There’s a patch of land in New York City that splits Riverside Drive in two. After I moved into an apartment across the street, I wondered why that location on the Upper West Side was chosen for Grant’s Tomb, a behemoth of a mausoleum. Why wasn’t it in a cemetery? Like many national monuments, there is nothing attractive about the place. I read Ulysses didn’t even request his remains be interred in New York City. Politicians made the determination after his death – his surviving wife went along with the idea. There were nationwide protests about the expense and I’ll bet his home state of Ohio was none to pleased at being overlooked.
Surrounding the building, there are several long mosaic waves of benches, a beautiful design by Pedro Silva. When I first laid eyes on them, construction had recently been completed by local volunteers. I loved the colorful tiles, but the benches served no function beside artistic – I never noticed anyone taking a seat. Why would someone want to sit and stare at a large granite wall when they could cross the street, get away from the exhaust of the traffic, find a bench among the trees, and catch a glimpse of a sliver of the Hudson River down the hill?
I think it’s too much of a monstrosity for protesters to dismantle. If it was a statue, they could topple it like they did the late President’s statue out here in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. What will become of that, I don’t know. I had no affection for it or most of the statues I’ve seen, the ones that commemorate some man who killed people or ordered people to kill people, or both. The exception was Joan of Arc in Orleans, the woman who killed people or ordered them killed. After 500 years, was one reason she was named a saint because she acted like the men represented by statues? Grant commanded not just men but also slaves. Is it to his credit that he only “owned” one? (That was after the war ended.) Or that in the end he freed the man when he could have sold him for a pretty penny?
I’m dismayed to read that new statues and memorials will be going up in public places to redress the lack of diversity, most glaringly of women and people of color. That will be making the same mistake twice. While it is admirable that private citizens or organizations raise the funds for the creations, the maintenance costs over the years end up being an albatross for the local community, the park service, and/or the nation’s citizens.
The cost of restoring Grant’s Tomb in the 90’s was $1.8 million. I read Congress raised the funds. There was no Go Fund Me yet so where would they obtain the funds? Why from taxpayers, of course. You and me. That was a one time restoration cost, what about ongoing maintenance? I don’t know what that cost is these days but when it was in it’s worst state of decay, in the early 90’s, $235,000 was spent annually which is the equivalent to half a million dollars these days. For maintenance of one tomb!
Controversy has recently erupted over the expanding awareness of suffragist/ette and early feminist support of eugenic ideology. People are calling for the removal of statues of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. There are likenesses in Washington, New York, Boston, and elsewhere. She was not alone as it is known that Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President, were fans of this misguided thinking also.
No more statues, no more monuments. No one who walks the earth is “finished” into some kind of perfect person. A generation or two out, the entire world may be vegan, may consider people like me who ate meat to be close to par with cannibals.
When Maya Angelou walked among us, she was an inspiration to many, but will San Francisco’s planned statue of her or monument (pending approval) be toppled by protesters because she ate meat? Her poem The Health Food Diner annoyed more than a few Vegans and Vegetarians. What about anti-gun protesters? She shared she was packing a gun in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Would someone tell me if Maya ever mentioned hoping that after she died, San Francisco would erect a monument to her? I doubt it.
Let people be remembered for their work, for their inspiration despite their actual or perceived shortcomings, not by statues and monuments. Why not spend the money on feeding the hungry in Angelou’s name? That would be monumental.