As Christmas approaches, my family looks forward to their annual opportunity to be hailed as “The Great Pickle Finder.” This American tradition of hanging a blown glass pickle ornament on the family Christmas tree became popular at the end of the nineteenth century and a favorite one in my family for generations. Originally imported from the Lauscha region of Germany (renowned for its blown glass), ornaments of glass in the shapes of fruits and vegetables found their way into many U.S. homes of the period. How the pickle specifically became a favorite, however, is a compelling story with a setting of Christmas in 1864. It has an additional intriguing element bringing the founder of this tradition into a shared experience with Grant Cottage’s first caretaker – one that would profoundly affect both men. The story begins at the infamous Confederate prison camp (Camp Sumter) at Andersonville, Georgia.
On the 170th anniversary of their wedding, Grant Cottage Site Coordinator Ben Kemp takes a look at the relationship of Ulysses and Julia Grant.
On the morning of July 23, 1885, Ulysses Grant was surrounded by his loving family as he took his final breaths. “Mrs. Grant still held the General’s hand…the General opened his eyes and glanced about him, looking into the faces of all. The glance lingered as it met the tender gaze of his companion.” (New York Times July 24, 1885) Julia was now a widow.
Shortly after the ailing General Grant arrived on Mt. Mcgregor in the summer of 1885, he wrote his son Fred a note that was to prove both an understatement and a guide for his family in choosing his final resting place:
“It is possible my funeral may become one of public demonstration, in which event I have no particular choice of burial place; but there is one thing I would wish you and the family to insist upon and that is that wherever my tomb may be, a place shall be reserved for your mother.”
One of General Grant’s greatest desires was to see harmony and unity within his country. He served to achieve this in the Civil War and put his career on the line to see that reconciliation take precedent over retribution at the close of the war. He supported all veterans after the war as they were all Americans to him. In his final days at Mt. McGregor Grant received one visitor in particular who truly illustrated his view of the Civil War and bolstered his hopes for the future.
As General Grant faced terminal illness, the one thing that warmed his heart and gave him hope for the future was the outpouring of support he received daily. The support came in the form of letters, telegrams, resolutions printed in newspapers, and occasionally personal visits.
Many people look at Grant Cottage as the location where a General, President, and American hero completed his memoirs and died, however, it is also a special place where a family spent their patriarch's precious last days together. On display this season are reminders who a family lived together at the Cottage during the summer of 1885.