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Grant's Tomb

Photo c. 1909
Photo c. 1909

Grant's Tomb is a mausoleum containing the bodies of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), an American Civil War General and the 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia Dent Grant (1826-1902). The tomb complex is now officially known as the General Grant National Memorial and is located in Riverside Park in New York, New York, near the intersection of Riverside Drive and 122nd St.

Designed by architect John Duncan , the granite and marble structure was completed in 1897 and at the time was the largest mausoleum in North America. Duncan took as his general model the original mausoleum, the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the world. A huge public subscription paid for it. Over a million people had attended Grant's funeral parade, held in 1885 and which was seven miles long and featured Confederate and Union generals riding together in open victorias, U.S. President Grover Cleveland, his cabinet, all the Justices of the Supreme Court, and virtually the entire Congress. The parade for the dedication ceremony of the tomb, held April 27, 1897, the 75th anniversary of Grant's birth, was almost as large and was headed by President William McKinley.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) wrote:

"As one by one withdraw the lofty actors
From that great play on history's stage eterne
That lurid, partial act of War and peace -- of old and new contending,
Fought out through wrath, fears, dark dismays, and many a long suspense;
All past -- and since, in countless graves receding, mellowing,
Victors and vanquish'd -- Lincoln's and Lee's -- now thou with them,
Man of the mighty days -- and equal to the days!
Thou from the prairies! -- tangled and many-vein'd and hard has been thy part,
To admiration has it been enacted!"

Duncan's over-ambitious original design, chosen by the Grant Monument Association, included monumental staircases leading down through terraced gardens to a dock on the river, bridging the Hudson Line railroad tracks and providing public access to the shoreline, was scaled back, and the monument itself was reduced in size. The domed space, with commemorative mosaic murals and sculpture, and a large central oculus revealing on the lower level the twin porphyry catafalques of the General's and Mrs Grant's, are quite spectacular examples of purely symbolic Beaux-Arts civic triumphalism. The conception may have been drawn from the catafalque of Napoleon at Les Invalides.

In the late 20th century, the tomb was allowed to decline to a state of severe disrepair, and was considered by many to be an eyesore and a desecration. In the 1990s, after a paper by a Columbia University student was released to the news media and Grant's descendants threatened to remove the remains and have them buried elsewhere, the National Park Service was embarrassed into spending $1.8 million to restore the memorial and to provide for upkeep. When the work was complete, a re-dedication was held on the dedication's centennial, April 27, 1997.

A riddle relating to Grant's Tomb, popularized by Groucho Marx, is "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?". The traditional answer is, "Nobody." The occupants are entombed, not buried.

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Last updated: 11-07-2004 17:29:14