|Nashville, TN||July 22, 2006|
First Lady Sarah Childress Polk and her husband, the eleventh chief executive of the United States, are interred in Nashville, Tennessee, on the grounds of the state capitol. The capitol is the third place of rest for James K. Polk and the second for Sarah. James was initially buried at the Nashville City Cemetery and subsequently reinterred in the yard of the Polk home, called Polk Place. Sarah lived there for the next four decades and joined James in the yard in 1891. The couple was exhumed in 1893 because of a legal dispute related to the Polk Place property. Sarah and James were then brought to their present place of sepulture. It may not be their last, however, as there have been efforts to transfer them to President Polk’s ancestral home in Columbia, Tennessee, as recently as 2018.
The first line of Sarah Polk’s portion of the tomb inscription professes that the Presbyterian first lady is “‘[a]sleep in Jesus’.” It goes on to describe her as “[a] noble woman, a devoted wife, a true friend, a sincere Christian.” The limestone memorial was designed by architect William Strickland after the death of President Polk.
No U.S. first lady was widowed as long as Sarah Polk. A length of 42 years and two months passed between the demise of her husband in 1849 and her own death in 1891 –a remarkable 15,400 days. In keeping with mourning customs of the Victorian Era, Sarah Polk consistently wore black clothing to acknowledge the loss of her husband.
My father and I first stopped at the Polk tomb on July 22, 2006 ahead of our tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. I took this photograph of him with Sarah Polk’s epitaph when we returned the following day, as we looked to kill time prior to our return flight to Rhode Island. We returned again in June 2013.
Born: September 4, 1803 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Spouse: James K. Polk (m. 1824-1849)
First Lady Tenure: 1845-1849
Died: August 14, 1891 in Nashville, Tennessee
Interment: Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville, Tennessee
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Daley, Jason. “Tennessee Votes to Keep Polk’s Grave Where It Is. For Now.” Smithsonian Magazine, March 20, 2018. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/tennessee-votes-keep-polks-grave-where-it-now-180968544/.
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.