Western Report: Galena preps for Aug. 12 unveiling of Julia Dent Grant statue

Aug. 12, 2006, is shaping up to be a big, big day in Galena.

On that day, amidst a parade, an authentic Civil War encampment, a free picnic lunch for 500 guests and even a good, old-fashioned sidewalk sale, the long-awaited unveiling of Galena’s newest historical attraction will be unveiled. It will be the public’s first glimpse of the Julia Dent Grant statue.

Yep, Julia Dent Grant. The former Galena resident and two-term first lady and wife of President Ulysses S. Grant.

She is credited with leading the transition of the role of the first lady into one of national leadership. According to press releases and notes put out by the Galena State Historic Sites office, one of the statue drive sponsors, Ms. Grant (the “Ms.” coming long after her death), was instrumental in instituting a more formal and impressive White House appearance.

In fact, we are told that during Grant’s two terms in office, the so-called “Gilded Age,” extravagant spending was looked upon with favor. Unlike Mrs. Lincoln, who was criticized for her lavish spending, Julia Dent Grant was lauded as the leader of Washington society. Her spending was accepted by the general public, and she developed a style all her own.

It is written that her clothing was the finest available, and she amassed a huge wardrobe during her reign. She was also known to host the most elegant and extravagant parties seen up to that time. State dinners often included 29-course meals. In those times (1869-1877), with the South still in shambles from the Civil War and trying to rebuild, it seems a sharp contrast to what other areas of the country were going through.

But, I digress, the statue will be unveiled, and it will be a fun day in Galena. The idea was born at the annual legislative meeting (hosted by the Community Development Fund of Galena, The Galena Foundation and the Galena State Historic Sites) in December 2004. And, the really cool part is that the entire amount of the project cost was raised in less than seven months—all $120,000 of it.

$120,000 for the Julia Dent Grant statue, a sharp contrast to what other uses can be found for that kind of money.

John Huschik is a free-lance writer from Galena and covers the Jo Daviess County political scene.

From the Aug. 9-15, 2006, issue

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