April 29, 1962 -

Public Papers transcript of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy at a hosted dinner for the Nobel Laureates of the Western hemisphere. An excerpt from his standing at the dinner table at the White House -


Ladies and gentlemen:

I want to welcome you to the White House. Mr. Lester Pearson informed me that a Canadian newspaperman said yesterday that this is the President's "Easter egghead roll on the White House lawn." I want to deny that!

I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet. Whatever he may have lacked, if he could have had his former colleague, Mr. Franklin, here we all would have been impressed. In any case, I am delighted to welcome you here. We are delighted to have the Norwegian Ambassador and the Swedish Minister to represent their governments, and we are delighted to have the Nobel prize winners of the Western Hemisphere here at this dinner...

The Bookstore was named in the honor and admiration of Thomas Jefferson.

From the Foundation at Monticello -

Early in November 1772 — when he had a wife, a month-old child, and an unfinished house — Thomas Jefferson acquired a family pet. For five shillings he bought a mockingbird from one of the slaves of his father-in-law, John Wayles. It was the first in a procession of singing birds that would always be part of Jefferson's household.

Jefferson purchased two more mockingbirds from the same Tidewater source the following year, evidence that the wild mockingbird — a conspicuous presence at Monticello today — was then absent from Jefferson's mountaintop. Twenty years later, it finally arrived in the wake of the westering population. Writing from Monticello in May 1793, Thomas Mann Randolph informed Jefferson in Philadelphia of the advent of the first resident mockingbird, and Jefferson responded with his well-known tribute to Mimus polyglottos: "I sincerely congratulate you on the arrival of the Mocking bird. Learn all the children to venerate it as a superior being in the form of a bird, or as a being which will haunt them if any harm is done to itself or it's eggs. I shall hope that the multiplication of the cedar in the neighborhood, and of trees and shrubs round the house, will attract more of them: for they like to be in the neighborhood of our habitations, if they furnish cover."

The mockingbirds Jefferson purchased in the 1770s came with only a stock of songs from the woods and fields of Charles City County. He must have provided additional musical instruction himself. If he in fact carried a bird to France in 1784, it may have added to its repertoire some sounds common to mockingbirds exported from America. After their month-long transatlantic voyage, the birds interspersed their first European performances with long imitations of the creaking of the ship's timbers.

At least two of the birds in the President's House had already received singing lessons when Jefferson purchased them in 1803 — for ten and fifteen dollars, the usual price of a "singing" mockingbird. Jefferson's butler, Étienne Lemaire, was apparently proud of their serenades, which included popular American, Scottish, and French tunes, as well as imitations of all the birds of the woods.

Jefferson's weather memorandum book reveals that he had at least four mockingbirds:

1806 Jan. 22. "N.O. [New Orleans] mockg. bird begins to sing."

1806 Feb. 19. "2d. Mockg. bird sings."

1806 Feb. 25. "The old bird begins to sing."

1808 Jan. 23. "Orleans bird sings."

1808 Jan. 31. "The old mock. bird sings."

1808 March 2. "The middle aged bird sings."

and finally, on March 3, "Dick sings." A name at last, although it is rather disappointing after the Celtic and Gallic ring of Cucullin and Fingal, Bergère and Armandy, Jefferson's horses and sheepdogs.

Dick is unquestionably the "favorite" mockingbird whose cage Margaret Bayard Smith described as suspended among the roses and geraniums in the window recesses of the presidential cabinet. Jefferson, Smith continued, cherished the favorite "with peculiar fondness, not only for its melodious powers, but for its uncommon intelligence and affectionate disposition, of which qualities he gave surprising instances. It was the constant companion of his solitary and studious hours. Whenever he was alone he opened the cage and let the bird fly about the room. After flitting for a while from one object to another, it would alight on his table and regale him with its sweetest notes, or perch on his shoulder and take its food from his lips. Often when he retired to his chamber it would hop up the stairs after him and while he took his siesta, would sit on his couch and pour forth its melodious strains."

In the spring of 1809, after Jefferson made his final southward migration, he wrote to Lemaire from his retirement at Monticello: "[M]y birds arrived here in safety & are the delight of every hour."




The Mockingbird Bookstore


The Fireproof Building at 100 Meeting Street by the South Carolina Architect Robert Mills was built in 1822 and is now the Historical Society. It has a great repository of records and books. For a small fee you can become a member and spend days researching seemingly endless documents and books of historical significance. There is even a hand written original of Ira Gershwin's Summertime in the building.