Grant's Tomb: A History of Revolution in Architecture

By Dylan Rodgers

In honor of Harlem Week, we're going to feature a daily series on the most historical sites in Harlem. Each day we'll introduce a different site to visit when you're in Harlem. Each place we pick has helped in some way to build to the heritage and culture of Harlem. Today's historical site is Grant's Tomb.

Located on the northern end of Harlem, New York's Riverside State Park, this massive monument of marble stands reminding us of the cultural revolutions of the past.  The tomb of Ulysses S. Grant immortalizes the life of a great American general of the Civil War and the 18th U.S. President.  As a testament to the importance of his influence, prior to the construction some 90,000 people from around the globe came together and gave the largest sum of money ever donated by the 20th Century, a whopping $600,000.  Grant's Tomb, though dedicated to an individual, stands for far more than Ulysses S. Grant himself; the Tomb represents a community dedicated to the ideal of freedom as a human right, not privilege, as was fought for in the Civil War with the abolition of slavery.

There is a bit of controversy as to whether Grant's body is actually buried in the tomb. Some speculators suggest that his body was once laid there but has since been moved to Arlington National Cemetery. According to PBS, however, Grant was laid in a temporary tomb for twelve years in Riverside Park but was then moved to the completed tomb and has since laid there.

Grant's Tomb was designed by John Duncan, a well known architect of the late 19th century.  The design pays homage to the Ancient Greek influenced Pantheon in Rome, Italy.  The rich cultural identity of the past was carried forward in a new methodology, a new beginning of old ideals.  In the same way, Grant's Tomb not only reflects an architectural revolution, it symbolizes a revolution in the beautiful universal of human rights and freedoms.

Since its construction, Grant's Tomb has ceased to be only a building containing ephemeral ideals housed in its chiseled marble walls; it has become an epicenter of multicultural, community oriented celebration of diversity on all levels.  Yesterday, July 31st, 2011, the monument hosted one of the famous Harlem Week celebrations The Harlem Jazz and Music Festival.

It would be interesting to see the reaction of the 19th and 20th Century activists after witnessing people from all different cultures dancing and sharing as a community transcending racial barriers.  They would be blown away by the actualization of ideas that may have seemed so far outside of their grasp.  In the late 19th Century Grant's Tomb became a reality because of world-wide community support and funding.  So it is no surprise that now in the 21st Century the freedoms that Grant famously fought for in the Civil War have been brought into fruition solely by through the support of the community.