Quick! Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?
When I thought about things to do and see in New York, I figured my list would include a bunch of food spots, cultural areas, and stuff involving music and performance. I didn't really think that the list would take me to any historical parts of the city. After doing some reading, I learned that Grant's Tomb is not only in New York, but is free to the public. On the list it went!
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States. He came right after Andrew Johnson, and right before the other president with the funny name, Rutherford B. Hayes. I mention this because to be totally honest, I didn't know anything about Grant before I came here. Sure, I knew he was a president (fun fact: I can name all the presidents in succession. It's a true life skill), but my history classes always skipped over him when we jumped from Lincoln/The Civil War to the early 1900s.
So, who was Grant? Ulysses S. Grant was the Commanding General of the United States Army during the Civil War. A graduate of West Point, Grant helped lead the Union to victory at a number of major battles during the war, including the Battle of Shiloh. He's the one who Robert E. Lee gave his surrender to in order to end the war.
After Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson took office, Grant butted heads with him a lot over Civil Rights issues. Grant was very much in favor of civil rights, and had gladly welcomed freed slaves into the army during the war. Johnson dragged his feet and refused to guarantee equal rights for African Americans after the southern states rejoined the Union. Grant was elected President in 1868, and (up until 2008) was the youngest President elected.
At Grant's Tomb, there is an informational video that gives you many details on his life and his role in shaping the country. Grant's presidency was seen as a failure due to the economic depression during his second term, along with several scandals involving his associates. However, when it came to social issues, Grant should be ranked as one of the top leaders we've had. He pushed for passage of the 15th Amendment (which prohibits the government from denying the right to vote to anyone based on race or color), prosecuted the KKK, and spoke out about the importance of equal rights. Keep in mind that this was all during the Reconstruction Era, when equal rights were still a very controversial topic.
Grant served two terms, and died in 1885 of throat cancer at the age of 63. Once he died, the idea for a national monument was raised. After some controversy with fundraising, a competition was announced for the design of the tomb. The winning design incorporates different architectural elements for a look that is clearly meant for a member of the military. The two sarcophagi (of Grant and his wife, Julia) are modeled after that of Napoleon.
Inside the tomb, visitors can explore two little rooms, which feature (replica) flags from some of Grant's most famous battles. There are also murals on the walls of these rooms of the wars that Grant fought in.
Around the crypt you'll find busts from five of Grant's greatest lieutenants. These busts include: William Tecumseh Sherman, George Henry Thomas, Edward Ortho Cresap Ord, Phillip Henry Sheridan, and James Birdseye McPherson.
Inside of the crypt are the remains of President Grant and his wife, Julia. The sarcophagi are made of red granite, and each weighs 8.5 tons.
Getting to Grant's Tomb is pretty easy. The Tomb is located in Riverside Park, and is a few blocks off the 125th Street stop of the 1 train. You really can't miss the Tomb (it's a huge, very regal looking building), and there are signs for the visitor's center. Inside the visitor's center is a bookstore where they play an informational video for more on the life of Ulysses S. Grant.
I highly recommend Grant's Tomb to anyone looking to explore a piece of history. Even if you aren't that interested in history/politics, there is still plenty to see. Inside the Tomb is a Parks employee, who is happy to answer any questions about Grant or the memorial itself.
PS: No one is buried at Grant's Tomb. The President and Mrs. Grant are kept above ground, and are not buried. Fool your friends with that one!