tv Arlington House Tour CSPAN September 5, 2016 1:29pm-2:17pm EDT
words of our first director, steven mather, who observed she's a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here in the united states, who has toured the national parks. we become better citizens. >> well, thanks to both of you for giving us your time tonight. thank you for you in the audience for watching, your questions, and as i mentioned the conversation continues on facebook. if you'd like to talk to others who enjoy and officiate the national park service, and happy centennial to the national park service. a reminder that this program will air tonight at 10:00 p.m. eastern time once again in its entirety, and right after we're finished here, you're going to see a full tour of arlington house just as if you were here yourselves. thanks for being with us. each week american artifacts
takes you to museums and historic places to show 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. >> my name is matt penrod. i'm a parks service ranger here at arlington house, the robert e. lee memorial. i've been here many years. sometimes joke that i've spent
more time in this house than robert e. lee did, although it was his home for about 30 years. arlington house is perhaps the most unique place in the entire national park service, and perhaps in regards to historic houses, one of the most in the entire country. because what we have here is a place that truly represents the entire history of this country, from its earliest founding of the original colonists who came to virginia and america in the early 1600s, through the revolutionary period, leaders of the american revolution, signers of the declaration of independence, they are represented here by the family who built and own this house. and it was a plantation.
it was a working plantation. so, 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 during the period 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 waged war against the united states government. who led an army against the united states government. that army, arguably, it's believed, 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.
so it really represents the way the country developed in its earliest years, how it divided, and then how the national somehow was able to come back together after that war, because this home is a memorial to honor lee not for what he did during the war, but what he did afterwards. when he became a leader in the south and promoting reunion, and reconciliation. 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.
and so lee became a very important voice and influence in the clause of healing and rebuilding this country, so in 1925, congress made this home a memorial to honor, just three years after the lincoln memorial was dedicated. and then memorial bridge and avenue were built across the river to symbolize the reunion of the country. and what adds to the -- 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 the memory of george washington, the father of the country, owned by washington's step grandson, george washington park custis, and in many ways this could be looked at as our first washington monument. first memorial built to honor any president, first structure of any kind built to honor any
man like that, and so this house had a fame all to itself, apart from robert e. lee, but then lee married into that 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 couldn't fight a war against virginia, his native state, his home and family, as he characterized it. and so he was caught in this terrible dilemma, and 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 that role he played as a confederate general. so, what you're seeing here at arlington house is primarily the original structure. built between 1802 and 1818. we calculate 80%, 85% of the physical structure is intact, but it's been here for about 200 years. and it requires a great deal of care and effort to maintain, restore, conserve it. and it's been many years since a major restoration effort has been undertaken here. there's going to be a lot of work done over the next year and a half to two years to bring this place back to its glory, so at the end of this year the house will shut down for approximately a year while this restoration work is done. so why don't we go inside the house, take a look, see how it is today, give you an idea of what it is and the work we'll be
doing, and you can come see us 2018, and see how much of an improvement has been made to the restoration of this great mansion. so follow me inside. so here we are in the main hallway at arlington house. the center hall was designed to impress. remembering that george washington 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 of the country who would visit.
and over the years, presidents, congressmen, and senators would visit him here at arlington house to learn more about george washington. the original architect of the mansion was a man named george hadfield, whom george washington personally invited to america from england to do design work on the nation's capitol, the capitol building. so george hadfield was one of the most prominent architects of his day, so this house has a great history in architecture in the history of this country, as well. it's not just because of people who lived here and the events that took place here, but the structure itself had great meaning. and it's one of those places -- sometimes a historic house or a structure takes on a meaning because of the events that happen or the people who live there, but this house was built to be consequential. so, it has that history to it, as well. and robert e. lee married into that. in this parlor on june 30th, 1831, under the archway where you can see the uniform and the dress on display.
