General Grant National Memorial (New York City, NY)
The General Grant National Memorial is the final resting place for Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia Dent Grant. The National Park Service (NPS) lists it as the largest mausoleum in North America, though many list it as second to the James A. Garfield Monument in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ulysses had one request: That wherever he ended up, he wanted Julia by his side. Several locations were considered, including Washington City, St. Louis, MO and Galena, IL. Ulysses’s first choice was the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, but they didn’t allow for spouses to be buried there so that was out of the question. Ulysses & Julia had been impressed with a proposal for Riverside Park, as it was a tranquil place along the Hudson River that promised to be a future area of great wealth in upper Manhattan. This location would also allow Julia, who passed away 17 years after her husband, to live nearby and have the ability to visit her husband in his final resting place.
The Grant Monument Association (GMA) was created to oversee the project & fundraising efforts. It was not an easy task. Many people were furious at the location and refused to donate a dime to the elitist city of New York. The mayor of Washington even released a letter he had received from Julia, clearly stating the reasons why she chose New York in an effort to calm public backlash. It also didn’t help that the GMA did not make it clear to the public what the final goals were; for example, they were raising money when they didn’t even have a design.
It took almost 12 years to design, raise funds & construct the final resting place for the Grants. Over 90,000 people donated more than $600,000 which, at the time, was the largest public fundraising campaign in history. Even though the fundraising was successful, it still wasn’t enough to cover the approved design so cuts were made. The Memorial was completed in time for the 75th anniversary ceremony of Grant’s birth on April 27, 1897. It immediately was one of the most popular buildings in the country, with over 500,000 people visiting annually up through World War I.
Several improvements were made to the Memorial in future years, including the installation of busts in the crypt depicting Grant’s most esteemed lieutenants during the Civil War: Edward Otho Cresap Ord, George Henry Thomas, William Tecumseh Sherman, James Birdseye McPherson & Philip Henry Sheridan; murals were painted in the reliquary rooms showing locations of major Civil War battles in the Eastern & Western theaters; modifications and re-landscaping were made to the area surrounding the Memorial. In 1966 there was the addition of three mosaic murals showing Grant at Vicksburg, Missionary Ridge & Appomattox Courthouse.
Unfortunately the area the Grants chose did not become a prime destination. Stories of how the Memorial was not maintained and how the surrounding area is crime-ridden are well known. However, TCWP can say that right now the Memorial is in good shape & the surrounding area felt very safe. You don’t need a car to get there; you can take the 1 subway to 116th/Columbia University; head west to Riverside Drive immediately & you’ll find yourself on a quiet, riverside road that will make you forget you are in New York City.
The Memorial is open every day (excluding Thanksgiving & Christmas) from 9am-5pm. There is a visitors center down the hill from the Memorial that has a gift shop & restrooms. This is also where free talks are held on Grant every day at 11:15am, 1:15pm and 3:15pm. TCWP arrived when no one was there, so the NPS ranger happily spoke to us for over an hour (he made it clear he could talk more or less, it was up to our own schedules). It was a very personalized experience and he was happy to take questions. As others showed up they were allowed to join us; so in other words, there is some flexibility when it comes to the free discussions. If you have the time it’s highly recommended to attend a session!
The NPS advises to exercise caution when visiting during snow or cold weather. The Memorial is not heated and during snow storms it can be very difficult to walk the grounds. The site is not handicapped accessible.
Photography and filming is allowed.
Final resting place of General (and former President) Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia. Tours are self-guided. There is a small visitors center & gift shop, along with free talks on the life of Grant given by the National Park Service several times throughout the day.
122nd St & Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10027
Photography: The Civil War Project (December 2011)