General Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb)

By Sabrina  |  February 8, 2013  |  Points of Interest

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio. In 1839 at the age of 17, he was admitted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Through an error on his admission forms, Hiram Ulysses Grant became Ulysses Simpson Grant. After serving at army posts in various northeastern locations, Captain Grant resigned from the army in July 1854. Grant moved his family to Illinois and was working in his brother’s leather shop when the Civil War began. When the call for recruits went out, Grant applied to serve as an officer in the Union Army.

In June of 1861, Grant began his second army career as colonel of the 21st Illinois volunteer regiment. He won several major battles for the Union Army and by November of 1863 he had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, a rank revived by Congress especially for him. After President Lincoln made him supreme commander of all Union forces, Grant was then pitted against the Confederacy’s Robert E. Lee. The Union army sustained over 60,000 casualties, but Grant pressed on, laying siege to Richmond when Lee took up position there. The war ended at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. In 1866 Grant was promoted to full general, a rank that only George Washington had ever held.

A nationally known war hero, Ulysses Grant was pursued as a presidential candidate by the Republican Party. Grant had never desired to be a politician, but in 1868, he was unanimously nominated as the party’s candidate, and easily won the election to become the 18th President of the United States. Unfortunately, Grant was not nearly as competent a President as he was a general. Despite numerous scandals involving Grant’s political advisors and general public disapproval for his administration during his first term in office, Grant was reelected in 1872.

Having lost the nomination for a third term as president, and having forfeited his military pension by becoming president, Grant now had no income to support his family. He moved to New York City and in 1884, he learned he had terminal throat cancer. In order to provide for his family, Grant began to write his memoirs. The book, titled Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant earned a profit of almost $450,000. He finished writing it one week before his death on July 23, 1885. Grant’s funeral was held on August 8, 1885 in New York City. An estimated one million people lined up along Broadway to watch the funeral procession.

Immediately after Grant’s death, there was discussion about possible sites for a memorial. An area was eventually chosen at 122nd Street and Riverside Drive that offered magnificent views of the Hudson River, and was, in fact, the site once suggested by George Washington as a possible location for the U.S. Capitol. In 1890, New York architect John H. Duncan was selected to design the memorial, which incorporates elements from the tomb of Napoleon, the tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian, and the Tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Fund-raising for the project began immediately after the design was selected, and over 90,000 people from all over the country donated more than $650,000 for its construction. The largest mausoleum in the world, Grant’s Tomb took 8 years to complete. The exterior of the 150 foot structure is constructed of over 8,000 tons of white granite while the interior is constructed of marble.

On April 17, 1897, Grant’s remains were quietly transferred to an 8½ ton red granite sarcophagus and placed in the mausoleum. Ten days later on what would have been his 75th birthday, the monument was dedicated. In 1902, Julia Dent Grant, his wife of nearly 40 years, was placed in an identical sarcophagus and laid to rest in the mausoleum beside her husband.

Over the years, sculptural embellishments and accents were added to the memorial: bronze busts of Grant’s generals were sculpted as part of a Works Progress Administration Program in 1938. Murals of Grant’s battles were painted on the interior walls around the same time. In the late 1950s, the National Park Service, which had by then assumed care of the monument, commissioned murals of Grant’s storied battles to adorn the structure’s arches near the ceiling. In 1972, a public art organization called CityArts sponsored a program to build a series of benches to encircle the monument. This community effort involved thousands of volunteers from all over New York City and resulted in a colorful mosaic of tiles depicting a wide range of images.

By the mid 1990s, the monument’s condition had deteriorated to such an extent that the state of Illinois offered to have it dismantled and reassembled in Illinois if the monument was not repaired and properly maintained. The National Park Service responded by designating $400,000 for immediate repairs, after which the federal government supplied nearly $2 million for major restorations including roof replacement, graffiti removal, upgraded landscaping and other repairs.

The Grant Monument Association is the non-profit organization that monitors the state of Grant’s Tomb and is currently advocating for a visitor center and public restrooms for this historic monument.

On April 27, 1997, 175 years after Grant’s birth, the memorial was rededicated, a date which also marked the 100th Anniversary of the monument itself. Each year on this day, a ceremony celebrating General Grant’s life is held at the memorial.