tv Arlington House Tour CSPAN August 21, 2016 10:00pm-10:48pm EDT
you know i think my father-in-law had this book of letters. he was on the kaiser stuff. i said, hey you have got to get this to norfolk. it is part of history. i'm going to go sign books. thank you very much for coming. [applause] [applause] >> on thursday, american history tv will be live to mark the centennial the national park service which celebrates its of mercy on that day. join us from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. eastern time to learn more about the park service and arlington house. >> each week, american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places to learn what artifacts reveal about american history. next, national park service ranger matthew penrod leads a tour of arlington house, the robert e. lee memorial.
the 19th century mansion situated on the hill above president john f. kennedy's grave in arlington national cemetery. today, it is the most visited historic home in the national park service system, which is marking its centennial this year. arlington house will close at the end of 2016 for a year-long restoration made possible by a $12.35 million gift from philanthropist david rubenstein. mr. penrod: i'm a park service ranger here at the robert e. lee memorial. i have been here many years. i sometimes do i have spent more than robert house ban e. lee did. it was his home for about 30 years. arlington house is perhaps the most unique place in the entire national park service. perhaps in regards to historic houses, one of the most in the
entire country. what we have here is a place that truly represents the entire history of this country. from its earliest founding with the original colonists who came to virginia and america in the early 1600's, through the revolutionary period, leaders of the american revolution, signers of the declaration of independence are represented by the family who built and owned this house. and it was a working plantation. representing in many ways one of the uglier aspects of american history and that is slavery. it played a crucial role in the american civil war. home of general robert e. lee, prior to the war, when he was a u.s. army officer for 32 years. he developed and became the great soldier that would lead him to become this extremely consequential man during the
american civil war. but this is where the story takes a dramatic twist because this home is a national memorial to honor robert e. lee, but robert e. lee is a man who waste -- waged war against the united states government. who led an army against the united states government. that army is believed to have killed more u.s. soldiers than any other single enemy army in the history of this country. and yet here this house is a national memorial to honor him, dedicated by congress in 1925. it really represents the way the itstry developed in earliest years, how it divided, and then how the nation somehow was able to come back together after that war. this home is a memorial to honor
e not for what he did during the war but what he did afterwards. when he was promoting reunion and reconciliation, the healing of the country. telling southerners it was their duty to restore peace and harmony to the nation and also to once again obey and respect the authority of the national government. that government across the river here that the southern states had just waged a terrible war against. robert e. lee was telling them that is now their legitimate government again and it was their duty to respect that. lee became an important voice and influence in the cause of healing and rebuilding this country. in 1925, congress made this a memorial to honor him, just three years after the lincoln memorial was dedicated. and memorial bridge and avenue
were built across the river to symbolize the reunion of the country. what adds to the extraordinary nature of the story is that this house was originally built as a monument, a memorial, a personal memorial to honor george washington. the father of the country. owned by washington's grandson, george washington park custis. in many ways this has to be looked at as our nation's first washington monument, the first memorial built to honor any president. the first structure of any kind built to honor a man like that. this house had a fame to itself apart from robert e. lee. but then lee married into the family, became part of the washington family. and so when the coming of the civil war happened and lee was put in a very painful and
difficult place in which he had to choose sides, president lincoln wanted him to command federal troops. it was offered to him. but he could not fight a war against virginia, his native state. his home and family, as he characterized it. he was caught in this terrible dilemma. ultimately his choice would have a massive impact on the course of the civil war in american history that would follow. it would also lead to the u.s. government taking this home, this plantation away from his family to punish him and creating arlington national cemetery as both a place to honor the dead, but also a form of revenge or retribution against lee for the role he played as a confederate general. what you are seeing here at arlington house is primarily the original structure built between 1802 and 1818. we calculate maybe 85% of the physical structure is intact.
it has been here for about 200 years. it requires a great deal of care and effort to maintain, restore, and conserve it. it has been many years since a major restoration effort has been undertaken here. there will be a lot of work done over the next year and a half to two years to bring this place back to its glory. at the end of this year, the house will shut down for approximately a year while this restoration work is done. why don't we go inside the house and take a look, see how it is today. give you an idea of what it is and the work we will be doing. you can come see us in 2018 and see how much of an improvement has been made to the restoration of this great mansion. follow me inside.
