Who is Buried in Grant’s Tomb?

Grant’s Tomb is one of the most famous mausoleums in America, created for one of our most popular presidents. It’s also the subject of a famous joke that seems to have an obvious answer. The fact is, though, it’s a bit of a trick question. To understand why, let’s look a little closer at Grant and his tomb.  

Ulysses S. Grant was an extremely popular president with a good personal reputation, which is somewhat remarkable because his administration was fraught with scandal. He was regarded as personally honest on financial matters, even though he tended to trust the wrong people. He was also a beloved war hero, and when he died people were enthusiastic about honoring him. A foundation known as the Grant Monument Association, or GMA, was formed, with former president Chester A. Arthur at the helm. Its fundraising goal was set at $1 million, and donations came in from all over the country.  

Unfortunately, the process of building the tomb took a long time. The location was hotly contested: there was vocal opposition to the tomb being built in New York City, with many people believing it should be in Washington, DC. It was controversial in other ways, too, because the GMA was initially vague about the details of the process.  

Once the controversies settled down, a stonecutter’s strike slowed the construction, and design changes bogged down the process. The tomb wasn’t completed until 12 years after Grant’s death, and the dedication took place on what would have been his 75th birthday: April 27, 1897. Built in the neoclassical style, the granite and marble domed memorial was designed by architect John H. Duncan. It rises 150 feet above the ground, overlooking the Hudson River from 280 feet above its banks in Upper Manhattan. It also features mosaics of Civil War victories along with red granite sarcophagi — one for Grant and one in which his wife was entombed upon her death five years later.  

Over time, this beautiful monument fell into disrepair. For a time, it was managed by the New Deal’s Work Projects Administration. Later, the National Park Service took over the responsibility, but mishandled the property. By the 1970s, it had been badly damaged by vandals, trash was heaped around it, and it had become a hideout for criminals, drug users and the homeless. A Columbia University student and NPS volunteer named Frank Scaturro took action to save it, first by trying to work with the NPS, and later by going public and suing the organization.  

Today, Grant’s tomb has been restored. The interior murals, stained glass and trophy cases have been refurbished, bringing it back its former glory. It’s open to visitors, and many events are held within the memorial or just outside it.  

So who is buried in Grant’s Tomb? In truth, no one. Grant and his wife are entombed in sarcophagi, which means they’re not buried, but are above the ground.  

Your final resting place may not be as elaborate as Grant’s Tomb, but Chapel of the Chimes Oakland is a beautiful option for you and your loved ones. Designed in 1928 by renowned architect Julia Morgan, this architectural gem is a haven of peace and tranquility, featuring gardens, cloisters, alcoves, stairwells, fountains and chapels under vaulted ceilings and illuminated with natural light. It’s a columbarium and mausoleum, and a beautiful, serene final resting place. Call 510.379.4866 to learn more.  

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