24-year-old lieutenant robert e. lee of the u.s. army married 22-year-old maryann that randolph custis, the only surviving child of the owner, sweetheart of robert e. lee's, as well as great granddaughter of martha washington, but this wasn't the only wedding that took place here, in fact, it wasn't even the first wedding. the first wedding took place here ten years earlier when a woman named mariah carter married charles cyfax. what made that wedding important in the history of this place is mariah and charles were both enslaved here and mariah was believed to have been the daughter of the master, and so she was an enslaved woman from some type of relationship that existed in which george washington part custis fathered a child by one of the enslaved woman here, a woman named ariana koetter. and this is forcing us in many
ways to re-examine how we interpret the history of arlington, because here we have the story of slavery, and in this place, represents the founding ideals of this country, this home built to honor george washington and 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 part custis, in essence, had two daughters. one was white, was his heiress, she married robert e. lee, one was enslaved. both great granddaughters of martha washington. so in that regard, george washington part custis as a representative of the first first family of the country, 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 of it is, the first family of this country was biracial. so we recently re-enacted that wedding with descendants of the cyfax family representing both charles and mariah. also enslaved, selena norris in the house and gray who worked in the mansion, as well. that was arranged and the wedding took place in this parlor and serena gray would live in one of the two historic slave quarters that we maintain, that still exist and are going to be restored as part of this big project, as well. now, you can see this room is somewhat empty of furnishings and that's representative of the fact that right now we are in the process of removing
furnishings and artifacts from display so by the end of the year we will begin this restoration project, but all the furnishings have to be removed before we can do that work. so you can see the boxes and work and preparation being made. as we walk down the hallway, you also see empty places on the walls, there are numerous -- historically there are numerous portraits in the 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 our collection. and our new restoration project, through this generous donation by david rubenstein, will, in fact, allow us to acquire more original artifacts and reproductions of original artifacts, including paintings,
so that we can represent the true appearance of this house as it was when the lees and custis families lived here. there will be examples we will leave, like this. this bare patch of plaster on the wall. this plaster was -- it's not just something we chose to leave exposed for no good reason. actually, what we discovered during a recent, about seven years ago, a restoration project where we stripped down paint down to the plaster and repainted different rooms, we found writing, we found graffiti. and some of this writing, it's very hard to see, it's very faint on the walls, but this, we think, even pre-dates the civil war. some of the graffiti we have in the house is civil war related left by union soldiers. some of this pre-dates the civil war and goes back, perhaps, to the earliest construction of the house.
and so it's something that we're 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're not exactly sure what the writing says, so it is a mystery that is going to be left to us to solve in the future. this is the family dining room. it was one of a couple rooms that were used as dining rooms in the mansion, and what makes this room so significant is the large number of original furnishings that do exist, including the china that is on the dining room table. the blue and white plates you see at the front, cincinnati china, that belonged to george washington. and other china we believe belonged to martha washington, and it's representative of what was here historically. george washington parke custis when he moved here brought with him as much as the washington possessions he possibly could collect, inheriting things from
martha washington, as well as purchasing things from estate sales, he gathered 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, a personal museum, and these were items that people could use. you could have come and dined with the custises and lees, perhaps, and eaten off the same china george and martha washington had eaten off of. today, we have a number of washington items still in our collection, but the civil war threatened them. and at the beginning of the civil war as robert e. lee left here, mrs. lee was worried that union soldiers would take over and steal many items from the house, she removed most of the what she considered to be the most precious washington family heirlooms, including the bed that george washington died in and a number of other pieces, and later her family donated
those things, many of those things at least, to mt. vernon, to washington and lee university, and there are also items in the smithsonian, so that you can visit those places and also get a better understanding of what was here historically. the back hall was george washington parke custis' hunting hall, his trophy hall. 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 and 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 was taught, but he loved to
paint, and he painted images up here of scenes from hunts at arlington of hounds chasing game, but his favorite, his favorite subject by far was his step grandfather george washington, and painting great images of the american revolution, which we will see in one of the other rooms. now, as we step through this doorway, we're 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 1850s in which he described how he wanted the room to be painted white, both because he said it was such a dark house, it would help brighten things, but he also complained that it was -- the
fact that the family was at that time a bit short on money. they were struggling a little bit financially, and so he said it was also the cheapest color. so it was painted white. and it definitely did brighten the house. he bought much of the red velvet furniture you see in this room for the home up at west point when he was superintendent of the u.s. military academy. he designed the marble mantles that you see here with oak leaves and acorns, actually celebrating, honoring, the great oak forest that stood at arlington historically. before the civil war, more than half of the estate was wooded with virgin oak. only 12 acres of it still exist. the rest swallowed up by the national cemetery and ft. meyer behind, but some of it exists and is part of the robert e. lee memorial to be preserved as long as nature itself can preserve it. and here we also have the one
portrait of robert e. lee in the mansion. and it shows him as a young army officer. it's 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, that he married his life here, six of their seven children were born here, that 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, and 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 to his country 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. and, in fact, it was louis crampton, a congressman from i crampton, a congressman from g saginaw, michigan, who first proposed the legislation that would dedicate that house as a memorial to robert e. lee, such was the respect given to him even by many of his enemies. as we come in to here, this was the morning room, one of the old of the rooms in the house and also the most significant. it was built in 1804 and it was in 1811 that robert e. lee and his family first visited
arlington. he was 4. and mary, his future wife, was just 2 1/2. we like to think that this might have been the room that they first met as children, as young children. there is a story that they were childhood sweethearts growing up, that as teenagers, they became romantic. but he suffered a number of tragedies in his early life. his father died when he was young, mother died when he graduated from west point. he didn't inherit wealth or property. he had to in many ways 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, once again, to miss mary custas here in arlington and courted her and married her and became part of this family.
