There are few people in St. Louis history as revered as Ulysses S. Grant. The Civil War hero and Reconstruction-era President visited St. Louis often (many times as a guest at the Campbell House) and married his wife, Julia Dent, here in St. Louis – you can still experience the Dent Family home today at the U.S. Grant National Historic Site at White Haven. This weekend and continuing into May, St. Louis will be playing host to the Ulysses S. Grant Symposium, with special exhibitions, lectures and discussion on the life and legacy of America’s 18th President. In that spirit, we thought we’d feature a fun but relatively unknown nugget of local U.S. Grant history dredged up by Campbell House Senior Researcher Tom Gronski.
After Grant died in 1885, efforts were begun here in St. Louis to raise money for a large-scale memorial, one that would achieve nationwide attention and respect. The Grant Monument Association raised funds and eventually chose a design from sculptor Robert Bringhurst (who also sculpted the Elijah Lovejoy monument in Alton, Illinois). His design was described in an April 1887 excerpt from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“The design is for a 9-foot figure in bronze. The figure, attired in full military uniforms, is standing at ease, resting on the right, the left foot slightly advanced. The left hand rests on the hilt of the sword; the right, holding a pair of field glasses, hangs easily at the side. The head is thrown back, the eyes looking out over an imaginary battlefield.”
-St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 27, 1887
So they cast the enormous statue in bronze in 1888 and then placed it in the middle of 12th Street (today Tucker), halfway between Olive and Locust. Yep, you read that correctly – smack dab in the middle of the street. The City also built up pillars and an elaborate canopy that read “Let Us Have Peace”.
Less than ten years later, they moved it. As it turned out, having a giant memorial to President Grant in the middle of 12th Street wasn’t great for traffic flow and it was moved to the south side of the newly-constructed St. Louis City Hall facing Clark Street in 1898 (without its grand pillars and canopy). Public reception to this new location was
overwhelmingly negative and people expressed concern that such a grand monument had essentially been “buried in the back yard” of City Hall. In 1921, the 9 foot statue was moved once again to its current location at the southwest corner of Market and Tucker.
Most St. Louisans, including some of us here in the CHM office, had no idea of the place of prominence this tribute to the 18th President once occupied, and many probnably have never even noticed the statue in its current location. Have you?
Join us this weekend, continuing into May, for the U.S. Grant Symposium. This Saturday features a Civil War traveling exhibit at St. Louis Soldiers Memorial and Military Museum, followed by a talk by renowned author and U.S. Grant expert Ronald C. White, Jr. (there’s also a reception at Campbell House following the talk, come meet Dr. White and have a glass of wine on us!)