In the 1950s, Groucho Marx would lob this question to You Bet Your Life contestants who were on the ropes: Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?
Ulysses S. Grant is the only President buried in Manhattan. His mausoleum on Riverside Drive was completed in 1897. Its exterior is modeled after artists’ conceptions of the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, a wonder of ancient Greece that gave us the word for such monuments. The magnificent interior space is a nod in the direction Napoleon’s tomb in Paris.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, Grant’s Tomb was New York’s most popular attraction, outpacing even the Statue of Liberty. Over the decades that followed, the site fell gradually but steadily into disrepair. The National Park Service accepted responsibility for the eyesore in 1957, but for years thereafter it suffered the usual neglect. The centennial of the Tomb’s dedication finally provided the impetus for improving it, and this magnificent edifice was re-dedicated in 1997. It has been returned to its former glory. Grant’s Tomb promises to be the premier venue for New York residents and visitors who might pause during the sesquicentennial years, to look past the hustle and bustle of the great city for a glimpse of the Civil War. It is one of few, but by no means only, reminders of the Civil War still present in Manhattan.
In 1903, New York dedicated a monument in Grand Army Plaza, Fifth Avenue and 60th Street. The world knows the place as “the Plaza.” It is an equestrian statue of a triumphant William Tecumseh Sherman, executed by a man born in Ireland with the improbable name (for an Irishman) of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This was the last work of the most famous American sculptor of his day. In all of its gold-gilt glory, it is easy to imagine it gracing a boulevard in Paris. What is difficult to imagine is that this statue is one of only twelve out-of-doors equestrian statues that exist in all of Manhattan.
Here is a question that Groucho Marx never asked:
Out of the twelve equestrian statutes in Manhattan, six depict men or women who were not Americans;
Two do not depict human beings;
Two of the remaining four were U. S. Presidents;
The last two portray military men who witnessed the Camp Jackson Affair in St. Louis on May 10, 1861;
There is no equestrian statue of Ulysses Grant in Manhattan.
One of the two is William Tecumseh Sherman. With war coming on, Sherman resigned as commandant of a Louisiana military school – the predecessor of Louisiana State University. Sherman took a position as president of a streetcar company and as a result he was in St. Louis on May 10, 1861.
Camp Jackson was the second major incident of America’s Civil War. Union troops in St. Louis took members of the Missouri State Militia into custody. A Union regiment fired into the ranks of the militia, and into a crowd of onlookers that had gathered at the scene. Nearly a hundred civilian casualties ensued, many of them women and children. Twenty eight people died.
Sherman died in New York City in 1891, but he is buried in St. Louis.
The second military man whose bronzed image graces the streets of Manhattan is Union General Franz Sigel. His equestrian statue stands near Grant’s Tomb, overlooking Riverside Park at the west end of 106th Street. Sigel emigrated to New York from Germany in 1852, and taught for a time in the New York Public Schools. He continued his teaching career when he moved to St. Louis in 1857. Just before the Civil War, Sigel became Superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools. Sigel was at Camp Jackson as colonel of the Third Missouri Infantry Volunteers. A company of his regiment is the one that fired into the crowd. Sigel died in New York and is buried in a Yonkers cemetery.
Ulysses Grant, too, witnessed the Camp Jackson incident. He had deep ties to the St. Louis area before the Civil War, but by May 10, 1861 he had moved his family to Illinois. He came to St. Louis on the fateful day because he was on a recruiting mission for Illinois’ Governor.
Grant is buried in Grant’s Tomb.