General Grant National Memorial (as designated by the U.S. National Park Service), better known as Grant's Tomb, is a mausoleum containing the bodies of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), an American Civil War General and the 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia Dent Grant (1826–1902). The tomb complex is a United States Presidential Memorial in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. The structure is situated in a prominent location in Riverside Park overlooking the Hudson River.
The granite and marble structure was designed by architect John Duncan, and completed in 1897. The National Park Service maintains that it is the largest mausoleum in North America. Duncan took as his general model the eponymous structure, the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the world; or rather one of the various modern reconstructions of it, since it is not known what it looked like. A huge public subscription paid for it. Over a million people attended Grant's funeral parade in 1885. It was seven miles (11 km) long and featured Confederate and Union generals riding together in open victorias, U.S. President Grover Cleveland, his cabinet, all the Justices of the Supreme Court, and virtually the entire Congress. The parade for the dedication ceremony of the tomb, held April 27, 1897, the 75th anniversary of Grant's birth, was almost as large and was headed by President William McKinley. New York City was chosen as the burial site so that Mrs. Grant could visit frequently, and because Grant was grateful to New Yorkers for their outpouring of affection during his later years.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) wrote:
Duncan's over-ambitious original design, chosen by the Grant Monument Association, included monumental staircases leading down through terraced gardens to a dock on the river, bridging the Hudson Line railroad tracks and providing public access to the shoreline. This plan was scaled back and the monument itself was reduced in size.
The completed structure includes a main lobby overlooking a sanctuary in which Grant and his wife are entombed, guarded by busts of Civil War generals William T. Sherman, George H. Thomas, James B. McPherson, Philip H. Sheridan, and E.O.C. Ord. The domed space, with commemorative mosaic murals and sculpture, including "Victory" and "Peace" by J. Massey Rhind, and a large central oculus revealing on the lower level the twin granite sarcophagi of the President and Mrs. Grant, are quite spectacular examples of purely symbolic Beaux-Arts civic triumphalism. The conception has similarities to the design for the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides in Paris. Over the entrance are carved words from Grant's letter accepting the Republican nomination for President in 1868: "Let us have peace."
National Park Service administration of the national memorial was authorized on August 14, 1958. (President Grant signed the act establishing the first national park, Yellowstone.) As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, the memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.
In the late 20th century and despite being legally protected by the National Park Service, the tomb was allowed through neglect to gradually decline to a state of severe disrepair, at the same time that New York City's subway trains were being vandalized with spray-painted graffiti, as was the tomb. The defaced tomb was considered by many to be an eyesore, but it was low on the priority list for restoration. Attitudes changed, however, when interest in the American Civil War and its generals increased significantly in 1989 with the release of a hit U.S. motion picture, Glory, which was based on a true event in the Civil War. In 1990, the Ken Burns PBS television documentary, The Civil War, was broadcast to a large audience and received critical acclaim. It contributed to the spark of national interest in this period of American history. Suddenly, reenactments of Civil War battles nationwide became highly popular and battlefield sites again became major tourist destinations.
As more persons began to seek out and visit Grant's Tomb, it was natural that more people would notice its defaced condition. In the early 1990s, a paper concerning the deteriorating condition of Grant's Tomb by a Columbia University student, Frank Scaturro, was released to the news media and attracted nationwide interest. He had previously urged restoration of the tomb by writing to supervisors of the National Park Service, but had been repeatedly rebuffed and ignored, so he went over their heads to get attention. At this period in the mid-1990s New York was making a successful comeback, with Times Square, Central Park, and the city's subway trains already cleaned up. New Yorkers were surprised to learn that one of their city's historic tourist destinations, Grant's Tomb, had been largely forgotten while other improvements had been made across the city.
As a result of Mr. Scaturro's revelations, Grant's descendants and the Illinois state legislature threatened to remove the remains of the former President and First Lady and have them buried in Illinois. The National Park Service was embarrassed into spending $1.8 million to restore the memorial and to provide for upkeep and increased security monitoring. When the work was complete, a re-dedication was held on the dedication's centennial, April 27, 1997.
The New York City Navy ROTC unit now uses the large area in front of the tomb for May commissioning ceremonies of new ensigns (Navy) and second lieutenants (Marine Corps).
The Grant Monument Association is currently making plans to add a new visitor center behind the tomb, complete with public restrooms which are prohibited in the tomb itself under the express stipulation of Mrs. Grant. The existing adjacent Overlook Pavilion, which affords a view of the Hudson River, is currently undergoing restoration.
In the Woody Woodpecker cartoon "Ballyhooey" Woody was asked, while on a television quiz show, "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb"? Woody responded "Napoleon!" The MC of the show replied, "Wrong — it was George Washington!" As a consolation prize, Woody was given a trip to the South Pole.