Grant's Tomb Unveils New Visitors Center
By Leslie Albrecht
MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Parks officials unveiled a new visitors center at Grant's Tomb Wednesday, but for P.S. 153 fourth graders, the event was a chance to contemplate whether the 18th president was a happy man.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a refurbished pavillion at the General Grant National Memorial, students from Harlem's P.S. 153 peppered Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe with questions. One wanted to know how oldUlysses S. Grant was when he died (the answer is 63). Another asked how he died. Benepe said that Grant was a heavy smoker who died of cancer.
That prompted a zinger from a student near the front of the crowd. "If you smoke does it mean you have low self-esteem, and does that mean that Grant had low self-esteem?"
Benepe responded, "It probably went up and down. When you're the leader of a country in a war and many young men are dying, you don't feel good about that. He may have smoked to feel better."
That wasn't the only history lesson the school kids got at Wednesday's event, which also marked the 189thanniversary of Grant's birth.
Students learned that the city shut down the pavillion at Grant's Tomb during New York's fiscal crisis in the 1970s.
The pavillion, which overlooks the Hudson River, deteriorated into a "falling down wreck," Benepe said, until it was restored recently by the National Park Service. Now it has new public bathrooms and a gift shop that sells Grant knickknacks like mugs and paperweights, as well as copies of Grant's memoirs.
Civil War re-enactors from the Oneida Indian Nation's First Allies Living History project showed off a 2,000 pound cannon for the students, firing a thunderous blast that set off car alarms up and down Riverside Drive.
"Something stinks," shouted a P.S. 153 student, as a cloud of sulfur-scented smoke drifted away from the artillery.