A Visit to Grant Cottage and A Personal Look at the Man Within

Sunday, July 14, 2019
It's not often we get the chance to view the deathbed of a President, particularly when that President died in 1885, and rarely when that deathbed happens to be just 30 miles from home.  It's taken me a lifetime but thanks to the urging of Captain Hal Raven of the Adirondack Cruise & Charter Company, I finally did. On every cruise, Captain Hal narrates his cruises sharing the history of Saratoga Lake and surrounding locales. Grant Cottage is always part of that talk.  I've heard Hal's narration over a dozen times, so it was about time I take his advice and pay a visit to a small, but significant piece of history.

Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, OH.  Ulysses was the first of six children of Jesse and Hannah Grant.  At a family gathering several weeks after his birth, a boy's name, Ulysses, was pulled from ballots placed in a hat.  Wanting to honor her father-in-law who had suggested the name, Hiram, Hannah named her son Hiram Ulysses, but he would be referred to as Ulysses.  At the age of 16, Ulysses's dad wrote to Ohio Representative Thomas L. Hamer requesting that he nominate Ulysses to West Point.  Hamer did so when a spot opened.  Ulysses was 16 when he entered the academy and trained there for four years.  Interesting to note: Ulysses did not have a middle name, nor did he have the middle initial of 'S'.  Thomas Hamer made a mistake on the letter of recommendation, and West Point was not allowed to change the name of a candidate so Ulysses would go on to be known as Ulysses S. Grant for the rest of his life.

Grant graduated from West Point on June 30, 1843, ranking 21 out of 39 alumni.  Small for his age, Grant entered the academy at 5'2", 117 lbs.  Upon graduation, he was 5'7".  Although Grant considered leaving the military upon graduation, he remained in the Army and served in the Mexican-American War and later resigned in 1854.  In 1848, Grant married Julia Dent, the sister of Frederick Dent, one of Grant's West Point fellow cadets.  Disapproving of Julia's family's owning slaves, neither of Grant's parents attended the wedding.  A month later, they would welcome her into the family.  Ulysses and Julia had four children. Grant left the military only to rejoin at the start of the Civil War.  He would serve under Abraham Lincoln, a man he admired and referred to as 'the greatest man he'd ever known'.  Lincoln invited Grant to the theater the night of his assassination, but Julia had other plans so Grant declined, most likely saving his life.

  Although Ulysses wrote to a friend that the happiest day of his life was the day he left the academy and the day he left the military, Ulysses struggled with civilian life.  He had several failed businesses, a struggle with alcoholism, and was eventually bankrupt as a victim of a ponzi-like swindle.  Grant was not a fan of military dress and received many demerits for his unkempt uniforms at West Point.  This habit lingered during the Civil War where Grant rarely carried a sword, and was often clad in a civilian's hat, mud-caked boots, a private's jacket with his rank stitched onto it.  One observer described him this way, "ordinary, scrubby-looking man, with a seedy look as if he were out of office on half pay".
Although Grant had no previous political experience, he was elected the 18th President of the U.S. He served two terms and was the first president to get Civil Rights Law passed, destroyed the Ku Klux Klan, ratified the 15th ammendment.
On June 16, 1885, impoverished and suffering from throat cancer, Grant needed a place to convalesce.  He also needed to restore his family's financial security.  His friend, Joseph W. Drexel, who owned a cottage on the top of Mount McGregor, offered Grant a place to live and write his memoirs. Grant would spend the six weeks here writing about his Civil War experiences.  Just as he was about to sign a book deal with a magazine, Mark Twain, with his newly formed publishing firm, Charles L. Webster and Company, offered Grant a very lucrative deal.  Grant died just four days after the final proofreading on July 23, 1885.  One year after 'The Personal Memoirs of US Grant' was published, Julia Grant received a royalty check of $200,000.  It was hailed as a literary masterpiece and was a massive best seller and has never gone out of print.

Grant Cottage remains a historic landmark today.  Visitors to the cottage can see the first floor exactly as it was the day Grant died....the clock on the mantle stopped by Grant's son, Fred, at the time of his death....8:08am.   The jar of cocaine water used for pain relief still sits atop the bureau, the leather chairs still positioned facing each other where Grant would sleep, propped up when he could not lay flat in bed.  Photos below.  We visited on a Sunday afternoon and heard much of the cottage's history from a well mannered and well spoken tour guide.  After our tour we stayed for a Sunday lecture about Suye Gambino, the cottage caretaker until 1984.   Admission is a very reasonable - $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, children 6-18 $5, kids under 6 are free.  There are several special events scheduled throughout the season including Remembrance Day on July 21st (a re-enactment of Grant's funeral), and Living History Tours every Friday at 3:00pm.   The Cottage is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10-4:00.  Tours begin every 30 minutes.  The cottage is currently owned by the State and operated by the Friends of Ulysses S. Grant Cottage. Even if you don't consider yourself a history buff, I highly recommend you check this out.

Copies of Grant's written memoirs



The bed where Grant died

Death Mask and Letter to Julia from Grant

Actual memorial pieces, intact, from the funeral


Clock stopped at 8:08am, the time Grant died
 Just a short (but steep) paved walk from the cottage, you can enjoy this spectacular view!


Grant Cottage is located at 1000 Mount McGregor Road in Wilton NY (off Exit 16 of the Northway).  For more information on Grant's Cottage:
To explore more NY destinations, visit my blog Directory:
 https://www.lifeasiseeitphotography.net/p/directory.html

1 comment

  1. Thank you, Gail, for this enlightenining, and concise review. Today, I also read your blogpost on "Burdens." It seemed as though you had written it just for me, just for today. Please keep photographing our beautiful countryside, and posting your heartfelt and inspiring blogs. Ann

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