If you’re ever up at Riverside Park around Grant’s Tomb, be sure to take a moment and visit a slightly smaller grave nearby.
Consisting of a simple urn and pedestal surrounded by a small fence, it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it…
But in a way, it’s a pretty important monument: this is one of only three private graves on public land on the entire island of Manhattan. The first is Grant’s tomb…
The second, located in Worth Square north of the Flatiron Building, belongs to military General William Jenkins Worth, who fought during the Mexican American War.
And the third…
…belongs to a five year old boy.
On July 15, 1797, young St. Claire Pollock died, presumably from a fall off the nearby cliffs onto the rocks below. In the late 1700′s, the property surrounding the grave was owned by George Pollack, either St. Claire’s father or uncle, and he was buried on the site.
In 1800, George Pollock sold his property to a neighbor, with a request:
There is a small enclosure near your boundary fence within which lie the remains of a favorite child, covered by a marble monument. You will confer a peculiar and interesting favor upon me by allowing me to convey the enclosure to you so that you will consider it a part of your own estate, keeping it, however, always enclosed and sacred.”
Over time, the surrounding area became known as Claremont Hill, site of the Battle of Harlem Heights during the Revolutionary War, and later, the very popular Claremont Hotel.
The Claremont Hotel eventually became a restaurant. Below, a picture of the Claremont taken by photographer Karl Struss in 1915.
Sadly, the building burned down in 1950 and was replaced by the Claremont Playground (a marker commemorates the location of the original hotel).
Incredibly, over the years, little St. Claire’s grave was always respected. In fact, at one point, the city supposedly attempted to relocate the remains for the construction of Grant’s tomb, only to be met with a surge of opposition from citizens. Nearby St Clair Place is named for the boy.
The monument has been replaced twice due to deterioration, the most recent having been installed in 1967.
St. Claire’s grave is one of my favorite monuments in the city. There’s just something incredibly touching about the fact that, despite sitting in the shadow of a gargantuan tomb for a military hero and former president, the grave of a little boy has almost an equal importance, ultimately touching the lives of millions.