In 2019, the Grant Monument Association submitted a letter (click here to read) to responsible elected officials reporting conditions at the site that call for corrective action. Unfortunately, the recommended measures have not been taken. The recent pandemic brought an extended closure of the site and a lack of sufficient attention to its needs. Thus there remains the need for concerned citizens to write government officials with a similar appeal, subject to exceptions noted below since Ulysses S. Grant’s 200th birthday has since occurred.
In summary, a quarter century after the site was improved during the 1990s following a long period of severe neglect and desecration, Grant’s Tomb today is again in need of significant work to bring it up to standard. Some of the main points made in the letter:
- The presence of security guards has been reduced in recent years. With the security of the site compromised, the Tomb has once again become the victim of graffiti attacks.
- The Tomb proper suffers from visible discoloration and peeling paint from water damage at the cupola/roof level and on the reliquary room ceilings, and the marble floor surrounding the sarcophagi is discolored from unidentified causes.
- The granite that constitutes the Tomb’s steps and adjoining south plaza, including the two stairways that lead to the sidewalks, is showing wear, and the broken, cracked outdoor plaza surrounding the Tomb “has become so deteriorated it has become a safety hazard,” in the words of a National Park Service study.
- Nighttime lighting at the monument has gone from brilliant a century ago to insufficient today.
- A pavilion across the street that once contained the Tomb’s public restrooms has been serving as a makeshift visitor center, where interpretation is limited to a room with six small exhibit panels on the wall and 40 chairs squeezed in.
- The two single-occupant restrooms are inadequate to accommodate the needs of families and groups visiting the site.
- Budgetary limits during the 2010s have reduced the Tomb’s open hours from seven days to five days a week, and even during the days it is open, the Tomb is closed on a staggered hour basis in order to enable rangers to staff the pavilion. The site staff consists of dedicated and capable park rangers, but the site needs to be fully staffed.
- The pavilion and grounds north and south of Grant’s Tomb are an integral part of the site, yet they are owned by the City of New York. The City has failed to allocate the resources required to maintain that property on any consistent basis.
- On top of all this, the Tomb was never completed as envisioned. An opportunity now exists to bring the vision behind the Tomb to its proper architectural completion while making the site accessible to the handicapped.
The letter proposes appropriations and authorizing measures from Congress to advance (1) the physical maintenance of the site, (2) visitor access/education, (3) the completion of the monument, and (4) fitting measures to mark the Grant bicentennial:
- Increase security at the site with a minimum of two guards, preferably drawn from the U.S. Park Police, at all times, and the installation of security cameras.
- Repair the discoloration and peeling from water damage at the cupola/roof level and reliquary room ceilings, along with any associated waterproofing deficiencies, and establish ongoing monitoring to prevent further damage.
- Remedy the discoloration of the marble floor surrounding the sarcophagi of Ulysses and Julia Grant following sound preservation standards.
- Repair the broken, cracked outdoor plaza surrounding the Tomb, including repointing and, where necessary, replacement of bluestone pavers, granite pavers, the monument’s steps, and the adjoining south plaza and two stairways.
- Ongoing maintenance of the stone plaza and stairway north of the Tomb, as well as repair or replacement of the black fence surrounding the temporary tomb site and restoration and maintenance of the landscape.
- Installation of enhanced outdoor lighting to properly illuminate the monument at night.
- Expansion of the park boundaries to include the overlook pavilion and roughly the southern half of the “island” of land on which Grant’s Tomb sits enclosed by the northbound and southbound lanes of Riverside Drive, from the area behind the north plaza’s temporary tomb memorial area to the stone plaza extending south from the entrance of the monument. This proposal is illustrated in Exhibits M and N to the letter.
- Complete the monument with a crowning finial for the summit of the building and an equestrian statue of Grant in the front plaza.
- Expand the open hours of the site to seven days a week throughout the year and ensure that staffing is adequate to provide public access to the Tomb proper during all open hours.
- Digitize and make accessible to the public all items in the NPS’s General Grant National Memorial archives. Update the archival catalog for accuracy, comprehensiveness, and optimal online access.
- Redesignate the monument as Grant’s Tomb National Monument.
- Authorize the creation of an expanded visitor center with space for improved, interactive exhibits, along with expanded restroom facilities and access to both the visitor center and the Tomb for persons with disabilities.
- Authorize a commemorative coin marking the 200th anniversary of Grant’s birth, the proceeds of which shall help fund maintenance and operations at the site. [Update: This coin was not authorized in 2022, but in light of Grant’s posthumous promotion (see next item), the Grant Monument Association has renewed its request for a coin, this time with the added detail that the coin commemorate Grant’s new rank.]
- As a further bicentennial measure, pass legislation authorizing and requesting the appointment of Grant posthumously as “General of the Armies of the United States,” as was done for George Washington. [Update: Congress authorized Grant’s posthumous promotion to General of the Armies of the United States in the National Defense Authorization Act enacted in December 2022.]
The letter is accordingly addressed to President Donald Trump; Senate Subcommittee on National Parks Chairman Steve Daines; House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Chairman Deb Haaland; Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Chairman Lisa Murkowski; House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Chairman Betty McCollum; and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The Grant Monument Association encourages you to write your senators and House members in Washington in support of the above goals.
Thank you for your support!