Kurt's Historic Sites

Tyler

John Tyler

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves that I Visited
Richmond, VA July 13, 2005 27th President visited; 1st President Pro Tempore visited; 11th Vice President visited

Photographed July 13, 2005.

The first U.S. vice president to ascend to the presidency due to a vacancy caused by death was John Tyler, who took over for the fatally-stricken William Henry Harrison in 1841. Tyler was not popular in many circles — while in the White House he was expelled from the political party he belonged to — but today his burial site is marked by a remarkable monument at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. His grave, located in Presidents Circle, faces east toward the James River. James Monroe, the fifth president, is buried in the center of Presidents Circle. His Gothic memorial is roughly 30 feet behind Tyler’s shaft, shown here in 2005 when the iron was painted black instead of its current ivory color. The presidents are joined in their plots by first ladies Elizabeth Monroe and Julia Tyler. John Tyler’s first wife, Letitia, is interred elsewhere in Virginia.

Major features of Tyler’s administration were the annexation of the Republic of Texas and his opposition to the reestablishment of the Bank of the United States, which had been shut down in 1832 by President Andrew Jackson’s veto powers.

Photographed July 13, 2005.
Photographed July 13, 2005.

In contrast to other presidential burial sites, I was less than thrilled to visit Tyler’s grave. This was due to his allegiance to the rebellious Confederate States of America during the first year of the Civil War. The erstwhile U.S. president was elected to the Confederacy’s House of Representatives, but died in January 1862 before he could assume office.

Had Tyler had his way, he would have been laid to rest in a simple funeral at his home in Charles City County, and his grave subsequently marked in an unostentatious manner. As I learned from author Louis Picone’s bookThe President is Dead! The Extraordinary Stories of the Presidential Deaths, Final Days, Burials, and Beyond, Tyler expressed these sentiments in his last will and testament from 1859. Instead, Provisional Confederate President Jefferson Davis called for an elaborate farewell, and the Virginia General Assembly arranged for him to be buried in the CSA capital city, Richmond. Despite the pomp and circumstance that accompanied his funeral, Tyler’s burial site was unmarked for decades because the Virginia government, which pledged to pay for a memorial, was financially troubled. Tyler’s grave was unacknowledged for 37 years until October 1899, when the Hollywood Cemetery Company erected a 46-inch high granite gravestone, into which was chiseled an inaccurate death date. In 1912, the Virginia government allocated $10,000 for a new monument, which was installed in June 1915. It is also made of granite, but is 17-feet tall, has bas-reliefs, a bust of the tenth commander-in-chief, and the correct date of his passing.

Photographed July 13, 2005.
Photographed July 13, 2005.

This ornamental Grecian urn tops the Tyler monument. The national bird of the United States, the bald eagle, has a presence at several presidential gravesites apart from Tyler’s, such as those of William Henry Harrison, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant. President graves that bear the eagle-bearing seal of the president of the United States, like the headstones of Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, showcase the avian too.


Fast Facts

Born: March 29, 1790 in Charles City County, Virginia

Spouse: Letitia Christian Tyler (m. 1813-1842); Julia Gardiner Tyler (m. 1844-1862)

Primary Political Affiliation: Whig Party

Senate President Pro Tempore Tenure: 1835

Vice Presidential Term: 1841 under William Henry Harrison

Presidential Term: 1841-1845

Vice President: Vacant

Died: January 18, 1862 in Richmond, Virginia

Cause of Death: Bilious Fever

Age: 71

Last Words: “Perhaps it is best.”

Interment: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

"My happiness in the retirement which shortly awaits me is the ardent hope which I experience that this state of prosperity is neither deceptive nor destined to be short lived, and that measures which have not yet received its sanction, but which I can not but regard as closely connected with the honor, the glory, and still more enlarged prosperity of the country, are destined at an early day to receive the approval of Congress. Under these circumstances and with these anticipations I shall most gladly leave to others more able than myself the noble and pleasing task of sustaining the public prosperity."
- John Tyler
December 3, 1844 in his fourth and final annual address to Congress

Sources Consulted

Lamb, Brian and the staff of C-SPAN. Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb? A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. Rev. ed. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

Picone, Louis L. The President is Dead! The Extraordinary Stories of the Presidential Deaths, Final Days, Burials, and Beyond. Rev. ed. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.

Tyler, John. “Fourth Annual Message,” December 3, 1844. Transcript. From University of Virginia, Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/december-3-1844-fourth-annual-message.

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