195th Celebration of President Ulysses S. Grant

This year’s celebration of President Ulysses S. Grant’s birthday will be led by Savona Bailey-McClain, Executive Director of the West Harlem Art Fund and radio host for State of the Arts NYC.

Comments by Julia Grant

Riverside was selected by myself and my family as the burial place of my husband, General Grant. First, because I believed New York was his preference. Second, it is near the residence that I hope to occupy as long as I live, and where I will be able to visit his resting place often. Third, I have believed, and am now convinced, that the tomb will be visited by as many of his countrymen there as it would be at any other place. Fourth, the offer of a park in New York was the first which observed and unreservedly assented to the only condition imposed by General Grant himself, namely, that I should have a place by his side.

Grant’s Tomb, now formally known as General Grant National Memorial, is the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), the 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia Dent Grant (1826–1902). Completed in 1897, the tomb is located in Riverside Park in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of West Harlem in New York City, across Riverside Drive from the monumental Riverside Church. It was placed under the management of the National Park Service in 1958.

Creation of the Grant Monument Association

On July 23, 1885, Ulysses S. Grant died of throat cancer at age 63 in Wilton, New York. Within hours of Grant’s death, William Grace sent a telegram to Julia offering New York City to be the burial ground for both Grant and Julia. That was Grant’s only real wish when he died; He wanted to be next to his wife when he was buried. Grant’s family agreed to have his remains interred in New York City. William Russell Grace, the Mayor of New York City, wrote a letter to prominent New Yorkers the following day, to gather support for a national monument in Grant’s honor. The letter read as follows:

Dear Sir: In order that the City of New York, which is to be the last resting place of General Grant, should initiate a movement to provide for the erection of a National Monument to the memory of the great soldier, and that she should do well and thoroughly her part, I respectfully request you to as one of a Committee to consider ways and means for raising the quota to be subscribed by the citizens of New York City for this object, and beg that you will attend a meeting to be held at the Mayor’s office on Tuesday next, 28 inst., at three o’clock…

This preliminary meeting was attended by 85 New Yorkers and established the Committee on Organization. The chairman of the Committee was former U.S. president Chester A. Arthur; the secretary was Richard Theodore Greener. This organization would come to be known as the Grant Monument Association (GMA).

Design competition

On February 4, 1888, after a year’s delay, the GMA publicly announced the details of a design competition, in a newsletter entitled “To Artists, Architects, and Sculptors”. This information was made public to the entire nation; it was also published in Europe. The GMA also proposed a new estimate for the monument’s cost, which ranged from $500,000 to $1,000,000. The deadline for all designs was rescheduled three times and was then set for a final date of January 10, 1889.

The first design competition received 65 designs, 42 of which came from international entries. The Grant Memorial Association did not award an overall winner and a second design competition was ordered. In April 1890, the Grant Memorial Association selected, from only five commissioned entries, the design of John Hemenway Duncan, who estimated his design would cost between $496,000 and $900,000. Duncan made his first architectural claims in 1883, designing the Washington Monument at Newburgh, the Newburgh Monument, and the Tower of Victory. Duncan built these structures to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the U.S. Revolutionary War,  and he became a member of the Architectural League in 1887. Duncan cited as his design’s objective: “…to produce a monumental structure that should be unmistakably a tomb of military character.” He wanted to avoid “resemblance of a habitable dwelling”, as the structure was meant to be the epitome of reverence and respect.  The tomb’s granite exterior is modeled after the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus with Persian elements and, but for the Ionic order, resembles the Tropaeum Alpium. Within the tomb, the twin sarcophagi of Grant and his wife Julia are based on the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides.

Historical text source: Wikipedia


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