entire personal library of 6707 titles for $23,950. The sale was finalized in 1815, and the books were sent via wagon from Virginia to Washington.

22. He helped found the University of Virginia.

A fierce advocate of education, Jefferson used his later years to propagate an institution of higher learning. Jefferson began planning the resources for a Virginia state university during his presidential term, writing to the Virginia House of Delegates that a college should not be solely a house but a “village.” In the proceeding years, Jefferson arranged funding, contributed design ideas, and helped shepherd the University of Virginia toward its formal opening in March 1825. Known as the “founding father” of the school, his influence has not always been welcomed. In April 2018, protesting students spray-painted the words rapist (in reference to his controversial relationship with slave Sally Hemings) and racist on a campus statue.

23. He was always in debt.

Status, salary, and opportunities should collude to make sure presidents are in solid financial shape during and after their tenure in office. Jefferson was an exception. Despite inheriting his father’s estate, he was plagued by debt for most of his life. He often spent beyond his means, expanding his property and making additions and renovations with little regard for the cost involved. His father-in-law, John Wayles, carried debt, which Jefferson became responsible for when Wayles died in 1774. Jefferson himself died owing $107,000, or roughly $2 million today.

24. His onetime nemesis dies on the same day.

Before Jefferson passed away on July 4, 1826, he had finally made amends with John Adams, the president who preceded him in office and for whom Jefferson had acted as vice-president. The two men, once on the same side, had grown to resent the other’s approach to diplomacy and politics, with Jefferson lamenting Adams’s preference for centralized and meddlesome government—though according to Jefferson, the major issue was the so-called “Midnight Judges,” appointments that Jefferson felt “were from among [his] most ardent political enemies.”

Strangely, Adams passed away the same day as Jefferson, just five hours later. The date, July 4, was also the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence being adopted.

25. He wrote his own epitaph.

Jefferson wasn’t willing to leave his final resting place in the hands of others. He was exacting in how he wanted his grave marker to look and how his epitaph should read. He also directed the marker be made of inexpensive materials to dissuade vandals from bothering it. Following his death in 1826, several people chipped away at his grave in Monticello as souvenirs. Congress funded a new monument in 1882, which is still toured by visitors to the estate today. The engraving 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

This time, no one had the temerity to rewrite him.

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LIVE SMARTER