National Park Week Day III; Today’s Theme: Military Monday
I was on my Amtrak Railpass tour of the Lower 48, when I was lucky enough to be invited to spend some time in New York City. While exploring the campus of Columbia University, I decided to walk down to General Grant’s mausoleum.
General Grant died of throat cancer on 23 July 1885. The mayor of NYC at the time, William Russell Grace, immediately offered a place in his city for the mausoleum. Grant himself, had only one request: That he should lie beside his wife Julia when she passed. That left out the military cemeteries, which did not allow women to be interred at that time.
Memory of the country’s Civil War was still fresh, and any funding need for a memorial to the General who ended the war, was met with enthusiasm. Not to say that there wasn’t controversy. Washington D.C. felt that they should get his memorial, and there were design competitions and delays. Still, construction began in the summer of 1891, and Grant’s remains were transferred to the red granite sarcophagus on 17 April 1897. The monument was dedicated ten days later on the 27th, which would have been Grant’s 75th birthday.
Julia Grant would die five years later in 1902.
The National Park Service assumed authority over the tomb in 1958. In 1991, efforts were made to bring attention to the deteriorating condition of the mausoleum. This was not the Park Service’s finest hour. A Columbia University student, Frank Scaturro, who was also a volunteer at the Grant Memorial, tried in vain to bring attention to the lack of maintenance at the tomb. Graffiti and vandalism plagued the Memorial, and the building was in very poor condition. After two years of being ignored by the Park Service, Scaturro wrote a 325 page whistle-blower report to both Congress and the President.
In 1994, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to “restore, complete, and preserve in perpetuity the Grant’s Tomb National Memorial and surrounding areas.” The restoration of the Memorial was completed in 1997, and the site rededicated on 27 April 1997 – 100 years after the original dedication.
When I was there, the Memorial had a jazz concert playing nearby, and the grounds and Riverside Park were immaculate. It is a very peaceful setting above the Hudson River.
Approximately 80,000 people visit the Grant National Memorial in non-pandemic years.