Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? Actually, no one. The general is entombed, not buried. But you won’t be able to see the answer to the old joke until the U.S. government reopens. The national memorial, seen in a recent photo, remains closed. Photo courtesy of City Council Member Mark Levine
At least four former presidents historically and inextricably linked to New York have been officially dissed.
The culprit: The record-shattering federal government shutdown that’s largely the handiwork of the current president.
“Grant’s Tomb is closed!” lamented City Council Member Mark Levine. “And the trash has been overflowing.”
West Siders don’t typically enter the mausoleum at 122nd Street to visit the sarcophagus where the 18th president and his wife are entombed.
But General Ulysses S. Grant’s permanent perch on Riverside Drive has been a worldwide magnet for tourists since it was dedicated in 1897.
Or at least it was. Then last month the National Park Service was forced to shutter the site due to the abrupt cutoff in federal funding.
Overnight, the visitors vanished. In turn, that spotlighted the corrosive impact the shutdown has had on the micro-economies of Manhattan:
“Our local businesses are hurting,” said Levine, whose West Side district takes in the national memorial. “The tourists who commonly walk over to Broadway to shop or have lunch after visiting aren’t here anymore.”
The longest government closure in U.S. history has lasted 25 days, as of press time on Jan. 15. And as the fiery standoff between President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats over funding a southern border wall abides, the toll on New Yorkers has been intensifying.
Profits have plunged for immigrant coffee vendors stationed outside federal offices in Foley Square and Hudson Square. Wall Street is in limbo with only a skeleton staff operating the nerve center of the Securities and Exchange Commission on Vesey Street.
Paychecks have stopped for Coast Guard recruiters at the Battery Park Maritime Building on South Street. New Yorkers can’t access passenger ship arrival records, federal court documents or naturalization records because the National Archives on Bowling Green has closed its doors.
“People who want to take out loans or refinance are already running into problems,” said State Senator Liz Krueger, who represents the East Side and Midtown East including Trump Tower.
“And worryingly, the MTA gets about $150 million from the Federal Transit Administration every month, which we know is desperately needed. Obviously, the longer the shutdown lasts, the more we will all feel the knock-on effects,” Krueger added.
Mayor Bill de Blasio put it starkly: “There are 50,000 federal workers based in New York City, and these folks have been going through hell,” he said.
Even recipients of federal government services who remain unaffected — Social Security beneficiaries, for instance — are facing high anxiety and fears, say staffers at Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright’s East Side office.
“Between Christmas and New Year’s, we had a stream of seniors come into our district office worried their Social Security checks could cut off, and even though we reassured them, the anxiety still remained,” said Audrey Berman Tannen, Seawright’s chief of staff.
The protracted shutdown, should it continue till next week, could have a ruinous impact over the long Martin Luther King holiday weekend as hundreds of Transportation Security Administration employees, asked to work without pay, call in sick, walk off the job or quit outright at all three area airports.
“New Yorkers don’t like to stay still for very long, but anyone looking to get away or come in for a long weekend will have a rough start and end to such plans,” said East Side City Council Member Ben Kallos, who notes his district is a mere 15 minutes away from LaGuardia Airport.
He’s outraged that funding cuts could potentially imperil constituents who are food insecure and play havoc with MTA operations on the 4, 5, 6 and Q trains. He’s troubled that local food safety could be impaired as the Food and Drug Administration curtails most routine inspections of fruits, vegetables and other products with a high risk of contamination.
But Kallos, like legions of other Manhattanites, also has good reason to take the shutdown personally: His family is a member of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in the landmark Carnegie Mansion — and like the National Museum of the American Indian and all other Smithsonian treasures, it’s been forced to lock the public out.
Kallos’ daughter is approaching her first birthday, and she takes great delight in Cooper Hewitt’s interactive displays, where she can go into a room to interface with digital displays and make interesting noises by pressing different buttons and ringing different bells.
“It’s fun for infants like my daughter — or children at heart like me,” he said. “It’s a huge loss for our community to have this institution closed.”
Among the casualties of the closure: American history itself.
“The African Burial Ground is closed during the government shutdown,” says the website of the nation’s largest and oldest known excavated burial site for free and enslaved Africans in the U.S. Located at 290 Broadway, it contains remains dating from the 1630s to the 1790s.
As for the presidents historically associated with New York, they’re likely rolling over in their graves. In addition to Grant, they include:
• George Washington, who took the oath of office in 1789 at Federal Hall National Memorial at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets. The site, now closed, was also home to the first Congress and first Supreme Court.
• Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose home, presidential library and museum in upstate Hyde Park is a national historic site. It will also stay shuttered for the duration of the shutdown. FDR’s city home on East 65th Street, now a Hunter College public policy institute, is not affected.
• Theodore Roosevelt, who was born in 1858 in a townhouse at 28 East 20th St. and lived there until age 14. Like most sites run by the National Park Service, the birthplace and boyhood home of the first president born in New York City is also barred to the public.
“Why?” asked Alair Buckley, a 24-year-old tourist from Montana who looked at the closed house from the sidewalk during her first visit to the city. “What did Teddy Roosevelt ever do to deserve this?”