here we are in the main hallway at arlington house. the center hall was designed to impress. remembering that george washington parke custis wanted this house to be a memorial to george washington, he had the house designed to be like a gallery. to be very monumental. to impress what he thought would be some of the most important people in the country. over the years, presidents, congressmen, and senators would visit arlington house to learn more about george washington. the original architect was named george hadfield, who george washington personally invited to america from england to do design work on the nation's capital building. george hadfield was one of the most prominent architects of his day. so this house has a great
history and architecture in the history of this country as well. it is not just because of the people lived here and the events that took place here, but the structure itself a great meaning. it is one of those places, sometimes a house or structure takes on a meaning because of the events that happened there and the people who lived there. but this house was built to be consequential. so it has that history to it as well. robert e. lee married into that in this parlor on june 30, 1831. under the archway where you can dress onniform and display, 24-year-old lieutenant robert e. lee married 22-year-old mary anna randolph custis, the only surviving child of the owner the heiress , to the property. a childhood sweetheart of robert e. lee as well as a
great-granddaughter of martha washington. this wasn't the only wedding that took place here. it wasn't even the first wedding. the first wedding took place here 10 years earlier when a woman named mariah carter married charles siphax. what made that wedding important in the history of this place is that mariah and charles were both enslaved here and mariah was believed to have been the daughter of the master. she was an enslaved woman from some type of relationship that existed in which george washington custis fathered a child by one of the enslaved women here. a woman named ariana carter. this is forcing us in many ways to re-examine how we interpret the history of arlington. here we have the story of slavery and this place represents the founding ideals of this country. this home built to honor george
washington and to celebrate the values and beliefs of the father of the country. the house itself built by slaves, but then you have the family as well. the family relationship. and george washington custis in essence had two daughters. one was white, his heiress. she married robert e. lee. one was enslaved. both great granddaughters of martha washington. in that regard, george washington parke custis as a representative of the first first family of the country is , -- who spent 55 years of his life promoting and celebrating that was in essence also representative of another aspect of the history of this country. and the simple truth is the first family of this country was biracial. we recently reenacted that wedding with descendents of that family in attendance,
representing both charles and mariah. there was also another wedding that took place here. that was the wedding of selena norton and thorton gray, also enslaved. id in the housed and thorton worked in the house as well. this wedding took place in this parlor. selena gray and her family would live in one of the two historic slave quarters that we maintain and are going to be restored as part of this project as well. you can see this room is somewhat empty of furnishings and that is representative of the fact that right now we are in the process of removing furnishings and artifacts on display, so by the end of the year we will begin the restoration project. but all the furnishings have to be removed before we can do that work. you can see the boxes and plates
-- boxes in place and preparations being made. as we walk down the hallway you also see empty places on the walls. there were numerous portraits hanging in this hallway. family portraits, historic ones, of washington and other members of the family. however, some of those have been removed. but at the same time there are , holes in the collection. our new restoration project through this generous donation by david rubenstein will allow us to acquire more original artifacts and reproductions of artifacts including paintings so , we can represent the true appearance of this house as it hen the lees and custis'
lived here. this bare patch of plaster on the wall. this plaster is not just something we chose to leave exposed for no good reason. what we discovered during a recent, about seven years ago, a restoration project will be the less where we -- a restoration project where we stripped down the paint to the plaster and repainted different rooms, we found writing and graffiti. some of this writing, is very faint on the walls, but this we think predates the civil war. some of the graffiti we have in the house is civil war related, left by union soldiers. some of this predates the civil war and goes back perhaps to the earliest construction of the house. it is something we are leaving exposed because it is representative of that history and we want to be able to preserve it and perhaps in the future find a way of even interpreting it. we are not exactly sure what the writing says.
it is a mystery that is going to be left us to solve in the future. this is the family dining room. it was one of a couple of rooms used as dining rooms in the mansion. what makes this room so significant is the large number of original furnishings that do exist, including china on the dining room table. the blue-and-white plates you see at the front, the cincinnati china that belonged to george washington and other china we believe belonged to martha washington. it is representative of what was here historically. george washington parke custis brought with him as much of the washington family possessions as he possibly could collect. inheriting things from martha washington as well as purchasing sales from estate together together what he called , his washington treasury. he built this house to house those items in and to exhibit them to the public.
