Saturday, November 24, 2007

Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb? Part Two

One of These Kids Is Doing His Own Thing

In the 1970's and 1980's, at about the same thime that I was bugging my father to take us to Grant's tomb, it was caught in a rapid decline. A lack of interest about the Civil War, a major increase in crime, and a total lack of vision on the part of the Park Service, led to vandalism, graffiti, and generalized decline. The Grant Monument Association's website states that there was evidence of prostitution, homeless residence, drug activity, and the use of high explosives in the area. The website even claims that the tomb was used as a site for animal sacrifices.

I don't know about the animal sacrifices, but I believe their assertion that vandals used high explosives to blow the beaks off the gargantuan granite eagles that sit in front of the tomb. Although the statues have been restored, it is still possible to see where they were damaged:

Here are some pictures of the graffiti and other damage to the tomb:

In the 1990's, the remaining members of the Grant family threatened to re-inter Grant and his wife in Illinois if New York did not refurbish the tomb. This, along with a lot of lobbying and lawsuits, led to a massive cleanup effort. The change has been massive, and it is difficult to connect the tomb as it now stands with the disaster depicted on the Grant Monument website.

This is not to say, however, that some jarring notes don't remain. With its marble and granite materials and elaborate ornamentation, Grant's tomb represents the height of Beaux Arts memorial architecture. Inside, however, this is paired with a gray cloth cubicle divider that is used to display contextual historic material:

The Office Space look really clashes with the marble and granite and, generally, looks tacky as hell. Of course, compared to graffiti, dead animals, and human excreta, a jarring cloth divider is a pretty minor problem. The bigger disaster waits outside.

In 1972, the National Parks Service spent much of its budget for the upkeep of Grant's Tomb on the creation of a collection of mosaic-covered benches. Here's an example:

This bench, from the "alien autopsy" school of furniture design, seems to hug the tree, even as it mirrors the structure. Here's another image from the Grant's Tomb website. It juxtaposes the side of the tomb with the horrifying benches:

And here's a shot of one of the benches, sporting a scorpion motif:

One wonders how much of the NPS' grant to the artist went toward the purchase of psychedelic drugs:

This particular section looks like a dragon ate a big box of crayons and took a crap all over the plaza:

More psychedelia:

Yay! A cab:

One massively under-represented segment of American society is the druggie chess players. After all, it's not easy to play chess with a head full of acid, and society tends to ignore their need for a place to inspire the hallucinations while one battles opponents. Luckily, the National Park Service is nothing if not understanding, and created this space for the guy who can't choose between Timothy Leary and Boris Spassky:

I don't want to seem like a snob, but, well, I am. I tend to regard the artistic produce of the late-1960's and early 1970's with a critical eye. This isn't to say that the monstrosity surrounding Grant's tomb doesn't have its place: I think it would be perfect in a playground.

Preferably next to a school for the blind.

Deprived of the jarring colors, I'm sure that blind children would be able to really enjoy the exciting contours and textures of the sculpture. They could spend hours crawling on the uncomfortable surfaces, playing with the designs.

That having been said, however, the benches definitely don't belong next to Grant's tomb. The two structures have nothing in common whatsoever. Next to the benches, Grant's tomb appears stodgy and standoffish, and next to the tomb, the benches appear amateurish and cheesy. I can only wonder about the combination of blackmail, drugs, and oral sex that the artist must have employed to convince the Park Service to sign off on this travesty.

Labels: , , , , , ,


  • Next to a school for the blind. Hahahahaha!

    How do you really feel?

    By Anonymous Franki, At November 24, 2007 at 6:23 PM  

  • Is that in a Puerto Rican neighborhood?

    (Oh no, he didn't!)

    By Blogger M@, At November 24, 2007 at 8:43 PM  

  • Franki-
    I guess I'm not really subtle. Then again, neither are the mosaic benches.

    More Dominican.

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 24, 2007 at 9:22 PM  

  • Your commentary is well taken, particularly when it comes to the NPS. They are the original Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

    By Blogger The CEO, At November 24, 2007 at 10:21 PM  

  • I'm finding a deep hatred for graffiti. The benches though....whoa...who thought that was a good idea?

    My city, known as a city of trees (ahem) has commissioned some weird artist to install neon coloured painted trees all over downtown. It's ridiculous. I feel your pain is what I'm trying to convey.

    By Blogger Echomouse, At November 25, 2007 at 12:15 AM  

  • oh, the trees are METAL. Metal, pink, orange, red, yellow, and even purple trees. Looks terrible.

    By Blogger Echomouse, At November 25, 2007 at 12:16 AM  

  • When I look at those benches, I can only invision The Wiz. There was an era of bad taste in the art world that bled into our everyday lives. I feel those benches are part of it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 25, 2007 at 7:34 AM  

  • CEO-
    I know! Could they be more worthless?

    There are a few places in the city that have been set aside for graffiti. In those areas, some of the best graffiti artists have done murals, and it's pretty impressive.

    What really ticks me off is when people go to a beautiful place, like Grant's tomb, and desecrate it.

    And the benches...dear God!

    Echomouse II-
    Sounds pretty horrifying. I've seen a couple of cell-phone towers disguised as trees, and that was bad enough. Using fake trees as art, though? I feel some bile rising.

    It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who regards the Seventies as the age of embarrassing tackiness!

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 25, 2007 at 10:25 AM  

  • LOL!!! definitely LSD loaded 70's kitsch!!

    By Blogger Claudia, At November 25, 2007 at 1:39 PM  

  • I remember my friend telling me that she was horrified when her 5 year old fell in love with one of those animal paintings on black velvet at the fair. He told her he would spend his own money to buy the technicolored monster, but she found a diplomatic way to redirect him involving a big glob of fried dough covered in sugar, something he would normally have been forbidden. I have lost touch with her as her husband went off to teach at a NY univeristy. You don't think that child might have grown up to, it's too horrible to consider.

    By Blogger Spellbound, At November 25, 2007 at 6:48 PM  

  • Claudia-
    Some generational mistakes are permanent. I hope this isn't one of them!

    If she had only let him have the velvet painting, it would have been a valve. The need would have dissapated, and all would have been happy in the kingdom. As it stands, it boiled over on all of us!

    I think there's a lesson here...

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 25, 2007 at 8:03 PM  

  • After seeing all this, I'm thinking that Grant and Mrs. Grant would be much better off in Illinois.

    Or maybe they could paraphrase WC Field's epitaph: "On the whole, I'd rather be in Illinois."

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, At November 27, 2007 at 8:06 PM  

  • The graffiti is reprehensible and the desecratin of the tomb of one of America's greatest military leaders being disrespected like that is unforgivable.

    This is typical of the Democratic thought process; rather than caring for America's treasures in perpetuity, they would rather continue to give money away to voluntarily unemployed Negroes and Spicks tocontrol their votes.

    When will America realize that the Ted Kennedy welfare state is a farce and all it does is delay the inevitable for them. Nothing will ever change. Negroes make up just 13% of America's population yet they are responsible for more than 54% of crime. What does that tell us?

    We need to hold onto our values and champion the historical heroes that made our country great. Care for the tomb and keep its greatness for all generations!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 30, 2008 at 4:21 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home