January 5, 2009
A Walk to Grant's Tomb and Morningside Heights
Sunday afternoon looked clear and beautiful, and though chilly, seemed perfect for a winter's walk. I wanted to start the new year with fresh eyes and with a vow to act on newly-made resolutions, foremost among these the promise to myself (and to readers) to get out of the neighborhood. I could write about MacDougal Street and Washington Square Park all day long (and sometimes have done so).
So, Grant's Tomb. When was the last time you visited the final resting place for Civil War General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and his lovely wife, Julia Dent Grant? For me, I had a hard time remembering, and still won't say, the year I last visited, but I think I was about seven years old.
I took the 1 train from W. 4th St. to 116th St., a trip that lasted twenty minutes or so, and as I left the station, I walked to Riverside Park and then north to Grant's Tomb. What a pretty day! There was some sort of convocation of unicyclists in front of the monument. As I walked into the mausoleum, the low winter light cast a rather sacred-looking pall over the tombs of Ulysses and Julia. I was moved upon seeing their resting places, even as I was silently telling myself the punchline to "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?"*
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The General Grant National Memorial is pleasant to visit, especially for those interested in the Civil War. Confederate sympathizers, however, may not care for it, as the whole deal comes off as pro-Union. From the old-school type of exhibits (no digital interactions, light shows, or such), I learned many things about the 18th President of the United States. Because I've been distracted this week by the swarm of earthquakes under Yellowstone Lake, I found it interesting that President Grant signed the bill that created Yellowstone National Park as America's first National Park on March 1, 1872. I also learned about Richard T. Greener, the first African-American graduate of Harvard (1870), who was head of the fundraising efforts for the memorial. I also learned from the park ranger that the Grants had been living on Fifth Avenue and 66th Street, and the site of the memorial (although originally out in the middle of nowhere on the Hudson) proved convenient.
From Grant's Tomb, I strolled around the neighborhood, taking in Riverside Church, Columbia University, the view from Morningside Heights Park, and then the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. After spending some time looking at the tombs of Ulysses and Julia and then visiting the churches, I began to think of this stroll as the Death, Reconstruction, and Resurrection Walk. Given that visiting Grant's Tomb is a little like visiting Napoleon's and that the churches resemble Chartres and Notre Dame, the stroll comes off as a little French.
Images: above, interior and exterior, General Grant National Memorial; below, nave, Riverside Church.
* The answer is "No one. They are entombed, not buried."
This walk is the first in a series of Presidential-themed walks exploring the role of U. S. Presidents in New York City and in celebration of the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
Many more images of the walk at Flickr WOTBA.
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