he wanted this house to be a public place, a kind of museum. these were items that people could use. you could have come and dined with the custis' and eat not the -- and eaten off the same china george and martha washington would've eaten off of. today we have a number of , washington items in the collection. but the civil war threatened. at the beginning of the civil war and robert e. lee last year, -- left here, they were worried union soldiers would take over al items from the house. she removed most of what you consider to be the most precious washington family heirlooms, including the bed george washington died in and a number of other pieces. later her family donated those things, many of those things at mount vernon, to washington
university, and there are items in the smithsonian. you can visit those places and also get a better understanding of what was here historically. the back hall was george washington custis' hunting home. as a true gentleman of the day his two favorite pastimes were , horse racing and hunting. but he was also a great artist. when i say a great artist, perhaps not a fine artist, but a passionate artist. he devoted his life to creative pursuits. he wrote and produced musical plays with american themes and was a pioneer in the idea of creating an american form of theater. but he was a painter and an amateur. he loved to paint. he painted images of hunts and hounds chasing game. but his favorite subject by far was his stepgrandfather george washington.
and painting great images of the american revolution which we will see in one of the other rooms. as we step through this doorway , we are stepping into a room called the white parlor. this was one of the last rooms of the house that was actually finished. it was largely decorated according to robert e. lee's tastes. in fact he wrote letters to his , wife in the mid-1850's in which he described how he wanted the room to be painted white. both because he said it was such a dark house and it would help brighten things. but he also complained the fact the family was at that time a bit short on money. they were struggling a little bit financially. he said it was also the cheapest color. so it was painted white. it definitely did brighten the house. he bought much of the red velvet furniture you see in this room
for the home at that west point when he was superintendent of the u.s. military academy. he designed the marble mantles you see here with oak leaves and acorns, actually celebrating and honoring the great oak forest that stood at arlington historically before the civil war. more than half of the estate was wooded with virgin note. oak.rgin only 12 acres of it still exist. was swallowed up by the national cemetery. some of it does still exist and it is part of the robert e. lee memorial to be preserved as long as nature itself can preserve it. here we also have the one portrait of robert e. lee in the mansion. it shows him as a young army officer. it is not the version of robert e. lee most people expect. of course, most people think of robert e. lee as the great confederate general. but what arlington house
represents is his life before the civil war. his family life. he married his wife here. six of his seven children were born here. this was the place he sacrificed to make the choice he did at the beginning of the civil war to side with virginia, to fight for a larger concept of what he considered to be his home and family, and that was virginia. but it came with a very knowing sacrifice. while robert e. lee would be in the minds of many during that war and the years to follow, somewhat of a villain in history, labeled a traitor by the u.s. government and still a controversial figure, many during his lifetime, including many officers and soldiers who fought for the union, respected lee in large part because of that sacrifice he was willing to make. in fact it was louis crampton, a congressman from saginaw, michigan, whose father served in
the union army in the war and fought against robert e. lee's army in virginia who first proposed the legislation that would dedicate this house as a memorial to robert e. lee. such was the respect given to him even by many of his enemies. as we come into here, the morning room, one of the most significant rooms in the house. it was built in 1804 and it was in 1811 that lee and his family first visited arlington. he was four. his future wife was just two and a half. we like to think this might have been the room when they first met as children, as young children. there is a story in the family tradition that suggests they
were childhood sweethearts growing up. that as teenagers they became romantic, but he suffered tragedies in his early life. his father died when he was quite young. his mother died just after he graduated from west point. he didn't inherit wealth or property. he had in many ways to take life very seriously from a young age. and devote himself to a career in the army. and so he went to west point, graduated second in his class. but following that he turned his , attention on miss mary custis at arlington and courted her and married her and became a part of this family. this room in many ways perhaps is the best room that symbolizes how he was connected to this place. almost his entire life. arlington meant something important to robert e. lee. and almost all of it revolved around the relationship he had with his wife, mary.
