Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grant's Tomb: 122nd St and Riverside Drive

Yesterday (April 27th) was the annual celebration of President Ulysses S. Grant's birth at the General Grant Memorial, better known as Grant's Tomb.  When I first read about the planned festivities on Grant's Tomb Site, I was really intrigued.  The National Parks Service (along with others) had planned a 21 gun salute, re-enactments, time period musicians (see left) and periodic firings of an antique cannon (see photos below).

The day was more than what I had hoped for in terms of all the activities.  The re-enactments with fully costumed Union soldiers, and even a "General Grant" (see right) was truly a sight to behold. 

I was a little disappointing in that they were not offering ranger guided tours.  I was, however, able to find a very amenable ranger who told me a great deal about the memorial.  He had been a ranger for only 9 months and perhaps it was this newness that made him so enthusiastic and friendly, but somehow I think they select for those characteristics when they staff the various national parks--at least that has been my experience (see my prior blog about Teddy Roosevelt's birthplace or Federal Hall, both staffed with rangers).

 In any case, my ranger provided insightful details about the 150' high memorial with 8,000 tons of granite started in 1892 (with the cornerstone laid by then-President Benjamin Harrison) and finished six years later and dedicated on April 27, 1897 (on the 75th anniversary of the birth of Grant).  He told me about the granite sarcophagus from Massachusetts (see left) and the carrera marble shipped in from Italy that lines the most of the interior of the monument. 

He also explained a little about the busts of the five Civil War generals lining the Ulysses S. Grant and wife Julia Dent Grant's sarcophogi) such as the bust of William Tecumseh Sherman (see right) and the amazing Allen Cox mosaics (you really have to see these in person to appreciate them so I haven't included those photos, but you can see them at Grant's Tomb photos if you can't make it to the memorial). 

Finally, he spent some time guiding me through the John Massey Rhind pendant carvings surrounding the monument dome (see left). He described each of the pendants, noting that in each pendant the goddess of liberty and the goddess of peace flank lifetime symbols of Grant.  Starting with the "Tree of Life" at the center of the SE pendant representing Grant's birth, the ranger pointed out the book held by one of the goddesses representing Grant's education and increasing knowledge throughout his life.  The next pendant in the NE has the goddesses holding a shield and a sword representing Grant's military career and West Point training.  In the NW pendant Grant's civilian and Presidential life is represented with a bundle of sticks (symbolizing the strength of the unified nation) and an abundant cornucopia and palms for peace.  And finally the SW pendant depicts Grant in death/asleep with poppy flowers, yet remembered for eternity as represented by the orb held by one of the goddesses. 

The national symbol of eagles also abounds at the memorial.  You can see the 13 eagles representing the 13 original colonies in the dome (just above the windows).  There are also 2 large eagles that "posted" at the front entrance of the memorial (see left).  It was interesting to hear that these eagles were not original to the memorial.  Rather, they were recycled from the old New York City post office when that building was being torn down.  If you look closely, you can see the color differences, but if this hadn't been pointed out to me, I don't think I would have known they were later additions.  Pretty eco-friendly, no?

Almost all of the above you can pretty much see any time, but what is special every April 27th are the re-enactments.  If you've never been to this special event, I'd put it in your calendar now for next year.  Of course, check out the website for updates, but this was fun and totally different from anything I've ever experienced.  The men dressed as Union soldiers fired the cannon throughout the day (see below).

The boom from the cannon was so loud that my ears were ringing for a good 10 minutes.  I loved it! 

P.S. By the way, I noticed that in the monument, among the numerous wreaths from various historical societies and veterans groups, there was a wreath that had a card that simply said, "The President." I doubt that President Obama had much to do with actually sending this, especially as he sought fit to stop of all traffic in mid-town during rush hour on the day, but I did think it was neat that at least someone at the Obama White House was remembering our 18th President (credited with winning the Civil War and ending slavery) on the anniversary of his birth.

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