this room, in many ways, perhaps is the best room that symbolizes how he was connected to this home. now, 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 that you see next to the window over here to the left. but here is also where you see some of george washington park custas revolutionary war scenes. all of this done to represent washington of 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 that the british or germans, in this case at the battle, these paintings glorified washington and that was the purpose of custas' life. but it wasn't just glorifying washington. it was also for washington and his believes and his ideals and values. in the years following the revolution, it was deeply divided between the followers of thomas jefferson who believed in a limited national government, state's rights, the right of null lee if i indication and the followers of george washington who believed the opposite of all of those things. washington, a true nationalist who believed this was a perpetual union. when custas started building this how in 1902, the man who was president of the united
states, this greek revival fashion out front almost as a way of thumbing his nose as jefferson across the river. that may be 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 of 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 a right to leave it. so how ironic is it that that man's daughter would marry robert e. lee and perhaps the man who came closest than any other man in history to destroying the nation that was created in the american revolution. and it was in the room just
through that doorway that robert e. lee made that choice. he made that decision to side with virginia, to leave the union. he was a u.s. army officer getting 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 also believed in preserving the union and he could not fight a war against home and family. that's 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 that decision that made it so consequential was that lee was first offered command of federal troops, that president lincoln wanted him to command what would
become the union army. the army that would cross the river, suppress rebellion in virginia and save the union and lee turned to death. that decision would be, in many ways, a great pivotal moment in history. many historians believe if lee had chosen to accept the offer, the war would have ended and thousands of lives would have been spared and the social change that occurred in this country because of that war, including the abolition of slavery, might not have happened or might have happened very differently. we'll never know. it's one of those unanswerable questions. but it's very clear that 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, of course. one thing he did know, that was very clear, because of that view out front, he knew the union army had to take over arlington to defend washington. arlington might have been one of the most important armies in the country because the heights here at arlington controlled the fate of the nation's capital and it had to be held at all costs by the united states army. lee knew that. and so he expected when he left here two days after resigning that his family was likely to lose their home. his wife had hopes that 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, it was going to be terrible, long and bloody.
and the lees became more and more resigned to the fact that they would never live in their home again and they never did. here we are in the second floor of the arlington house where the main bedrooms are. the rooms that robert e. lee, his wife and seven children slept in. now, what we're doing with the mansion, as you saw down stairs and you'll see in other parts of the house, this is the way the house has appeared for decades and this is really the legacy of a previous restoration project and restoration research that goes back 40-plus years. well, what we're doing now is in part because of the great generosity of david rubenstein, we're able to update our
research. we have a new specific and more detailed history of the furnishings that existed here. we also have the funding to be able to make this a better visitor experience. now, we get over 500,000 visitors that walk through this mansion every year. it's the most visited house in the national park service. it's in the top 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 or getting out of the visit? do they take a quick walk
through and don't even know what they saw? they will ask me in the backyard, who lived here again? so are we missing an opportunity to interpret this house more fully? we answered that yes. we decided that we're going to create new exhibits and a new experience for visitors. so we're going to have panels explaining history, delving into the important aspects of history like we've been speaking of and we're also going to be creating a more aesthetic experience. some of the items we have in the house that you may have seen, our old and outdated, out of fashion, if you want to call that, these steel gates we have
in the doors almost make it look like jail cells. we have electric fans running in the house because currently our climate control system isn't functioning the way it's supposed to function. so that will be repaired. it will be updated and made more efficient so we can properly preserve the historic artifacts in the house through climate control. we're going to be installing new lighting, museum-quality lighting so you don't see these standing lamps all over the place that were essentially purchased from target or home depot. that's what we had to work with. we're going to have a new security system in the house because we have many, many, many priceless historic artifacts. i pointed out in china that belonged to george washington. we have many other items as well
that need protection. they need protection at all costs. and so we're going to have a brand new and updated security system installed. new electrical wiring. it's surprising to think that in this house some of the wiring goes back, again, half a century. that's a little frightening when you think about it. you know, you fear a fire, it's a great fear here at the arlington house. we have never had a fire of any significance. not during the historic period and not during the period in which the national park service has maintained it. but nobody wants to be a part of that group of people who, in some way, shape or form allow this house to burn down. so, fire suppression has been added into the house and so this house is going to be brought up
to all current museum standards. and that will also allow us to borrow priceless historic artifacts at the arlington house, all part of bringing this house back to its -- not only its authentic appearance but, in a sense, its 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. well, we want to impress people today. above us is the attic. arlington house was two rooms in the center and two wings were one story. it has an attic but it was never used as a living space. it was never finished.
