Yesterday marked the 194th birthday of Ulysses S. Grant, the general who won the Civil War and later served two terms as president of the United States. Happy birthday, Mister President!
Grant's Tomb, on Riverside Drive, is the largest presidential burial place in the country. But is he buried there? As we write in Inside the Apple:
If you are older than a certain age, you’ve likely heard the riddle: “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” It was a consolation question on Groucho Marx’s quiz show, You Bet Your Life. Like other consolation questions—“What color is an orange?” “What year did the War of 1812 start?”—it was designed to have such an obvious answer that no one could get it wrong. Most people answered, “Grant, of course!” and won $25, though a few poor souls thought it was a trick question.
But while Groucho would accept that answer, it isn’t correct. Technically, no one is buried in Grant’s Tomb: both the former President, Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife, Julia Dent Grant, are entombed there, above ground, in marvelously monumental stone sarcophagi. So those You Bet Your Life contestants who thought it was a trick question were correct. It was a trick question—no one is buried in the building.
Grant died in 1885, having lived the last four years of his life in New York. His tomb sits at 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, at one of the highest points in Riverside Park, and is the largest mausoleum in North America. It is also a remarkable testament to the high esteem in which Grant was held after his death (despite two terms as president marked by scandal and perceived mediocrity) as well as to New York’s growing obsession in the 1890s with becoming the premiere American city. First, New York beat out other places Grant had lived—including Galena, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri—for the right to bury the president. Then, the Grant Memorial Association held two contests to determine who would design the structure, the second contest being held because none of the entries the first time around was deemed grand enough. The tomb, by John Duncan, is modeled on the mausoleum at Halicanarssus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In 1897, the tomb was officially opened and it fast became the leading tourist attraction in the city. Indeed, more people visited Grant’s Tomb in the early years of the Twentieth Century than went to the Statue of Liberty.
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