On Saturday mornings I work at the Jefferson Hotel off of 16th Street in Washington, DC serving as the hotel historian. Throughout the hotel are objects, artifacts and design elements related to the life & legacy of Thomas Jefferson, and it’s my privilege to talk about these fascinations with hotel guests. I also do occasional outdoor tours which lead down the road to Lafayette Park & the White House. It’s a great gig. Whenever you can get paid American money to talk with people about Thomas Jefferson and the founding of the nation, jump on it.
The 5 star rated, boutique hotel is a sight to behold, and ranks among the finest hotels in the city. This ain’t no La Quinta Inn. When I arrive on Saturday mornings at 9AM everyone is always so courteous and the building shines, inside and out. I setup shop in ‘the book room’ - the hotel library space made to resemble Thomas Jefferson’s personal library at Monticello. It’s filled with books which would have been of interest to Jefferson or contemporaneous to his time. There’s also a selection of titles accumulated through the hotel’s ‘Authors in Residence’ program, wherein well known authors who stay as guests contribute a signed copy of their book to the library holdings (Dave Barry, Ron Chernow etc.).
I plop myself down in one of the comfy chairs around the perimeter of the library, positioned so that I can see-and-be-seen by the hotel guests who enter to get their morning joe from the coffee station which is situated near the entryway. I’ll then say something to effect of, “Hi. My name’s Aaron. I’m the hotel historian. If you have any questions about the hotel or its holdings related to Thomas Jefferson, don’t hesitate to ask.” Sometimes the fish bite, sometimes not. I’m just happy to be there. If you like leather bound books and the smell of rich mahogany, there’s no better place to hang out. The book room is the kind of location where you could shoot the opening for Masterpiece Theatre with a straight face. Mayhaps I should affect a bubble pipe for some added gravitas?
I’ve developed an iPad based tour presentation for guests whose curiosity is piqued. I like to begin by asking people what principally interests them about Thomas Jefferson. You’ll get a myriad of responses ranging from the Declaration of Independence to Sally Hemings to Jefferson’s love of wine and so on. Jefferson’s life was so full and his interests so vast that you’re never lost for conversation.
I’ll then wander with folks around the interior of the hotel discussing the many curiosities - paintings of the founders, busts of John Adams & Thomas Jefferson, the corridor decorated as an homage to Lewis & Clark, the wine room, the antique documents on display and so forth. Intermittently, I’ll use my iPad to show a relevant image or play an interesting audio clip. The audio is my favorite part.
Shortly before the tours began, I recruited a bunch of friends to come together in my father’s recording studio and we read quotations excerpted from the writings of various founding fathers & mothers; Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Abigail Adams and Martha Washington to name a few. My dad then went to work on the clips, enhancing them and laying down background music. The end result is that when guests look at a painting of John Adams or hear a story about the Marquis de Lafayette, they can now hear their words as well. Here’s a taste,
I’ve gotten to see more than my fair share of well known faces while working at the Jefferson. Jesse Jackson brushed right by me while I was giving a tour the other day, and the entire cast of HBO’s Veep were cavorting throughout the hotel earlier this spring. I offered a tour to environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer a few months back but he had somewhere to be. Shucks.
What’s great about this work is that the Jefferson hasn’t hired me as an employee, but rather contracted with Historic America to provide this fabulous service, so my company not only profits monetarily but also stature wise in that we can now claim a top flight luxury hotel among our client base. Win win. I think the hotel is really pleased with the work thus far. I understand they’ve gotten some very positive feedback, and I just hope I can keep it going.
If you’d like a personal tour from yours truly, give a shout.