Hiding Grant’s Tomb in Plain Sight

“Very nicely done, Davi”
— General David H. Petraeus, US Army (Ret), May 2020

“The mere act of breaking the negro’s chains was the act of Abraham Lincoln…. But the act by which the negro was made a citizen of the United States and invested with the elective franchise was pre-eminently the act of President Grant”
— Frederick Douglas, 1876 letter on monuments


Even historians tend to overlook an important detail in the controversy over statues and names being pulled down:

Monuments to the true American heroes who ended slavery have been under domestic attack for at least 130 years, and President Grant’s tomb is a perfect example. America needs to actively restore and protect honors to leaders who defeated the “Confederacy” rebellion, as they have come under attack for generations since.

One of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight episodes has a humorous albeit sad explanation of how pro-slavery Americans, even to this day, continue to erect false “traditions” in order to openly denigrate American heroes.

The fact John Oliver has pulled the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) into his story shows how mainstream condemnation of Confederate monuments has become, and of course deservedly.

The SPLC has done an amazing job proving “heritage” claims false and a distortion of history.

The Civil War ended 153 years ago. The Confederacy, as Mitch Landrieu said, was on the wrong side of humanity. Our public entities should no longer play a role in distorting history by honoring a secessionist government that waged war against the United States to preserve white supremacy and the enslavement of millions of people.

The South – and the rest of the nation – need to bury the sad myth of a Lost Cause once and for all.

Bury the sad myth, restore civil rights heroes.

It makes sense for pro-slavery white supremacist distortion of history to be ended ASAP. America must stop passively allowing domestic terrorists who enslaved millions and murdered hundreds of thousands in a war to expand slavery… to be given high-profile pedestals for worship.

Long ago I was working on a dynamic map of these pervasive false honors, like a risk register for CEOs of how racist is your location. I soon realized cities could have tourism “risk” brochures to expose latent white supremacist areas. Here’s a quick one I did to illustrate the point:

However, as I said above, I also believe there is an ingredient missing to this kind of story-map. White supremacists not only have been spraying their racist narratives all over America. At the same time they have been taking down monuments to actual American heroes with the aim to denigrate and destroy American history, erasing Civil Rights leaders.

While the false white power narratives were being put up, true history was being torn down and buried by the same people. The pro-slavery history revisionists have been defacing American war memorials, civil rights monuments and statues.

Consider for a long minute that in the early 1900s, as racists suddenly were restarting the KKK under the incredibly racist President Wilson and erecting thousands of new confederate statues, they also were tearing down figures whenever anyone complained they “looked too much like a union fighter” (and buried them so they wouldn’t be erected again).

That’s right, let me emphasize this point that often gets lost in the debate about putting up Confederate flags and statues. The Americans who wanted pro-slavery statues erected… also systemically waged a campaign to tear down the memorial statues that even hinted at honoring the American veterans or their victory over domestic terrorists.

There may be no better example of this targeted attack on history than Grant’s “Let Us Have Peace” Tomb.

The final resting place of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, is the largest mausoleum in North America. It testifies to a people’s gratitude for the man who ended the bloodiest conflict in American history as Commanding General of the Union Army and then, as President of the United States, strove to heal a nation after a civil war and make rights for all citizens a reality.

In case you don’t get the reference, “Let Us Have Peace” was the concluding line of Grant’s 1868 acceptance letter to become President of the US. It’s hovering impressively over the entrance to his Tomb.

And in case you don’t remember that campaign phrase emphasizing peace and civility helped Grant win the Presidential contest by a landslide. At the polls he totally crushed Seymour’s appalling 1868 campaign motto: “This is a White Man’s Country. Let White Men Rule

So, I think some perspective is needed here. This is a civil rights hero memorial. “Let Us Have Peace” is a huge engraving memorializing his dedication to human rights, bordered by larger-than-life statues, and I have zoomed in significantly in the above picture. It is hard to overstate the massively massive size of this monument to Grant’s civil rights legacy.

Here’s what it looks like when standing at the base of entrance steps.

Crazy big, right?

So where is this gargantuan mausoleum, the largest tomb in North America, you ask?

Exactly. While Lincoln’s Memorial sees approximately 6 million people annually, guess how many visit Grant every year…. Nobody seems to know because who can even find it?

Pro tip: Grant’s Tomb sits in New York City overlooking the Hudson River. It is so large the Statue of Liberty can fit inside it. However few people if anyone around can tell you where it is. Ask any student of Columbia, present or past, to tell you where Grant’s Tomb is. They have no idea their school is only blocks away.

How is this possible? Why would a massive memorial to America’s best General and arguably top three best President (behind only Washington and Lincoln) in a huge city be so unknown?

The answer is simple: The Confederacy’s post-war anti-American “heritage” movement.

