Ulysses S. Grant died of throat cancer on July 23, 1885, in upstate New York. He and his family had decided earlier that he’d be buried in New York City, but had done nothing else about it. It wasn’t until the day after he died that plans for building the memorial where he’d be interred were put into motion. So for twelve years, his body lay in a temporary tomb not far from the site of the current memorial while money was raised, a design contest held, an architect hired, and the building built. It was finished in early 1897 and Grant’s body interred in April of that year.
We were there on the only cold day in December. The weather had been unseasonably warm — practically sweltering in the DC area — until that day. Then boom: frosty freezy winds started blowing.
Patricia and I walked from the Columbia University subway station, eight frigid blocks away. And because we were so cold, it took us forever to find the visitor center. We finally spotted a sign off to the side of the property, that took us away from the memorial and toward the river, where the cold wind blew even harder.
We crossed a street and ended up at a stone building that looked like it had once been a restroom. Over the two doors on the side of the building facing the Hudson River were carved “Men” and “Women.” Welcome to the Grant Memorial Visitor Center. The doorway marked Women was the entrance (photo credit to Patricia).
Inside the visitor center was a shop, a restroom, some exhibits and a film. The visitor center opened at 9 but the memorial didn’t open until 10. We were there a little early so we used the restroom, viewed the exhibits and film, and did a little shopping. And thawed. At 10, we went back across the street to the memorial.
The mausoleum is made of marble and granite, in the neoclassical style. It is the largest mausoleum in the US. There are three mosaics that decorate the interior, added in 1966, representing Grant at three Civil War campaigns. The one on the right is Grant on his horse at Vicksburg. The one on the left is Lee surrendering to him at Appomattox.
The sarcophagi of Ulysses S. and his wife, Julia, are made of red granite and it is said that they are based on the sarcophagus of Napoleon at Les Invalides. Other than the red granite, though, there doesn’t seem to be much of a resemblance — Napoleon’s is gaudier. There was some resistance to the Grant memorial being in NYC, from folks who thought it should be elsewhere, like in DC. Julia came out strongly in favor of NYC because, in part, NYC was the first site that agreed to allow her to be buried next to her husband. She died in 1902, five years after the memorial was completed.