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Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb?

A message of peace from a Civil War general’s tomb.

Grant's Tomb
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You probably remember that old riddle from school days, “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” The right answer would be Ulysses S. Grant and his widow Julia (and their dog apparently).

More particularly they’re not really buried there, they’re “entombed” as a friend of mine reminded me recently on Facebook. Above ground in matching sarcophagi, not buried.

Grant's TombBut the whole reason the memorial is on a hill overlooking the Hudson River has to do very much with the answer to that age-old question.

For years I’ve driven by it, but last Sunday as my wife Carol and I were walking from church to our favorite supermarket down by the river, we stopped and lingered.

I was struck by the words on the exterior: “Let us have peace.” What a profound message for a nation still struggling to recover from the devastation of the Civil War. What a poignant message for our own time. “Let there be peace.”

Grant died in 1885. Almost immediately the mayor of New York advocated that his remains be housed in a memorial in the city. As you can imagine there were advocates who felt he should be elsewhere. Like Washington, D.C.

No, his wife Julia said. She preferred having him buried–or rather entombed–in New York, closer to her home. She wanted to be able to visit him regularly.

Julia’s wishes prevailed. On April 27, 1897, on what would have been Grant’s 75th birthday, the white-marble monument was opened to great fanfare. And it was for years a popular destination for the carriage trade.

Still the question remains: why wasn’t Grant buried in one of the nation’s military cemeteries? Wouldn’t that be more appropriate for a much-decorated hero, a West Point graduate, a former president?

Once again, go back to the riddle. Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? The husband and wife. That was Grant’s dying wish that he rest in eternity next to his wife. Impossible in a military cemetery.

When Julia died in 1902 she was entombed next to him, Grant’s last wishes finally granted. And their message to the world? “Let there be peace.” 

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