PHILADELPHIA It wouldn t have taken much for me to step forward and say, Good evening, Mr. Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson has, ever since I can remember, been my favorite American. His picture is on the refrigerator. I never turn down an opportunity to visit Monticello, his home at Charlottesville, Va., where his contributions to the American food table are illustrated in stunning exhibits and tours in the gardens as well as in the house.
In 2002 when I had the privilege of planning a dinner at Adrian College, a Jeffersonian theme was chosen. In keeping with Jefferson s diet, more vegetables than meat were served. Ahead of his time in healthful eating, he regarded meat and poultry as a condiment. He was an experimental agrarian at Monticello, where 130 varieties of fruits and vegetables still are grown. Just for the record, early peas were his favorite, but others that were grown from seeds imported from Europe included succory, endive, turnips, sugar beets, cucumbers, cabbage, salsify, artichokes, eggplant, and many others.
But this evening, Jefferson s impersonator was not at Monticello setting a fine table for distinguished guests. In fact, his appearance was not connected to food in any way.
Jefferson, in the form of a historical impersonator, descended the spiral staircase at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin impersonators, he stood in the lobby adjacent to one of the most famous rooms in the world. The room is the Assembly Room where representatives of the 13 states signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, a declaration that we celebrate every July 4.
The room is as it was during the most important day in American history. Visitors learn where state delegates sat. Jefferson s walking stick is on the desk where he sat. It is reported that Jefferson read the Declaration of Independence slowly so that every word could be absorbed and remembered by the audience.
To renew our declaration, so easily taken for granted, on the spot where it actually happened in 1776 is such a thrill and heart-stopper that when you get home you immediately want to display the flag outdoors, slap another support our troops sticker on the car, and make arrangements to see United 93.
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are in Independence National Historical Park, operated by the National Park Service. Tours with impersonators are specially arranged for groups. A tour of Independence Hall is free, but visitors can t just walk in. The high level of security makes visitors aware of its historic value to the United States.
Benjamin Franklin s 300th birthday is a citywide observance this year. I caught an outstanding exhibit of Benjamin Franklin s accomplishments as printer, inventor, and statesman, but I can t recommend it because it closed Sunday.
However, there is a Franklin tribute nearby that has a Toledo slant. At 116 Market St., brothers Ryan and Eric Berley tell customers at their Franklin Fountain that Mr. Franklin did not invent ice cream, probably never enjoyed soda, and certainly not a Japanese Thirst Killer. He is their theme in the small soda fountain.
It wasn t news to Eric Berley that Toledo once had a Franklin ice cream company. He knew all about it, and pointed to a Franklin sign he bought on eBay. When the brothers needed mugs for their root beer floats, they drove to the source and bought Libbey s 22-ounce mugs. About the Japanese drink it s almond soda, bitters, grape juice, and seltzer water. It is also purple. Perhaps, daring gourmet that he was, Mr. Jefferson would have tried it.