Skipping South a few blocks now, we bring you another chapter in New York history. National monuments punctuate the city but are often overlooked by New Yorkers. This week, parks are back in the conversation, with President Trump’s executive order requesting a review of national monuments. Acacia O’Connor visits an Uptown Memorial and learns about its underappreciated history.
Across from Riverside Church in Manhattan, a gaggle of teenagers and their chaperones are eating pizza in the sunshine. One is Kyle Zuricky.
O’CONNOR: Do you guys know anything about this monument?
KYLE: Uh.. No
O’CONNOR: Anything at all, do you know what it’s called?
KYLE: No all I know is that it has American flags on it.
Zuricky is part of a middle school band group from Las Vegas. They just played a concert inside the Church. But the marble monument adorned with American flag bunting across the street was a surprise, says his mom Lisa.
LISA: We had been to New York but we’d never been to this end of it. So when we pulled up and saw the beautiful church and we saw this monument we were like ooh this is a great place to have lunch and learn a little bit of history.
This is one of a dozen National Monuments in New York City. It’s modelled on the tomb of Napoleon, and the ancient Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. More importantly, its the final resting place of Civil War General and 18th President Ulysses S. Grant.
Don Stanko: People would say his name in the same breath as George Wash and Abe Lincoln, that’s obviously not the case today.
Don Stanko is lead Park Ranger at the General Grant National Memorial. It’s a big week for the memorial — yesterday marked Grant’s 195th birthday.
STANKO: When this was built in the 1890s. They really liked him. They really really really really liked him. He is the most famous man in America, he is the most famous american internationally at the. He is the hero of America, there is no one else even close.
Stanko says when Grant died in 1885, well over a million people attended his funeral procession. Even his enemies came to pay their respects, including Simon Buckner, a Confederate soldier.
STANKO: At fort donaldson, Buckner is their commander. He was forced to surrender to grant and he will be a pallbearer at his funeral. That’s awesome, that’s amazing. Did Wellington serve as pall bearer at Napoleon’s funeral. I don’t think so.
Grant still has some fans today. Frank Scaturro is one. He’ s founder of the Grant Monument Association. He says maintaining a 200-year old building in Manhattan is challenging given the pressures to tear down the old in favor of the new.
SCATURRO: ….That is much more lasting and profound legacy than just about any other architectural…embodied in new york
Local historian Eric Washington says it’s about more than just Grant’s tomb. Like Central Park, New York needs its undeveloped spaces.
WASHINGTON: There is this odd concept that because the space is natural or not developed that its not being used. And you can’t interview the trees and the birds who if they could speak I’ll speak for them would say, we’re using it, we’re growing we’re thriving.
Washington says national monuments like this one aren’t idle places. They do something to us, they make us better citizens.