Porch Chat: Grant’s Birthday at Delmonico’s
WHERE: Grant Cottage, 1000 Mount McGregor Road, Wilton
WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday (Normal cottage hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday)
HOW MUCH: Presentation is free; tour costs $5 for adults and $4 for students and seniors
MORE INFO: 584-4353, www.grantcottage.org
Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War general and 18th president of the United States, lived at Joseph Drexel’s cottage on Mount McGregor for nearly six weeks in 1885. His presence there, however, still lingers.
One of the first things you realize after walking into the Grant Cottage in Wilton is that you are in a special place. Antiquity just seems to hang in the air, and then when the tour guide informs you that everything in the house is exactly as it was when Grant died of throat cancer there on July 23, 1885, the somewhat eerie feeling you were experiencing becomes even stronger. The clock was stopped at 8:03 a.m. that morning and has remained there, and the bed in which Grant died also seems untouched. The only addition to the scene are the floral arrangements that were sent to the home a few days later following Grant’s funeral.
“The place is not your typical museum where things are roped off and you see a number of reproductions,” said Steve Trimm, who became a tour guide at the site seven years ago and has since become a popular Grant impersonator there and throughout the area. “Everything is exactly the way it was when Grant was there, and people are astounded by the floral arrangements. They’re the same ones that were sent there after his death and they are holding up quite well.”
A state historic site, the Grant Cottage is on the grounds of what was the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility until earlier this year. A security guard still greets visitors on the way up Mount McGregor to the cottage, which is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. This Sunday at 1 p.m., Trimm and his brother Tracy, a well-known member of the Capital Region theater community, will perform a special event, “Porch Chat: Grant’s Birthday at Delmonico’s.”
“On Grant’s birthday in April of 1887, two years following his death, a movement was created to promote the idea of turning his birthday into a national holiday,” said Trimm. “There was a gathering at Delmonico’s in New York City between Union and Confederate officers who both believed that Grant should be honored in that way. Speeches were given that night; some of them were very interesting, and we have all the transcripts of those speeches. It’s not a portrayal; it’s more like a dramatic reading.”
It was Grant’s colleague in the Union Army, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who pushed the idea to designate Grant’s birthday as a national holiday. President of the U.S. from 1869-1877, Grant’s reputation — his administration was plagued by scandal — probably killed the idea back in the late 19th century. But over time, his reputation has been restored to some degree. Trimm’s view of the man has certainly evolved since his first visit to the place seven years ago.
“I knew he was compassionate at Appomattox, but I also thought he was one of our worst presidents,” said Trimm. “Well, I learned that a lot of the things I thought about Grant were wrong. He was compassionate at Appomattox, that was right, but many other things I thought I knew were wrong.”
A tour of Grant Cottage takes between 30 and 40 minutes. Visitors can also take a short walk to a lookout area that offers a great view to the east.