Dr. Steven A. Leibo is the Sherman David Spector Professor in the Humanities at the Sage Colleges
I have always believed that in the three score and ten we usually get here on this planet it would be quite rude not to at least have proper look around before we head off for as they say different pastures. Yes, I’ve always thought it was important to see the larger Western world that we are Americans are so much a part of, absolutely important to get to know our roots in England and the rest of Europe. But I have, as well, always thought it important to see the world beyond the West, to travel and study less familiar worlds from Africa to Asia.
But have always reminded myself that is also important to really see where we ourselves live, to know what the very streets and buildings we glance at every day experienced before we passed this way for our fleeting decades. Oh, I know it’s easy to forget that our neighborhoods existed long before we arrived. After all how often do we find ourselves sitting in a hotel room looking at tourist brochures in our own backyard. It is a failing I ‘ve been especially aware of since years ago, wondered around London one day, totally unable to find the Tower of London, I finally asked a local whose accent suggested perhaps thousands of years of ancestral residence within blocks of the spot. Asked a local who simply blurted out.
“ I haven’t a blooming clue!”
It’s a story I used to remember fondly until some years ago when I found myself showing my now New York based family around northern California And had to admit I had never been to one of America’s greatest natural wonders Yosemite/ The park had after all always been so close, and I had always thought, well I will get up there sometime. But I never did until I found myself driving in the area, not as a resident but as East Coast tourist a quarter of a century after I’d left the Bay Area.
And now I am sort of embarrassed to admit that just this morning, after another 25 years of living in upstate New York, I finally made it to one of the most moving sites I’ve seen in years. Now grant you, I have been looking around the east coast constantly since I arrived. Explored New York City and Boston, Driven Quebec’s wonderful Gaspe Peninsula and Pennsylvania’s Amish country, even spent wonderful hours exploring Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Connecticut.
But I had never looked literally in my own backyard, never visited the extraordinary Grant’s Cottage on Mount McGregor in Wilton NY. Grant’s Cottage that is right off the north way here in the New York’s capital region, literally a couple of minutes off 87 north, a route I drive constantly.
Yes, I had never bothered to visit the small cabin where General and former President Ulysses S. Grant arrived in June of 1885 to literally make his last stand. Never experienced that site of extraordinary physical and historic wonders that is operated by an extraordinarily dedicated and knowledgeable group of volunteer caretakers and curators known collectively as the Friends of Ulysses S. Grant Cottage. Wonderful people who literally bring alive General Grant’s last heroic months not as he fought to save the union, literally sought to save America itself, not as he served as president.
But the more personal struggles and yes, the death of a man who, a man lacking either a military nor presidential pension, an American hero who had literally seen his life saving stolen by an unscrupulous financier – imagine that, good thing that sort of thing could not happen today.
Yes, a national hero who was forced as he lay dying to choose between pain relieving narcotics that dulled his senses and living with that pain to retain the clarity he needed to write the potentially valuable memoirs his beloved wife would need to survive financially after his death. An incredibly personal battle of will that almost any one of us today could relate to and for this commentator as moving a visit as one could possibly hope for all movingly documented in this extraordinarily well preserved Grant Cottage on beautiful Mount McGregor in Wilton New York