mary and her father used this room in different ways, but especially as a painting studio. they were both passionate artists. she did two of the paintings you see next to the window on the left. here is also where you see some of george washington parke custis' revolutionary war themes. all of these paintings done to represent george washington as the great hero of the revolution the indispensable man. , you see him on his white horse at the front of the army. literally within just a few feet of the lines of british or germans at the battle of trenton. these paintings glorified washington. that was the purpose of custis' life. but it wasn't just to glorify washington.
it was also to promote washington and his beliefs, his ideals and his values. when this country was first created in the years following the american revolution, it was deeply divided between the followers of thomas jefferson who believed in limited national government, states rights, the right to leave the union, the right of nullification the right , of armed rebellion against the national government. and the followers of george washington who believe the opposite of those things. washington a true nationalist who believed this was a perpetual union. what custis started building the house in 1802 the name was -- the man who was president of the united states, thomas jefferson. is builtieve cust this house on this prominent hill, this greek revival fashion out front, almost as a way of thumbing his nose at jefferson across the river. that maybe something of an
exaggeration, but he definitely meant this place to make a political statement. he declared this house a federalist house. this was to represent all the beliefs and ideals of george washington, and that included once again the idea that this nation would exist forever. and that no state had the right to leave it. how ironic is it that that man's ry robert e.ld mar lee, who became the great confederate general and perhaps the man who came closest than any other man in history to destroying the nation that was created in the american revolution. it was in the room just through that doorway that robert e. lee made that choice. he made that decision to side with virginia and leave the union. he was a u.s. army officer for 32 years. prior to his commission he spent , four years at west point.
he spent his entire adult life in the service of the united states army. he loved his country and he also believed in preserving the union. but when virginia left the union , he could not fight a war against home and family. how he stated it in letter after letter after letter. he had great conflict in his heart and soul over making this decision, but in the end that was the only choice he felt he could make. but one of the aspects of the decision that made it so consequential was that lee was first offered command of federal troops. president lincoln wanted him to command what would become the union army. the army that would cross the river to suppress rebellion in virginia and save the union. and lee turned it down. that decision would be in many ways a great pivotal moment in
american history. many historians believe if lee had chosen to accept president lincoln's offer, the war would've been much shorter. certainly hundreds of thousands of lives would've been spared. time, the great political change the cultural , change, the social change that occurred in this country because of that war, including the abolition of slavery might not have happened, or it might have happened very differently. we will never know. it is one of those unanswerable questions. but it's very clear the decision robert e. lee made in that room had a profound influence on the course of american history. he did not know that. he had no way of predicting that. but one thing he did know that was very clear was that the view out front, he knew the union army had to take over arlington to defend washington.
arlington may have been one of the most important properties in the entire country. because whichever army controlled the heights here at arlington controlled the fate of , the nation's capital. it had to be held at all cost by the united states army. lee knew that. he expected when he left here two days after resigning that his family was likely to lose their home. his wife had hopes they would be able to return here once the war was over. but by the end of that first summer when most americans became more and more aware of the fact that this war was not going to be short, it would be terrible, it would be long, it would be bloody, the lee's became more and more resigned to the fact they would never live in their home again, and they never did. here we are on the second floor of arlington house where the main bedrooms are.
the rooms robert e. lee, his wife, and their seven children slept in. what we are doing with the mansion, as you saw downstairs and you will see in other parts of the house, this was the way the house has appeared for decades. this is really the legacy of a previous restoration project, and restoration research, that goes back 40 plus years. well, what we are doing now is in part because of the great generosity of david rubenstein, we are able to update the research. we have a new historic furnishings report that has been completed, that has more specific and more detailed history of the way the rooms were used and the type of furnishings that existed here. we also have the ability now, the funding, to be able to make
this a better visitor experience. we get over 500,000 visitors walking through this mansion every year. it is the most visited historic house in the national park service. it is in the top five most visited historic houses of any kind in the country. and so, we get a large number of people who walk through here. but we have to think, what are they experiencing? what are they getting out of their visit? are they getting anything? did they just take a quick walk to the house and then they get to the end and don't even know what they saw? i have talked to some visitors who have gone through the mansion and will ask me in the backyard, so who lived here again? are we missing an opportunity to interpret this house properly? or at least more fully?
