There was a new addition Saturday to the security surrounding the Thomas Jefferson relics and statue at the University of Missouri — a $20,000 acrylic case for the third president’s original gravestone.
University employees installed the case over the obelisk that was originally erected at Monticello in 1833. After it was replaced in 1883, it was given to MU and unveiled on July 4, 1885.
It has been in various locations near the Chancellor’s Residence and the granite obelisk now sits on a concrete base adjacent to Francis Quadrangle.
The new acrylic vitrine, one-half to three-quarters of an inch thick, was installed in response to vandalism to the statue of a seated Jefferson placed nearby and graffiti written on the sidewalk during the summer, a university spokesman said Sunday.
"This is Jefferson’s original tombstone that was entrusted to the university and we have a responsibility to insure that it is preserved appropriately," spokesman Christian Basi said.
The reason the grave marker was given to MU is uncertain. The university is the first state university established in the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, made when Jefferson was president, and it was modeled on the University of Virginia.
It became the focus of increased security measures this summer when the vandalism incidents followed a refusal by UM System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi to remove a statue of Jefferson installed in 2001. A student, Roman Leaphart, started a change.org petition asking for removal of the monument to "a racist slave owner."
The graffiti sprayed on the sidewalk near the statue highlighted Sally Hemings, a slave owned by Jefferson, who gave birth to six children fathered by Jefferson.
There are actually two relics associated with the grave marker. The granite obelisk holds a replica of a marble plaque with the inscription Jefferson wrote for his grave: "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."
The original plaque was in Academic Hall when it burned in 1892 and was found in an unheated attic by a Smithsonian Institute conservator in 2012. The plaque was taken to the Smithsonian for conservation and returned and is now on display in the lobby of Jesse Hall.
After denying the request to remove the statue, Choi promised that work would be done to put the complex history of Jefferson as an advocate of freedom, slaveholder and father of slave children into context.
A task force of staff, student leaders, alumni and donors, curators, faculty, and "several historians" is working on that project, Basi said Sunday. The group has been asked to have its recommendations ready in the spring, he said.
"It will be up to the committee to determine if they will have recommendations at that time or if they need more time," Basi said.