Galena’s Gallant Hero

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

When we first entered the steep hillside town of Galena, Illinois for a two day stay, I immediately sensed along Main Street an “All American” tribute to their past resident hero, Ulysses S. Grant. Know that Galena’s “town fathers” presented Ulysses with free ownership of his previously rented, brick house on top of a hill overlooking town to honor his victorious Civil War leadership and later successful run at the U.S. Presidency. This modestly built abode, would serve as the official residence for the Grant family from the Civil War start to his Presidency and throughout the bulk of his retirement years. Aside from the vehicles parked along this street, my first glance on our mid-morning walk through downtown, revealed an authentic historic preservation effort here with rows of antique shops, friendly taverns, as well as a large hotel still standing from the 19th century era. At various points along this “Old Town” tour, I also took time to admire the impressive display of flags and banners revealing red, white, and blue patriotism in remembrance of Grant’s legacy as their local homegrown hero. .

Among the most prominent discoveries during our Galena visit took place at the DeSoto, the state of Illinois’ oldest operating hotel operating from 1885 to now. Most impressively, our brief look at it’s guest lobby and front desk area yielded fascinating, old photographs of American heroes who once stayed in the “grand” rooms of the De Soto when it functioned as a major hub of social and political life in the town one time. In this regard, Abraham Lincoln made passionate anti- slavery speeches from the DeSoto balcony during his pre-election campaign while Mr. Grant similarly chose the De Soto as his political party headquarters during his successful run for the U.S. Presidency. After a period of physical decline to the building, the city of Galena took the initiative to successfully restore the “grand” DeSoto to its original appearance on a more modest scale. A short drive to the residential side of Old Town ended our first day in Galena with some stunning views of Victorian period residences abutting Galena’s steep interior hills.

Our final stop on our Galena tour took place the next morning as we traveled a mile or so outside of town to the original Grant residence. We then took a twenty minute, guided tour of the house interior followed by a brief walk outside along these hillside grounds. For such an idolized figure in American History, I thus recognized Ulysses, for all his fame, as one who chose to lead a modestly simple life amid the privacy of his home with Julia, his wife, and his children. When we exited onto the grassy hill beyond the Grant home, my thoughts about Mr. Grant somehow intuitively deepened. For I pictured the ghost of Ulysses now slowly walking outside of his home, enjoying some fresh, cool air and a satisfying smoke of his famous cigar. A smile now appeared on his bearded face as he then gestured downhill while he overlooked that spectacular vista of the town. For he recognized then that he not only won the war and the Presidency, but he’d also captured the hearts of the townspeople in this place he loved so deeply.

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