we answered that yes. we decided we will create new exhibits and a new experience for visitors. we are going to have panels explaining history, delving into important aspects of the history like we have just been speaking of. we are also going to be creating a more aesthetic experience. some of the items we have in the house that you may have seen are old and outdated now, out of fashion if you want to call it that. the steel gates we have on the doors almost make it look like a jail cell. we have unfortunately electric fans running in the house because currently our climate control system isn't functioning the way it is supposed to function. that will be repaired and updated. that will be made more efficient
so we can properly preserve the historic artifacts in the house through climate control. we are going to be installing new lighting, museum quality lighting so you don't see the standing lamps all over the place that were essentially purchased from target and home depot. what we had to work with. we are going to have a new security system in the house because we have many, many, many priceless historic artifacts. i pointed out the china that belonged to george washington. but we have many other items as well that need protection at all cost. we will have a brand-new and updated security system installed. new electrical wiring. it is surprising to think in this house some of the wiring
goes back half a century. that is a little frightening to think about. fear of fire is a great fear here in arlington house. we have never had a fire of any significance. not during the historic period and not during the period the national park service has maintained it. nobody wants to be a part of a group of people who in some way , shape, or form allowed this house to burn down. so fire suppression will be added into the house. this house is going to be brought up to all current museum standards. that will also allow us to borrow priceless historic artifacts that were once here at arlington house. all part of bringing this house
back to not only its authentic appearance, but in a sense it's glory. because arlington house was a special place during its historic period. and it was a tourist attraction during its day. a very noteworthy structure. and it impressed people when they visited. we want to impress people today. above us is the attic. arlington house was built as a two-story structure in the center. the two wings were one-story. it does have an attic. it was never used as a living space by the custis' or lee's/ it was never finished. it was too hot and oppressive in the summer, in the winter it was too cold. it was not suitable as a living space so it was a storage area. mrs. lee stored many items up there at the beginning of the war. items that were ransacked by union soldiers early on,
including some of the precious washington family items. union soldiers used this house throughout the war. this was not just an attraction, a tourist attraction for the soldiers and government officials and others who came to washington during the war and saw the u.s. flag flying over the famous general lee's home. they want to come and see it and maybe take items as souvenirs. many pieces of furnishings were stolen by union soldiers as souvenirs. but some soldiers even left their identity, their names behind. in the form of graffiti. there is a lot of graffiti in the house compared to other southern mansion you may have read about. but we do have some of note, both up in the attic and in other parts of the house that we uncovered in our most recent restoration. let's take a quick walk over to robert e. lee's bedroom and talk
there for a moment. this was the room robert e. lee and his wife shared in the 30 years of their married life here at arlington. this was in many ways a very typical army marriage. a lot of military people identify with this easily. robert e. lee was often away from here. there were many separations from his family. they didn't call it getting deployed at the time, but he was often sent to faraway places in this country and kept separated from his family for months. often only coming back to arlington during the times of the holiday season. things of that nature. there were times when his family traveled with him and lived in other parts of the country as well. when he was stationed in new york city or baltimore, or when he was superintendent of west point, his wife and children were able to be with him.
