April 26, 1997
CONDITIONS IMPROVE AT TOMB AFTER
Author: Joel Patenaude
Estimated printed pages: 3
What lies unburied at Ulysses S. Grant's tomb in New York threatens to mar Sunday's centennial of the dedication of the tomb and the 175th anniversary of Grant's birth.
Hard feelings still surface between official and unofficial caretakers of Grant's tomb although they have a common interest in commemorating the Civil War hero.
Frank Scaturro, a former tour guide who charged the National Park Service with neglecting the monument in a 325-page report released in 1993, now says the agency is taking undue credit for the tomb's rescue.
By drawing media attention to the inner-city blight and water damage that seriously threatened the structure, Scaturro, 24, lost his volunteer job but compelled the agency to spend nearly $2 million on restoration and night-time security guards.
"Without Frank Scaturro, nothing would have happened and our family would be facing a gross embarrassment," said Ulysses Grant Dietz, great-great-grandson of U.S. Grant.
Grant's descendents have dropped a lawsuit threatening to reinter the 18th president and his wife but are still discussing moving the bodies from the tomb between the Hudson River and Riverside Drive to West Point, 50 miles north.
Joseph Avery, centennial organizer and superintendent of six National Park Service sites in Manhattan, commended Scaturro for his dedication to the tomb's preservation but denied he let Scaturro go as a guide to the site because of his criticism.
"He was released from his volunteer position because he violated park policy when he invited media into the tomb without notifying management," Avery said.
He added that, although the tomb has not been vandalized since June 1993, local media have continued to report that graffiti is a problem at the site.
A University of Pennsylvania law student, Scaturro reincorporated the Grant Monument Association, a private organization that once maintained the tomb.
Because the park service holds a grudge, Scaturro said, agency officials have denied him an opportunity to speak at the centennial or lay a wreath at the foot of the 150-foot, 8,000-ton tomb.
Avery said Scaturro was sent an invitation but not asked to speak at the event.
"(Scaturro) was not involved in the planning of the centennial but we accepted some of his ideas and incorporated them," he said.
Sunday's ceremony will include speeches by politicians, historians and descendants of Grant and will be preceded by a parade of 45 Civil War re-enactment groups, 150 West Point cadets and hundreds of others.
Scaturro said he is impressed with the recent removal of graffiti scars from the exterior marble and the restoration of 1930s murals in two reliquary rooms.
"The marble has been restored to a lily-white appearance I never thought possible," he said. "And the constant graffiti and drug use in the area has been substantially limited by night-time security guards."
But Scaturro said more can be done with the passage of legislation proposed in both houses of Congress. The bills under consideration would provide for a statuary, visitors center and formation of a restoration study commission, on which Scaturro hopes to serve.
Within the last few years two similar bills, which also called for 24-hour guards at the tomb, died in House committees.
But, in this, the tomb's centennial year, Scaturro thinks lawmakers may be more willing to spend as much as $10 million on the site.
Avery said only $1.5 million is needed to build a visitors center and public restrooms. He said he hasn't reviewed the bills for a couple of years but will likely seek changes.
After his lengthy struggle with the park service, Scaturro said "The lesson this teaches everyone involved in historic preservation is that eternal vigilance is always necessary on the part of concerned citizens."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright (c) 1997 Telegraph Herald