There was much debate over where the 18th American President and Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant should be laid to rest. A proposal by Mayor William Russell Grace to have Grant’s memorial in New York City gained strong support from New Yorkers, but equally strong opposition from Washington, D.C. At a preliminary meeting attended by local supporters and the newly formed Grant Monument Association (GMA), a statement by Mrs. Grant was read affirming that New York was where Grant himself and the family chose as his place of burial. In 1897, on the 75th anniversary ceremony of Grant’s birth and six years after construction had started, “Grant’s Tomb” (officially the General Grant National Memorial), at the northern end of Riverside Park overlooking the Hudson River, was inaugurated.
The state of New York boasts six presidential burial sites, but Grant’s is the only one in New York City. The location and extravagance of his mausoleum are unique. Architect John Hemenway Duncan said that his design objective for the memorial was “…to produce a monumental structure that should be unmistakably a tomb of a military character.” Many elements of the tomb are based on Napoleon Bonaparte’s at Les Invalides in Paris, including the 8.5-ton red granite sarcophagus and busts of other war generals that line the grand circular chamber.
Despite its historic and architectural significance, the tomb went through a period of neglect. Trash piled up around it, graffiti marked the walls and it was used by drug dealers and the homeless. In 1991, a Columbia University student, Frank Scaturro, launched an initiative to restore the tomb. Scaturro’s efforts led to a $1.8 million grant from Congress in 1997 that was used to restore the monument. Today, the memorial continues to be maintained by the National Parks Service.
If you are or become an Untapped Cities Insiders, you can join us for a visit to the memorial on October 11th! This visit will include a tour inside the mausoleum led by a National Parks Service ranger and the screening of a 20-minute film on the life of Ulysses S. Grant inside the visitor’s center in Riverside Park.
Registration for this tour opens on Thursday, September 27th, at 12 PM EST