but there were far more many separations than lee himself liked. he felt very forlorn about that. very homesick for much of his career. he even thought of quitting the army at different times so he could spend more time with his family. it was part of the frustration he felt from the beginning of the civil war. considering he spent most of his adult life longing to be here with his family and then having to make the decision that would cost his family their home. in many ways, this was the room where he also made that final decision. the night he learned virginia left the union, he spent a long, sleepless night in this room soul-searching and making that final decision before going down to his office on the first or and writing his letter of resignation. behind the bed, this is the original bed, believed to be the bad lee and his wife shared, you
see a small dressing room. it was the room where mrs. lee gave birth to six of their seven children. when you start thinking of reasons this place was so important to the lee's, you not to look much further than that. the fact that their children were born here and they went to great trouble to make sure that happened, made arlington that much more important to them and that much more painful to sacrifice. we are now in the summer kitchen of the north slave quarters. we are very fortunate to have two original slave quarters that have been preserved here at arlington house. they are part of the robert e. lee memorial. there is a great deal of irony to that. one of the concerns we have had for many years now is how to best interpret those two seemingly conflicting aspects,
of the history of this site, to meld them together to form a more complete and accurate interpretation of the history here at arlington house. for one, we want to remind people that arlington house first and foremost is a national memorial. it is not a confederate monument. it does not exist to honor robert e. lee for being a confederate general. this specifically honors him for his role in promoting reunion once the war was over. his period, his experience, his leadership as a confederate general is recognized. but we don't want people who visit here or think of this place to be put off by some preconception of what they might think the interpretation of this place is. we are determined to make this as comprehensive and as
inclusive as possible. of course that means telling the , full story of the enslaved people here at arlington. arlington national cemetery was a plantation. a lot of visitors are surprised by that. over 4 million visitors to the national cemetery every year. very few it seems are aware of that aspect of the history before they get here. and to see how this place changed and evolved from a plantation to the national cemetery, during the war and to what it is now, it's a great part of the story that we interpret daily. well, slavery is a big part of that. for visitors to washington, and we get so many of the same tourists visit the lincoln memorial, the jefferson memorial, the washington monument, this may be the one time they have a chance to
actually step inside a historic slave quarters as part of a visit to washington. and to learn about this painful aspect of our country's history. so part of our restoration project that is upcoming is to enhance and expand our interpretation of african-american history. that means fully restoring both of the historic slave quarters, creating new exhibits to tell story, and to examine it from all of its many angles. one of the things remarkable about the history of slavery in arlington is that there are so many different facets to it. it is not just a simple story. nobody should ever be mistaken
in thinking that slavery and the story of slavery is a simple story. it certainly was not. but here at arlington, you have it in all of its complexities. you have the fact that george washington parke custis inherited people from the estate of martha washington. he came here from mount vernon, breaking up families in the process. as george washington freed the people he owned. many of the people originally here came from mount vernon. they created families with family identities. at mount vernon, george washington owned about 200 slaves. when he made a record of them he did not record family names. it was as if they did not have family identities. here at arlington they did.
they gained family identities. when george washington parke custis died in 1857 he put in his will that all the people he owned, nearly 200, would be set free. we have a list and an inventory of these people. we have them by families. it's an extraordinary evolution that took place in a short period of time. you have these large families here. those families would find their freedom during the war. they would gain their freedom and then would move off of the estate and move out to the local community. many of them setting up homes in neighborhoods nearby. we have this legacy in which this community at arlington, arlington county, are connected. because of this movement of these newly freed people. arlington, there was also a freedman's village that was created during the war by the u.s. government where over the
course of 35 years thousands of , former slaves would live and find freedom, work, and protection. many of them, once the village was closed in 1900, would also move out to the community. there are four local churches that originated at freedman's village. we are busy developing relationships and working with descendents of the enslaved people here at arlington to get their story, to do more research, and to include their perspectives in the interpretation of this site. we at arlington house are very excited that our recent donation and ability to restore the mansion and create new exhibits is not only possible, but it coincides with the centennial of the national park service. it gives us an opportunity to
examine and re-examine what this place meant over the last several decades since the national park service first took it over in 1933. and what it means moving into the future. because as a country, we always need to examine and re-examine our history in order to decide where we want to go forward. and arlington house is an amazing place to be able to do that. so we can examine the meaning of the civil war. we can examine the meaning of the life of robert e. lee, his family, the impact his decision made on history, the lives of the enslaved people here, the consequences of that war. surrounding this mansion, arlington cemetery was created both as a means to honor the , dead and as a way of gaining
or justice perhaps, if you want to call it that, against robert e. lee. but how do we as a country view the events of that war and its aftereffects? the period of reconstruction? well, arlington house is determined and the national park service is determined to seize the opportunity, to move forward and perhaps lead the nation here in an effort to come to terms with that period in time and to make more of it, to make something of it that can help us move as a nation and as a culture into the future. the theme here is division and reunion. well, division perhaps is easier to define. but reunion, what does that really mean? we know the country was reunited
north and south. but culturally and racially in many ways this country remains divided. and so what can be learned here at arlington house, the robert e. lee memorial, that will help americans and people from other parts of the world to examine that? examine their own beliefs and see what they can make of it moving into the future. >> you can watch this and other american artifacts programs by visiting our website at c-span.org/history. >> next on american history tv, the author talks about his book, how james madison, george washington, and a group of extraordinary