11 May 2007

Anyone Buried In Grant's Tomb?

My friend Brian tried to convince me that the real answer to the old wheeze about Grant's Tomb was that no one was, that although the place had been intended as his tomb, for some reason they'd never actually been able to bury old U.S. Grant there, and thus it functioned only as a monument.

Quite a monument it is, too, comprising the sort of majestic Graeco-Roman architecture you'd expect of an empire at or headed for the peak of its glory, which certainly describes the United States of America at the close of the 19th century, when this remarkable edifice was completed.

We had business in Harlem anyway, so it seemed a good idea to check out one of those sights that few New Yorkers ever get around to seeing. Though there's not that much to see apart from the building itself and a few photos and exhibits (the setting along Riverside Drive and the Hudson is none too shabby, either), it was worth it. Seeing Brian have to admit that he was wrong about Grant's not being buried there was an added attraction. Not only the old general, but his wife as well, were laid out in two of the most imposing catafalques I've ever seen. I may not be using that word correctly, but it sounds so much grander than "coffins," which honestly doesn't do justice to the elaborate structures in which Ulysses Simpson and Julia are sleeping away the years.

That notion got me ruminating, though: if, for example, some part of the soul or spirit clings to the body after death, would that entail hanging around one's final resting place indefinitely? And if so, wouldn't "resting place" be a bit of a misnomer? Because as still and peaceful and beautiful as the surroundings were, I imagine it would drive me stark, staring bonkers to spend more than a day or two kicking back in Grant's Tomb, let alone all eternity or whatever portion thereof - probably considerable - that the tomb is likely to be standing. Having such a capacious and luxurious coffin to lounge about in seems as though it would only make matters worse.

By the time I'd finished digesting and dismissing these rather pointless thoughts, the morning's muggy grayness had given way to the warm, muggy brightness of what looked suspiciously like an early summer's day. We'd walked much of the way back downtown before I realized I'd forgotten, on the off chance that some vestigial presence lingered in the vicinity, to thank General Grant for saving the Union, and to mention that his photos made him look a lot younger than he does on the $50 bill.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I think Grant (and his wife) are there. I think the "joke" is a trick question. No one is "buried," they're both above ground in a sarcophogus.