General Grant National Memorial

Edification value
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Should you go?
Time spent 53 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned New York City fielded a volunteer army force called the Mozart Regiment.  I hoped that all city army units had classical composer nicknames, but alas, it’s because the regiment was financed by the Democratic National Committee of Mozart Hall.

“Let us have peace.”  So reads the inscription on the last resting place of America’s greatest military hero of the 19th century.

At one point, Grant’s Tomb was the most visited tourist destination in New York City.  And to this day it is the largest tomb in North America. Built when the city didn’t extend that far north, it was a prominent marble landmark on a hill, attracting visitors in droves, by boat and train, coach and bus, to pay their respects.

While the tour buses still go up that way, I’m not so sure that many people get off to visit the President–and his wife, Julia.  By the way, if anyone asks you the dopey brainteaser “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” you can point out that “Grant” is not correct, or at least not a complete answer.  Actually, if you want to be pedantic, no one is buried in Grant’s Tomb, both the president and Mrs. Grant are in sarcophagi, although they are below ground level.

The Grant memorial has changed for the better recently: an old colonnade and comfort station in Riverside Park has been turned into a small visitor center, which means the tomb itself is back to how it was intended to be, no gift shop, no descriptive plaques, just quiet contemplation in Greek Revival splendor.  The visitor center features a good video about Grant’s life, some artifacts, and a LOT to read.

To the extent Grant is recalled today, I think it’s as a rather crappy president, who had poor judgment and surrounded himself with lousy people and had an administration beset by scandal.  Probable alcoholic.

I’m persuaded by my visit and a conversation with one of the National Park Service guys there that Grant deserves better.  He came from nowhere, son of a tanner, no real head for business, proved himself an extremely good military leader, and never made any bones about the reason for the Civil War:  “the doom of slavery.”  While many around him were corrupt, he was never accused of any wrongdoing himself.

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