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July 2011

Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?

78_75_6 Henry Boese In the summer of 1885, the nation mourned the passing of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), the much admired general and president.  His family decided to bury him in New York City, where he had lived for some years.  A supporter donated a plot on the western edge of upper Manhattan and friends formed an association to fund and build a suitable memorial.  On the day of the funeral, over two weeks after Grant's death, sixty thousand marchers processed along Broadway. Citizens draped buildings along the route in black.  One million people viewed the miles-long procession. 

Memorial organizers constructed a temporary brick vault to hold Grant's remains.  Days after the former president was placed in the tomb, a local newspaper voiced concerns that mourners and relic-seekers might soon strip the surrounding trees of their leaves and remove all the gravel from the drive. Guards watched the tomb and helped keep order. 

Sited in a part of the city that was, at the time, more like the countryside, the vault's location featured expansive views of the Hudson River.  During the 12 years that organizers planned and constructed a permanent monument, the temporary brick tomb proved a popular destination for holiday-makers.  So much so that a New York landscape artist, Henry Boese (1824-1897), composed this peaceful scene of people at leisure strolling in the area on a sunny day.  His view emphasizes the picturesque location of the vault as well as the patriotic nature of the site with its flag and uniformed guard.  You can click on the image of this painting to see more detail, or come view it in person in Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection at the National Heritage Museum.

81_26_19a_24DS1 cropped and edited for blogEventually, after many years of fundraising, design and building, workers completed the permanent memorial. At hundred and fifty feet high, making it the largest mausoleum in North America.  Building the structure required 8,000 tons of granite. The finished, permanent tomb continued to attract visitors, as seen in this amateur photograph taken by a member of the Gilman family in the early 1900s that is now part of the Museum's collection.  You can still visit Grant's Tomb today.

 Grant’s Tomb, 1885–1897. Henry Boese (1824-1897), New York, New York. National Heritage Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Manney, 78.75.6.

Grant’s Tomb (from a negative). Member of the Gilman Family, New York, New York. National Heritage Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Gilman, 81.26.19a.24.

A Freedom Quilt

91_003T1 I’ve recently updated the cataloging on some of the quilts in the National Heritage Museum collection, with the help of volunteer Cathy Breitkreutz. When we came across this quilt, which had a photo in our database, but no description, I was dismayed. It was rather poorly quilted at three stitches to the inch and the piecing was not much better, with few points matching precisely.  The fabrics used in the quilt also seemed odd, both in how they were put together and in terms of their patterns. As we filled out a worksheet describing and documenting the quilt, I had trouble understanding why it was in our collection.  I even wondered whether I should consider it for deaccession (removal from the collection).

But, then, I looked in the file and learned that the quilt was donated to the Museum in 1991, after it appeared in the exhibition, "Folk Roots, New Roots: Folklore in American Life." In the file, it was described as a “Freedom quilt.” So, all right, I thought, it was given to someone as a 21st birthday gift, which was my understanding of freedom quilts, based mostly on my knowledge of nineteenth-century quilts. But, I dug a little deeper and discovered that in the 1960s, a “Freedom quilt” had an entirely different meaning – it was associated with the Freedom Quilting Bee, a cooperative that was formed in 1966 in Alabama as a way to allow local women to support themselves and their families through their quilts. The best-known group of these quilts has recently made news as it toured museums across the country in the exhibition, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.

This particular quilt slightly predates the formal Freedom Quilting Bee, which adopted a charter in March 1966. It was made around 1965 and was one of the first to be sold. The purchasers, Dr. Theodore Klitzke and his wife, Margaret, lived in Alabama at the time, where Dr. Klitzke was head of the art department at the University of Alabama. The quilt demonstrates the graphic patterns and strong color choices that are hallmarks of this African American quilting tradition. Like many of the Freedom quilts, this one includes scraps of black fabric in the pattern.  It is composed of nine blocks in an eight-point star pattern.

After learning more about this quilt, I have a much better understanding of how and why it fits our collection. We look for objects with a story – and this one tells a fascinating one. We also look to build our collection with objects that help us represent and interpret core American values like leadership, ingenuity, and family. The woman that made this quilt exhibited all of these. She used her own creativity to help support her family. And, the Freedom Quilting Bee took a leadership role in its communities to instill pride and participation among the residents, allowing not just the quiltmakers to benefit, but also their friends and families.  While the construction techniques in the quilt may not live up to exacting Victorian-era standards, I appreciate it as a representation of its maker's expressive vision, mixing personal choices and regional traditions.


Nancy Callahan, The Freedom Quilting Bee, Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1987.

Jane S. Becker and Barbara Franco, Folk Roots, New Roots: Folklore in American Life, Lexington, MA: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1988.

Freedom Quilt, ca. 1965, Alabama, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Annetta, Margaret and Theodore Klitzke in memory of Margaret Gaughan Klitzke, 91.003.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Do You Remember this Stroller?

2005_026_2a-cDI5 This Taylor Tot stroller is a popular feature in the National Heritage Museum's current exhibition, Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection. Originally made in 1952, this particular stroller was purchased by the donor at an antiques shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1975. She used it to walk her son in 1975 and 1976.

Many visitors, as well as some of our staff, remember their own mothers using similar strollers during the 1950s, 1960s, or earlier. The Frank F. Taylor Company was founded in Norwood, Ohio, in 1921. In 1964, the company relocated to Frankfort, Kentucky, and continued to manufacture strollers in bright colors.

Did you ride in one of these strollers during your childhood? Tell us about it in a comment below!

Taylor Tot Stroller, 1952, Frank F. Taylor Company, Norwood, Ohio, National Heritage Museum, gift of Lilla Stevens Willey, 2005.026.2a-c.