2002.09.25 Just who is buried in Grant's tomb?

Written by David Green.


My husband mentioned in a recent By the Way column how restful and relaxing our trip to northern Michigan was in contrast to our excursions to New York City where we really pack it in. There’s just so much to see in New York and “scratch the surface” doesn’t even come close to describing how little we’ve taken in over the years—especially since our children would probably spend the entire time at Times Square in front of the MTV studio if we didn’t drag them to trendy art galleries for a little culture.

Every visit to New York includes an obligatory stop at MTV where my children hope to be among the lucky (of the thousands of screaming fans) selected to join the live audience of TRL (Total Request Live). It always seems like a futile attempt, in my opinion, but in April, they did receive several promotional items, including a great CD of Sugar Cult, handed out to the crowd as they waited for Bow Wow to appear at the huge MTV windows.

I knew our quick trip to the city earlier this month would provide little time to meet everybody’s desires, but I did want to make sure we visited at least one place we’d never been before. My goal: the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan. I added Columbia University to the itinerary when I saw how close it was, and hoped to squeeze Grant’s Tomb into the equation when I realized it was just a hop, skip and a jump from Columbia. My kids, of course, were not at all interested.

“C’mon,” I enthused. “Don’t you want to visit the place of the joke, ‘Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?’”

“Only if we can get to MTV by 3 o’clock,” came the unenthusiastic reply.

I wasn’t ready to make that promise, but after having them read the Grant’s Tomb entry in my DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: New York, they really didn’t protest much. I took that as a resounding “yes.” 

Grant’s Tomb is an impressive showcase of a structure befitting the general and two-time president. It sits high atop the east bank of the Hudson River on a block of parkland, encircled by a bizarre stretch of flowing concrete benches studded with bright mosaics—totally unbefitting a general and president, but very cool looking.

We walked the steps to the monument and entered a poorly lit room where a National Parks Service guide led five other people on a tour of the circular area, at the center of which was a hole with a fancy circular guard rail. We leaned over the railing to the lower level and were surprised to see two marble coffins.

“So that’s the answer to who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb,” I said.

“Yeah, nobody,” Maddy accurately pointed out. Grant isn’t actually buried underground, he’s entombed, along with his wife, Julia.

After that blast of excitement, we headed downtown by bus to the MTV studio, the sharp edge of the guilt knife cutting into my brain. I didn’t think we were going to make it in time for TRL, but I didn’t want to announce it.

I needn’t have worried about disappointing my kids—in New York City, there’s always another brand of excitement lurking around the corner. As we headed down Broadway, Maddy noticed the David Letterman marquee so we hopped off the bus at 53rd Street. Maddy spent many summer nights watching the Letterman show with her big brother, so this was a bit of a thrill.

Nothing was happening at the theatre, so we looked for the Hello Deli where we found Rupert Jee sitting outside. Maddy was beside herself with glee, especially when he quite agreeably posed for a photo with her and Rosie and Ben. (When she got back home, she was disappointed to find that none of her friends know who the heck Rupert is.)

We continued down to the MTV studio where we were immediately accosted by an MTV staffer who I recognized from our visit in April as one of the guys passing out the promotional items.

“Do you want to be on MTV?!” he shouted at my children.

“Yeah!” they all yelled enthusiastically. Oh, if only Grant’s Tomb could elicit such a response.

“And what about old people like me?” I asked, wondering whether I was about to be separated from my kids for life.

“Oh, we have a special place for people like you,” he assured me. “Demographics being what they are,” he quickly added.

He set us aside on a street corner while he gathered more kids and then led us a million blocks to 53rd and 10th Avenue—probably close to a mile from where we started. He kept up a cheerful banter with the crowd, peppered with assurances: “It’s a bit of a hike, but we’re almost there.” “We’ve got a few more blocks to go, but once we get there, it’ll be really cool!”

And he was true to his word. The kids became part of the audience for the taping of a Madonna wannabe contest and I got to sit (off-camera) with the families of the contestants. The judges included Madonna’s choreographer and one of her back up singers—good enough for my autograph hounding children. The whole experience—the camera crew filming the audience and show, the TelePrompTer, stage hands regulating the audience’s applause level, the staff’s level of commitment in making a flawless show, chatting with family members of the contestants—was quite educational.

Reflecting on our outings of the day, I said, “Isn’t it strange—there are probably 10 million people living in the New York City area and, including us four, there were only nine people visiting Grant’s Tomb.”

Rosie’s swift reply? “It’s the same way at those art galleries you make us go to.”

    – Sept. 25, 2002 
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