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GRANT'S TOMB OR BRING IT HERE
Groucho Marx used to ask
game show contestants who was buried in Grant's Tomb, but Illinois
lawmakers today are asking: Who's taking care of Grant's Tomb?
Although he's been dead for 109 years, former Galena resident Ulysses
S. Grant has suddenly become a hot political topic.
Grant, the Civil War
general and the 18th president, is buried in a New York City park. But
the once-beautiful General Grant National Memorial, which was built at
a cost of $600,000 in 1897, is now a vandalized hangout for drug users
and the homeless.
And two Illinois lawmakers
are determined to do something about it.
State Sen. Judy Baar
Topinka, R-Riverside, and state Rep. Ron Lawfer, R-Stockton, are
campaigning to get the tomb returned to its former glory.
"Either the National
Park Service has to fix (the tomb) up, or they should let us take him
home and bury him in a proper and respectful way," Topinka said.
A joint resolution
sponsored by Topinka, the Republican candidate for state treasurer,
and Lawfer was passed Wednesday by the Senate Executive Committee. The
resolution asks the National Park Serviceto repair Grant's Tomb -- or
allow it to be moved to Illinois.
The 150-foot-high granite
memorial is in uptown Manhattan's Riverside Park, overlooking the
Topinka estimates that the
"major mess" would cost about $2 million to repair. She said
Civil War groups and private foundations in Illinois would probably
help raise the money if the tomb were moved to Illinois.
"He would be better
off anywhere than New York," Topinka said of Grant. "But my
argument is not with New York; it's with the National Park
Galena toy store owner
Paul LeGreco told lawmakers the memorial should be treated with
respect. LeGreco, who has been doing Grant impersonations for 20
years, showed up at the hearing in his Grant garb.
"I believe we should
maintain a fitting tribute to Ulysses S. Grant," said LeGreco,
46. "If it can't be done in New York, it should be done in
The federal government is
working to repair the tomb, and the vandalism reports are exaggerated,
said Douglas Cuillard, deputy superintendent of Manhattan sites for
the National Park Service.
The main problems are
graffiti, a leaking dome, humidity inside the tomb and the age of the
building, Cuillard said.
"We say categorically
that we will take care of the site and do a better job now that it's a
priority," Cuillard said. "A $400,000 project is already
under way to repair the dome."
The park service would
like to implement 24-hour security for the tomb, but the
administrative expenses, two full-time park rangers and a vehicle
would cost about $250,000 a year, Cuillard said.
"It doesn't make any
sense" to move the tomb to Illinois, Cuillard maintained.
"There are strong reasons why the Grants are buried here, and we
intend to keep them here."
Grant died of cancer at
Mount McGregor, N.Y., in 1885, just four days after he had finished
writing his memoirs, which brought in enough money to lift his family
out of debt.
President Clinton's 1995
budget allots $450,000 per year for improved operations at the site,
said Edie Shean-Hammond, chief of the National Park Service's
The plight of Grant's Tomb
was first brought to public attention by Columbia University senior
Frank Scaturro last November.
Scaturro, 21, was a
volunteer tour guide at the site when he blew the whistle on its
disrepair. He reportedly lost his job with the park service because he
informed the media of the tomb's dilapidation -- an apparent policy
violation. He now works with a private group to lobby for renovation
of the site.
Cuillard said he could not
comment on Scaturro's case, but added, "People are not fired for
Although Grant's Tomb was
New York's biggest tourist attraction in the early 1900s, it now
attracts few visitors compared with other Big Apple sites, Cuillard
As such, New Yorkers and
most other Americans don't know a whole lot about the man elected
president in 1868 and re-elected in 1872. "Grant's Tomb is
probably better known to New Yorkers as the butt of one of Groucho
Marx's 1950s game show jokes," said David Egner, Gov. Mario
Cuomo's press officer.
On his show, "You Bet Your Life," "Marx would frequently ask lousy contestants, `Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?' And sometimes they got it wrong," Egner said.
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