9. Ulysses S. Grant: General Grant National Memorial
Located on the northern end of River Side Park adjacent to Columbia University, is the General Grant National Memorial, the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant. The great general and 18th President died of a throat cancer in 1885 in Wilton, New York, at the age of 63. The incumbent mayor of the time, William Russel Grace wrote a letter to New Yorkers to garner support for a national monument in Grant’s honor. The prospect of having General Grant’s memorial in New York City drew public support and a design competition was arranged, with a estimate cost of $500,000 to $1,000,000.
After two competitions, the design of John Hemenway Duncan, an architect who had had previous experience designing structures to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the U.S Revolutionary War was chosen for the tomb. Ducan cited his design objectives, saying, “…to produce a monumental structure that should be unmistakably a tomb of a military character.”
The interior of the tomb features the twin sarcophagi of Grant and his wife Julia–based on the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides in Paris. Construction of the monument started in 1891 and finished in 1897, when Grant’s remains were quietly transferred to a sarcophagus and placed in the mausoleum. The remains of Grant’s wife Julia were placed in a sarcophagus next to the general, after she passed away five years later.
In 1938, under the Federal Art Project, busts of some of Grant’s acclaimed generals were made and placed in the circular wall surrounding the sarcophagi, thus making the circular room even more similar to that of Napoleon‘s–which features busts of his generals as well.
Throughout the years, despite one restoration project in 1938, the monument was overall subject to negligence. Grafitti marred the tomb, trash was heaped up around the tomb, the recesses were used by drug dealers and homeless. The remiss to the monument continued until 1991 when Frank Scaturro, a Columbia University student launched an initiative to restore the tomb, raising the matter to congress.
After many unsuccessful attempts to get the National Park Service (NPS), who was in charge of the monument, to take actions, Scaturro went public with a 325-page document that disclosed the negligence of NPS and the condition of the site. The media attention drawn from the document, which was sent to the President and Congress, led to a $1.8 million grant to restore the tomb.
Today Grant’s Tomb is open between 9:00 a.m and 5:00 pm from Wednesday to Sunday.