COLUMBIA, MO. — The University of Missouri is spending thousands of dollars to protect the Thomas Jefferson tombstone on campus after Jefferson’s statue was vandalized.
Jefferson’s original tombstone was given to Mizzou by the family in the late 1800s. The marker is now covered with a display case to protect it from any vandalism and with a $20,000 price tag.
“We take great responsibility as being stewards of that historic monument and we thought with the recent vandalism of the Thomas Jefferson statue, we wanted to make sure that the obelisk remains on our campus,” Mizzou’s Chancellor Mun Choi said.
Jefferson’s legacy dates back to the 1800s for the University of Missouri. He negotiated the land for the university during the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
“Jefferson has a bit more of a connection to the university than some might realize,” Director of Communications at Mizzou Christian Basi said. “The forum of higher education that we have today was originally brought about with a lot of what Jefferson talked about.”
Previously, the statue has been covered with a trash bag, sticky notes and signs that say “slave owner” and “rapist.”
“Some individuals dumped a substance on the statue a few months ago, then there was some spray paint on the sidewalk down here we had to spend money on to remove,” Basi said.
Jefferson’s statue was donated more than 20 years ago and sits near the now $20,000 display case.
“That money came from accounts that are not funded by tuition nor were they funded by state appropriations,” Basi said.
Besides the new protective covering, security cameras also watch over the area.
“The security cameras in this area have been here for a long time, we just upgraded it,” Basi said.
Basi said no vandalism has happened to the tombstone yet, but they wanted to be proactive.
“To make sure it would deter any individuals of thinking about it,” Basi said. “It is unfortunate that we have had to do that but it is something we felt was important to do.”
The original marble portion of the marker was in Academic Hall before a fire burned down the building in 1891. Basi said it was one of the few items saved from the fire. Now the actual marble piece is inside of Jesse Hall and a replica is outside on the tombstone.
Mizzou sophomore Roman Leapheart said he can’t believe the dollar amount the university spent on protecting Jefferson’s tombstone.
“Wow, when I found out, I was just dumbfounded, shell-shocked and upset,” Leapheart said. “People are angry, they are upset.”
Our Missouri Chief Capitol Bureau Reporter Emily Manley spoke with Leapheart for a story back in June. He started a petition in the spring asking the university to remove the statue.
“Mun Choi and his administration have continued and continued to show they prioritze something that is not alive, someone that is not alive, over the students who are still here,” Leapheart said.
Currently there are more than 3,500 signatures on the petition. Mizzou announced in June it would not be removing the statue or the tombstone, but the petition continues to circulate.
“To show that we still care,” Leapheart said when asked why. “Someone will listen one day.”
Basi said since the university installed the new cameras, they’ve caught one person vandalizing the state and that person is currently going through the legal system.