This is the other part of the idiotic revisionist movement that erected statues of that traitor Lee; they also worked to diminish Grant. Historians are only just beginning to talk about a concerted effort by white supremacists in America to intentionally obscure Grant and falsely tarnish his reputation.

When the great monument to Grant was erected, the design specified an empty space.

As you find with other monuments, it was meant to be set out overlooking a wide open expanse. Think of how the Lincoln memorial sits at the end of a giant reflecting pool. Grant’s Tomb had a similarly impressive hill-top setup as you can see in this photo from 1900.

Apparently it could be seen for many miles around. And that was the point. Grant was one of the most popular men in the world when he died.

His funeral was legendary with over 1.5 million people honoring him in 1885. A seven mile long procession had 60K marching for five hours, where his pallbearers included the Confederate Generals he had defeated with unconditional surrender.

1.5 Million people in 1885, largest funeral in history, paying respect to Grant
A 60K person, seven mile-long funeral procession in 1885 for Grant took five hours

Years later when his tomb was completed, his amazing popularity continued.

Approximately 90,000 people from around the world donated over $600,000 towards the construction of Grant’s Tomb. This was the largest public fundraising effort ever at that time. Designed by architect John Duncan, the granite and marble structure was completed in 1897 and remains the largest mausoleum in North America. Over one million people attended the parade and dedication ceremony of Grant’s Tomb on April 27, 1897.

The largest public fundraising effort ever at that time!

Grant was seen as an international hero, globally respected as a supreme statesman, military genius and dedicated humanitarian. Think about those numbers. Millions of people in 1897 means basically the entire population of NYC went to his dedication ceremony.

For a sobering comparison, barely 100 people attended Lee’s funeral 30 years earlier. He died a traitor having never been pardoned for treason and never restoring his citizenship. Despite Civil War still being fresh in mind, so few honored Lee that local college students served as his pall bearers

Empty fields with few attending for Confederate General Lee who died 1870 obscurely as a foreigner and traitor to the U.S., never having been pardoned and without restoring his citizenship

That’s right. Lee tossed aside his American citizenship and apparently didn’t care much to push for it to be restored. He died a foreigner. Unbelievable that Americans erect statues and name streets and schools after him around the country. Who in Germany wants to buy a house on Hitler St or send their kids to General Rommel School?

This SPLC map shows just how widespread the white supremacist defacement of America has gone:

SPLC “Whose Heritage” Map Has Nearly 2,000 Sites

If you’re wondering how it was possible for a map of the U.S. to show a school in California named after a pro-slavery General Lee…the school ended up wondering the same thing.

In the wake of the deadly Charleston, South Carolina church shooting of black congregation members last year, the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education created a committee tasked with recommending school names to replace that of Robert E. Lee Elementary School—named after Confederate war hero [sic] Robert E. Lee. The shooter’s proud display of the Confederate flag online only served to fuel a public outcry in the city.

“War hero” Lee? That’s so wrong. See the problem? What kind of hero can’t find pall bearers?

If it were me I would have suggested renaming the school after U.S. war hero and President Grant, naturally. Alas instead the school went with a local hero who helped migrant farm workers: it’s now named Nieto Herrera.

Anyway back to the monumental issues with Grants Tomb. Around 1935, given the rise of fascism in the US as well as around the world, suddenly trees were planted surrounding Grant’s Tomb in direct contradiction of a design meant to maintain visual prominence.

And you can guess what happened next.

Imagine being the person who wants to plant trees up close and around the Statue of Liberty such that nobody would see it anymore unless standing at her feet. That’s what someone was trying to do to the largest mausoleum in America.

This is how white supremacists have desecrated the memorial to the greatest American General in history; a heroic man who pioneered civil rights, justice and environmentalism.

Such a plan to bury the memorial in defiance of its design should have been inconceivable, immediately cancelled as disrespectful. And yet Grant’s Tomb has been shamefully and completely hidden as if America would rather ignore its most important leader in military and civil rights history… while it erected twisted memorials to the butchers and rapists of black women who waged their war on America to perpetuate slavery.

This massive monument doesn’t even have crosswalks or lights to allow pedestrians to legally reach it! Aside from one added to facilitate walking from the tomb to the gift shop (forced by a long campaign arguing it put disabled veterans at risk), visitors have to violate a historically racist law to reach the island in a sea of trees and asphalt.

NYC Administrative Code Title 34, Section 4-04, Subsection (b) (2) No pedestrian shall cross any roadway at an intersection except within a cross-walk.

As I said at the start of this post, monuments to American heroes were being greatly diminished by the Confederate “distorting history” crowd who worked hard to shamelessly erect statues to honor America’s enemies.

Lee literally asked that no monuments be made to him, and Americans dishonored his wishes in an attempt to keep civil strife alive. Grant’s tomb specified no obstructions to the view, and Americans dishonored him as well in an attempt to obscure his message of peace and civility.

