On July 23, 1885, at 8:08 am, Ulysses S. Grant lost his final battle, dying from cancer of the throat and tongue. He died on Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County, in Drexel’s Cottage (now known as Grant Cottage) where Grant and his family spent the last 5½ weeks.
Grant’s doctors felt it was best he leave New York City for the summer to get away from the oppressive heat and pollution of the city and find a place with cool clean air due to his illness.
The two biggest battles of his life started the year before. In the spring of 1884, Grant lost all his money in a Ponzi scheme and in the fall, it was discovered that he had terminal cancer.
With little money to support his family, President Grant agreed to write Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant finished his memoirs just three days before his death and Mark Twain’s liberal contract and unique marketing approach supported Grant’s family.
Grant had many visitors during his time at the cottage at Mt. McGregor – former soldiers from both the United States and the Confederacy, business men, a group from Mexico who was touring the United States, and many tourists from the Saratoga area.
At the time of Grant’s passing his family and his doctors were at his bedside in the cottage.
Shortly after his death the telegraph office in the Hotel Balmoral sent out the message to the world. Within minutes were bells were rung around the country. Flags were lowered to half-mast. By 8:14 am, the New York Times displayed a special edition in their window announcing the death of the President.
Following his death, hundreds went uninvited to Mt. McGregor by railroad hoping to pay their respects to Grant and his family. But on the eve of Grant’s death the Wheeler Post # 92 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a Civil War veterans group, set up guards around the cottage to protect the family from unwanted visitors.
On August 4th a funeral service was held at the cottage before Grant’s body was loaded onto the narrow gauge Mt. McGregor Railroad and taken south. Over 1,000 people filled the cottage porch and much of the lawn to pay their respects to the Civil War hero and former two-term President.
When the funeral train left Mt. McGregor for Saratoga, locals lined the tracks and salutes were fired in Grant’s honor. Soldiers and trackmen stood at crossings along the way. In Saratoga, they moved Grant’s body from the narrow gauge railroad to the Delaware & Hudson’s main line for the trip to Albany and then on to New York City. Near the D & H Depot in Saratoga Springs the streets were blocked by 10,000 people.
The evening of August 4th, on the way to New York, Grant laid in state at the Capitol in Albany where in the one afternoon over 77,000 paid their respects.
Grant’s formal funeral was held in New York City on August 8th. It’s said to be the longest funeral ever held in the city, taking 7 hours to pass from City Hall to Riverside Park, where a temporary tomb was located and the permanent one was to be built.
Dave Hubbard was on staff for 11 years at Grant Cottage. He held several different positions during his time. Dave retired at the end of December, 2019. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To share your ideas for future article in this series, please contact Jim Richmond at email@example.com.
Photo: The last photograph of Ulysses Grant in his favorite chair.
This essay is presented by the Saratoga County History Roundtable and Brookside Museum. Visit their websites and follow them on Facebook.
Diane Galusha says
Why did it take 12 days to hold the funeral service at the cottage?
Ben Kemp says
The embalming process, family travel to NYC to choose the burial location & the construction of a temporary brick tomb all took time.