in the summer, it was too hot and oppressive, during the winter, too cold. it wasn't suitable as a living space so it was a storage area and mrs. lee actually stored many items up there at the beginning of 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, you could say, for the soldiers and government officials and others who came to washington during the war and they saw the u.s. flag flying over the famous general lee's house, they wanted to come and see it and take items as souvenirs. many pieces of furniture were stolen by union soldiers. there is not a lot of graffiti
in the house compared to other southern mansions you may have read about but we do have some of note both up in the attic and other parts of the attic that we uncovered in our most recent restoration. well, 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 mary shared through their 32 years of life in arlington. this was, in many ways, a very typical army marriage. a lot of military people identify with this very easily. robert e. lee was often away from here. there was many separations from his family. they didn't call it getting deployed at the time but he was often sent to far away places in this country and kept separated from his family for months. often only coming back to arlington during the times of the holiday seasons, things of
that nature. there were times when his wife and family and children 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 are far more many separations than lee himself liked. he felt very forelorn about that during his career and even thought about quitting the army at times to spend more time with his family. it was part of the frustration he felt at the beginning of the civil war, considering he had spent most of his adult lifelongi life longing to be here with his family. in many ways, this is where he made the final decision, the night he learned virginia left the union, he spent a long, sleepless night in this room, soul searching, making that
final decision and before going down to his office on the first floor and writing his letter of resignation. behind the bed -- this is an original bed. it's believed to be the bed that he and his wife shared. you see a small room, a dressing room. it was a room where mrs. lee gave birth to six of their seven children. when you start thinking of reasons why this place was so important to the lees, you don't have to look much further than that. the fact that their children were born here and that 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're now in the summer kitchen, the north slave quarters. we're very fortunate to have two original slave quarters that have been preserved here at arlington house. and they are part of the robert
e. lee memorial. so there's a great deal of irony to that and one of the concerns that 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, arlington house, first and foremost, is a national memorial. it is not a confederate monument. it does not exist to honor robert e. lee from being a confederate general. this honors him in promoting reunion once the war was over. his period, of course, 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. and 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 once a plantation. a lot of visitors are surprised by that. over 4 million visitors to our arlington national cemetery every year and 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 what it is now is a great part of the story here that we interpret
daily. well, slavery is a big part of that. and for visitors to washington -- and we get so many of the same visitors that visit the lincoln memorial, jefferson m memorial, washington monument, this may be the one chance they have a chance to actually step inside a historic slave quarters as part of their 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 here and that means fully restoring both of the historic slave quarters, creating new exhibits to tell the story and to examine it from all of its many angles.
one of the things that's remarkable about the history of slavery in arlington is that there are so many different facets to it it's not just a simple story. and nobody should ever be mistaken that the story of slavery was 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 park custas inherited it from martha washington, came here from mt. vernon, breaking up families in the process as george washington freed the people he owned. so many of the people who originally came here came here from mt. vernon. they created families with family identities. at mt. vernon, george washington owned about 200 slaves.
but when he made a record of them, he did not record family names. it was as if they did not even have family identities. here at arlington, they did. they gained family identities. he put it in his will when he died that all of the people he owned, nearly 200, would be set free and we have a list, we have an inventory of those people and we have them by families. so it's extraordinary what took place in a short period of time, it seems. so you have these large families here and those families would find their freedom during the war, gain their freedom and then would move off of the estate and move up into the local community. many of them setting up homes in neighborhoods nearby and we have this legacy in which this community at arlington,
arlington county are connected because of this movement of these newly freed people. at arlington, there was also a freedman village where over the course of 35 years, thousands ever former slaves would find freedom, work and find protection and many of them, once the village was closed in 1900, would move out to the community and there are actually four local churches that originated at freedman's village. and we are visiting developing relationships and working with descendants of the enslaved people 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 our ability to restore the mansion and create new exhibits is not only possible but that it coincides with the centennial of the national park service. it gives us an opportunity to examine and re-examine what this placement 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. 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 but, again, as a way of gaining revenge 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 after effects, the period of reconstruction? well, arlington house is determined and the national park service is determined to cease the opportunity in an effort to come to terms with that erd poo of 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 and 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, too, 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 artifacts programs by visiting ou