So the next time you see a loser-Lee monument of slavery and patronage, ask yourself where can you see the nearest monument to the victorious civil-rights anti-corruption champion Grant.

Now, to be fair to the people who were fiddling with history in the 1930s, they considered themselves reformers.

Herbert Satterlee is credited, for example, with pushing a number of dubious changes to Grant’s Tomb before committing suicide a few years later.

Yellow glass

If the yellow glass looks odd next to the traditional memorial purple sash, that’s because the yellow glass was another strange and late modification to the design.

The Tiffany Company had donated purple glass in 1913. Then someone in 1939 decided they would give away Tiffany color works (nobody knows where the glass went, presumably to friends and family of those who replaced it?) and brought instead gloomy mismatched yellow glass.

Ring of busts

Perhaps most notable, besides that inexcusable obfuscation line of trees, is a ring of military busts staring inward and distracting from the sarcophagi.

The busts perhaps were an attempt to emulate Les Invalides in Paris, built in 1861, where Napoleon rests in a massive quartzite sarcophagus surrounded by 12 female statues representing his military campaigns.

So here’s the thing. If we’re being charitable, a Napoleonic bust theme could mean the trees planted at the same time were meant to be tiny and manicured like Les Invalides. In some weird twist of history, people wanted Grant’s resting place to look more like Napoleon’s by adding trees and busts.

Trees

Instead we coincidentally see that during the period that unjust historians were trying to tarnish Grant’s civil rights legacy, and falsely color his war-time accomplishments, trees strangely were allowed to grow out-of-control into a thick curtain.

Is it really coincidence, though, even if the trees were meant to be maintained low and manicured to emulate Napoleon’s tomb? Grant absolutely hated the Napoleon family legacy of cruel and selfish behavior, as he wrote plainly for everyone to see.

Grant even famously urged invasion of Mexico at the end of the Civil War and said “You see Napoleon in Mexico was really a part, and and active part, of the rebellion. His army was as much opposed to us as that of [pro-slavery General] Kirby Smith…I was for fighting Napoleon. There never was a more just cause for war than what Napoleon gave us.”

Even more to the point, the 1938 “renovations” to Grant’s tomb played up his military career and all but diminished civil rights legacy. Yet Grant thought when US Generals he knew emulated Napoleon they became examples of failure.

In other words, it’s a travesty of history for someone in 1938 to try and redesign Grant’s tomb to emulate Napoleon, a man and legacy he despised. It is even worse that someone in 1938 would plant the seeds of trees that, in direct opposition to the design of Grant’s tomb to be observed from far away, make it nearly impossible to see a building that so many people around the world have invested in to honor a great American hero.

Restoration plan:

  • Anyone caught claiming that Confederate statues should remain standing or maintained because “heritage” should be conscripted to serve a two week minimum term doing restoration and preservation work on Grant’s tomb.
  • It is past time to cut trees down. Chop them entirely, or at least bring down to proper respectful height that doesn’t obscure the monument from getting the attention it deserves.
  • Crosswalks and traffic calming patterns. At least four
  • I also think the busts should removed and located in a separate observation gallery. Use the original designs for reference.
  • And while we’re at it can we get the obnoxious “shiny boots” Lee mural removed as well? It makes no sense to have Lee as a late addition, standing above the tomb. We don’t put Hitler above Eisenhower’s memorial. Move these murals away along with the busts into a separate viewing area. I suppose that whole story will have to wait for another post, another day.

Do we need to start a campaign to do this? Come on America, honor your real heritage and get rid of all the white supremacist attempts to erase it. Nobody wanted to do a TV show about Grant because he was a normal modest american guy who did genuinely great things, no drama. He deserves better than to be ignored.

3 thoughts on “Hiding Grant’s Tomb in Plain Sight”

  1. I was a student at Columbia. No one knew where Grant’s Tomb was. I certainly wish they knew, we passed by it often enough.

  2. At Barnard we knew of Grant’s Tomb. It was like a place to hide because so hard to get to. I think you should add it is an island absent of cross-walks. You had to really want to be there, not something you could pass by and notice. Like you clearly see in your photo how the current design is hostile to visitors. How stupid is it that jaywalking is required?

  3. @Ally thanks for commenting. I’ve added a note about safety and the roadway. I was told by the park rangers that traffic wasn’t stopping for anyone and it was causing a serious hazard to visitors as well as the rangers, so now there’s a light and a crosswalk. Just one was added though, as a minimum to allow visitors and staff to walk between the shop from the tomb. Kind of strange that federal employees as well as guests were being mandated to break the law (not sure when crosswalk law was created, but I’d guess in the 1930s around the same time as obfuscation of the tomb began).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.