The staff at General Grant National Memorial likely grows weary of the question, "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb," but there's now a first-class location to get the official answer. A century-old pavilion overlooking Grants Tomb in New York City has been restored and now provides all the necessary visitor services in a classic setting.
The impressive memorial is located in Harlem’s Riverside Park, and just to put that old question to rest, yes, Ulysses S. Grant—and his wife, Julia Dent Grant—are both buried there. The story of the memorial, and the man buried there, includes some interesting "firsts."
It's difficult for present generations to realize how much public adulation was showered upon Grant in the years following his role as commander of Union forces in the Civil War and then two terms as President of the United States.
Grant was elected to the White House in 1868 and then to a second term in 1872, and the timing provides a unique link between Grant and the history of our national parks. His signature appears on the act that established our first national park—Yellowstone—on March 1, 1872.
After completing his second term, Grant settled in New York City. He died in 1885 and was laid to rest in the city, but plans were soon underway for a more impressive burial site.
According to information from the park, "Approximately 90,000 people from around the world donated over $600,000 towards the construction of Grant's Tomb. This was the largest public fundraising effort ever at that time. Designed by architect John Duncan, the granite and marble structure was completed in 1897 and remains the largest mausoleum in North America. Over one million people attended the parade and dedication ceremony of Grant's Tomb on April 27, 1897."
The structure is "not only the final resting place of the General but a memorial to his life and accomplishments," and present-day visitors will appreciate the results of recent cooperative efforts between the NPS and the City of New York. In 1910 a "classically-inspired pavilion" was opened opposite Grant's Tomb to serve as a "comfort station," but a budget crisis in 1970 forced the city to close the facility. It sat unused for more than three decades.
In 2004, the city granted the NPS a permanent easement on the site to allow the exterior of the pavilion to be restored to its 1910 appearance. As part of that project, the interior was reconfigured both to serve visitors and accommodate the park staff. The City's Department of Parks supported the project by working with the NPS on the design and installation of an ADA-compliant access ramp, historic structure compliance, a sewage system, and traffic issues.
The NPS and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation recently welcomed visitors to the newly restored Overlook Pavilion; the ceremony was held on the morning of Ulysses S. Grant’s 189th birthday commemoration. “The newly restored center is now operating as a ranger contact station, complete with public meeting space, interpretive exhibits, a bookstore and, perhaps most important from a visitor service perspective, restrooms,” said Shirley McKinney, park superintendent.
“We now have a fitting and beautiful place to welcome and serve our visitors to this sacred site in Harlem,” said Maria Burks, commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor. “The completion of this project is yet another example of the fruits of our growing partnership with the City of New York.”
The classically-inspired Overlook Pavilion sits on one of the highest points of elevation overlooking the Hudson River, and is considered "one of the most significant architectural additions made to Riverside Park following the park's initial design by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1873. The building represents the evolution of park design which occurred in the 1890s when the naturalistic parks of the mid-nineteenth century were supplanted by a taste for more formal designs associated with the 'City Beautiful Movement.'"
It also provides an impressive setting to find the answers to some frequently asked questions.