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The Grant Monument

The Grant Monument image The Grant Monument image
Author
James Mann
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

“The other day we took a stroll through the Cemetery. We never visit this delightful spot, this beautiful city of the dead, without exclaiming, 'What a paradise is this—fit abode of gods!' Here peacefully dwell the bodies of our dead—sacred dust,” exclaimed The Ypsilanti Commercial of July 23, 1870. “This season of the year,” continued the account, “it does the soul good to wander through these dells and winding hills. Every monument you say, 'Let this spot be my final resting place'--There is scarcely a nook or corner which one would not choose as the habitation of the body until sea and earth shall give up its dead in the last grand resurrection day.” Highland Cemetery, the account noted, had several monumental works of art bearing the name of some of the leading families of Ypsilanti. The crowning work, the account noted, bore the name of Grant. “The son is thus handing down the memory of his father, immortalizes himself.” Elijah Grant was the father whose memory was being handed down. He was born on May 26, 1801. He married Mary Brown Flint in Connecticut in 1821. The couple moved to Ypsilanti in about 1834, but returned to Connecticut two years later. The reason for the return was Mary was in poor health. The two came back to Ypsilanti in about 1845. This time Elijah was successful in business and real estate. He died on March 27, 1851. This was the day before “The Great Fire” which destroyed most of what was then the downtown area of Ypsilanti. The Grant family home was then on the southeast corner of Michigan and Washington Streets. The family carried the body of Elijah out through a window at the back of the house, while flames threatened the front of the house. Mary Grant purchased a house on North Washington Street on May 17, 1851, from Isaac Conklin. Today, the house is the Ladies Literary Club House. Here, Mary would live the rest of her life, with her only child, Edward Washington Grant. According to local legend, Elijah had been concerned about the trouble caused by the strained relationship that sometimes occurs between a mother and daughter-in-law. The cause for this concern, if it did indeed occur, is not known. For this reason, it is said, Elijah had a provision in his will, that Edward would be disinherited if he married during the lifetime of his mother. True or not, Edward was still single when his mother died on August 3, 1883. “She united with the Presbyterian Church in her girlhood, and remained faithful to her vows to the end. Mrs. Grant was a very charitable woman, bestowing many charities upon the poor, unknown to the outside world. The poor have truly lost a friend. While she gave liberally to her own church in support of the gospel and in building their meeting house, she also gave to other denominations,” noted The Ypsilanti Commercial of August 11. Edward was 45 years of age when his mother died. Now he was free to enter into romantic relationships, but he appears to have had no interest in doing so. There is no evidence he ever had a relationship with a woman. This seems to have been puzzling to some. “Ed Grant is perhaps one of the most elegant bachelors we have in the city. His house, in which he is the only boarder, is a model of neatness and elegance. There are books, there are statues, there are paintings: but the tripping steps and musical voice of Mrs. Ed G. is not there. Strange, too, for the present occupant is said to be kind and tender hearted, a good neighbor, a fine musician if he cares to be, and more than that besides. Washington Street claims him as her son,” so noted The Ypsilanti Commercial of August 8, 1885. Edward had inherited real estate holdings in Ypsilanti and elsewhere, so he did not need to work. There is a story he once met a man who came to the city seeking an investor for a factory. The man, so the story goes, wished to make and market a patent egg crate. Edward let the man build a factory on his land. When it rained, pools of water stood on the site, so Edward had 500 loads of gravel at $1.00 a load brought in. Even the best machinery was not good enough. The man went ahead with the project, it is said, with all he needed of Edward's money. Then one night he quietly slipped away. Soon after that the factory burned. He then invested in a car coupler and a rubber bucket for rural wells. These, as it turned out, were not good investments. As his wealth slipped away, he began to sell the furnishings in his house. “Beginning with a bedroom, he had cleared the entire place, room by room, down the stairs to the first floor, on through the library, sewing room, and dining room, until finally only one room remained in which he might live. It was thus poverty had closed in on him and dispossessed him,” recounts a newspaper clipping in the files of the Archives at the Ypsilanti Historical Museum. The name of the paper from which it came, and the date of publication, are not recorded. Edward sold the house to the Ladies Literary Club of Ypsilanti for $3,000, on February 7, 1914. For more than ten years before this, Edward would come out of the house each day, dressed in his frock coat, silk hat and gray striped trousers. He stepped out onto the wide front porch, stood there for a moment blinking in the morning sunlight and then would walk quickly down to the business section of the city. “There,” the account reports, “he would stand in one doorway and then in another, all day long…One never should think of him as loitering: he was so dapper, so immaculate, so erect.” From the house he had known all his life, Edward moved into a room on the second floor of a business block. He furnished the room with the few items he had been unable to sell. The room overlooked an alley and was reached by a narrow flight of stairs. His daily habit of standing in doorways continued after his move. “It was as though he had let the life of his little city out-distance him sometime in his early years, so that now he looked upon all things as belonging to another existence in which he had no part.” For the last ten years of his life, Edward spent 25 cents a day for food, some milk, cereal, bread, and sometimes coffee. Usually he ate two meals a day but often only one. Every night he made his way back to his empty room, and slipped between his blankets in this space without light or fuel. One winter, his last, he had a fire in his room, only four times. One night, while making his way up the stairs to his room, he slipped on an icy step and broke a bone in his shoulder. He was taken to a hospital in Ann Arbor. There he lay on his back, blinking at the ceiling all day long. At Highland Cemetery the monument for his father stands 32 feet tall, and cost Edward $8,000. Did Edward think of this place as he stared up at the ceiling at the hospital? There was, after all, a place for him here. No one will ever know as no records exist relating to the occupants of the plot on which the Grant family monument stands. (James Mann is a local author and historian, a volunteer in the YHS Archives, and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions: Photo 1: The Elijah Grant Monument in Highland Cemetery is over thirty feet tall.

Photo 2: The inscription on the Grant Monument indicates that Elijah Grant was born in 1801 and died in 1851.

Photo 3: Three identical small monuments, except for the lettering, are located next to the large Grant Monument. Elijah’s is lettered E.G., Edward’s is lettered E.W.G. and Mary Grant’s is lettered M.B.G.

Photo 4: Elijah Grant first moved to Ypsilanti in 1834.

Photo 5: Mrs. Elijah Grant, Mary, lived in the Ladies Literary Club house until her death in 1883.

Photo 6: Edward Grant, son of Elijah and Mary Grant, inherited a considerable amount of money, but his wealth gradually slipped away.