Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb?

The rangers at General Grant National Memorial in New York must get tired of this old joke; the answer to which is either a) General Grant and his wife Julia OR b) no one, because they are actual entombed, not buried. We actually picked up a book by this name a few years ago at a yard sale. It gave us the idea to start writing this blog…

General Grant National Memorial

We visited General Grant National Memorial this weekend. We’ve always been fans of U.S. Grant and it was interesting to visit his final resting place. It is the largest mausoleum in North America, even though it was cut down in size from the original design because fund-raising fell short. It originally called for $1 million dollars, but times were tough and even though over 90,000 individuals donated to the building fund, they only raised $600,000.

The ranger pointed out places where they had cut costs – a slightly smaller footprint; no statue of Grant at the entrance; and empty niches in the area surrounding the tomb. There are two huge eagles at the entrance but these weren’t part of the original design. They actually came from an ornate post office that had been built and then torn down because it wasn’t functional.

The niches also now have busts of Civil War generals, but we learned that these were put in much later… commissioned by the WPA and cast by concentration camp survivors. The Ranger was very informative. We always really appreciate it when the rangers are enthusiastic and interested in the national park unit they serve.

Visiting General Grant National Memorial

The mausoleum is the main attraction. It is hard to imagine how big it is. Be sure to engage with the ranger there and if you can, listen to one of the talks that they do outside the main entrance. (They don’t do talks inside the mausoleum out of respect.)

There is also a visitor center, with a film that will tell you more about Grant and his achievements. You will find this across the street, in what used to be the Toilets. This might just be the only National Park Visitor Center in a toilet!

One of the interesting things we learned from the ranger was why they picked this location in Riverside Park. It turns out that the city of New York guaranteed that they would bury Grant’s wife Julia at the same location. Other proposed locations did not.

It took them 12 years to build it; during that time Grant’s body was kept in a temporary location. They had a funeral procession for him when died where a million mourners paid their respects, including many southerners. Then, when the memorial was finished 12 years later, another million plus people attended the parade and dedication. That’s when there were only some 25,000 residents in New York! The ranger said the parade stretched over 5 miles in lower Manhattan.

He also pointed out some of the really interesting imagery on the building. There are 48 “fascia” – emblems of strength through unity. Even though Grant was a famous war general, his motto was “Let us have peace”, something he worked towards as the 18th President of the United States.

If you find yourself in New York City, take the time to visit General Grant National Memorial and learn more about this often misunderstood President.

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