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Grant’s Tomb (part 1)

Grant’s Tomb (part 1)

By on Jan 27, 2013 in Mini-nerd trips, Presidents | 4 comments

General Grant

General Grant

“Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” It’s a question that entered American pop culture thanks to Groucho Marx and the show “You Bet Your Life.” One contestant apparently shook things up with the reply that”no one” is buried in Grant’s tomb, which is technically correct and here’s why:

Even though you can visit Grant’s tomb in New York City and you can see the coffins (sarcophagi?)  of President and Mrs. Grant, technically no one is buried there. And the whole argument hinges on the definition of the word “bury.”

We visited the General Grant National Memorial in the summer of 2012.  While many people may focus on the size of Grant’s tomb (the largest mausoleum in North America), I was mainly focused on one thing on that hot August day: Grant’s tomb is one humid place!

But back to our riddle, let’s take a look at the definition of “to bury.”

Here is the definition from my Merriam-Webster dictionary (copyright 2004)

bury [‘ber-e] vb. 1. To deposit in the earth

And, here’s what I found on bury [ber-ee]  verb, bur·ied, bur·y·ing, noun, plural bur·ies.

verb (used with object) 1. to put in the ground and cover with earth: The pirates buried the chest on the island.

IMG_2680Here’s a look at the coffins of Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia. As you can see, the coffins are above ground (no dirt on top), so our 18th president and his spouse are technically “entombed.” The red granite coffins, weighing more than eight tons, are in an “open crypt,” with a beautiful dome soaring above.

IMG_2676President Grant in died in 1885, and apparently more than one million people crowded the streets of New York City to see his seven-mile funeral procession. Grant’s remains stayed in a temporary vault (probably not technically buried either) until the grand, privately financed mausoleum could be built. Ninety-thousand people from around the world donated more than $600,000 towards the construction of the marble and granite mausoleum.

President McKinley and diplomats from more than two dozen countries attended the memorial’s dedication on April 27, 1897, the 75th anniversary of Grant’s birth.

So here we are, more than 100 years after the dedication , and the question of “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb” remains a quirky piece of Americana. Now, I wonder who’s buried in Washington’s tomb?

Next post: More of our trip to Grant’s Tomb, and whether the General may outrank the President.


  1. Interesting facts about Grant’s tomb, including how much money was raised. I wonder how much that is in today’s dollars?

    • Okay Chris, I did the math or I found a site on the Internet to do the math, so take it for what it’s worth.
      $600,000 of 1897 dollars would be worth: $16,666,666.67 in 2012 (I am sure that 67 cents is very important to the calculation).

  2. I always thought the joke about who’s buried in Grant’s tomb was made during the very long time it took to build the tomb…12 years of “no one ” .

    • Carl, that’s interesting. I have never heard that. If I remember correctly, the sign at the Grant Memorial talks about the game show. It wouldn’t surprise me that people joked about how long it took to build, it’s pretty big!

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