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Grant is Given a Golden Remembrance

As a history buff, I feel proud. I think. You see, I've had good fortune to have lived in St. Louis, the city where Ulysses S. Grant spent a good amount of his life, but not the glamorous part. In fact, a more mundane period. Still, I've walked the same streets that he did.

Grant wasn't born in St. Louis. That honor goes to Point Pleasant, Ohio. As a boy, his father didn't see a great deal of promise in him. He even nicknamed him "Useless." Contemporary psychologists might suggest that's not a self-esteem builder. Still, the elder Grant wanted his son to succeed, so he secured him an appointment to West Point.

He didn't excel there, either, but he did graduate and was assigned to the frontier in the Pacific Northwest. With little going on up there and away from his family, Grant opted to turn to the bottle — a lot. That also went poorly. His commanding officer eventually asked for his resignation.

That led to his first residence in St. Louis. There, instead of basking in the glow of his prominent education, he was relegated to selling firewood on the streets — the same ones I walked many times.

Fortunately for Grant, a little something called the Civil War came along and changed his future in firewood. Grant quickly rose through the military ranks. He led victories at battles such as Shiloh, Vicksburg and others, but they came at a heavy cost. Countless troops under his command were killed. It became so acute that the "U.S." in his name became known as "Unconditional Surrender" Grant. Yes, the enemies surrendered, but only after legions of Northern troops were lost.

As we know, Grant went on to become the winning general of the war. But his proclivity for drinking followed — so much so that he gained another moniker playing off the "U.S." in his name, "Unbelievably Soused" Grant. Of course, we're a forgiving nation. Not long after the war, Grant was elected president. Even though his time in office was riddled with corruption — the likes of which, today, even a school superintendent would be quickly ousted — he was elected to a second term.

After reluctantly rejecting a run at a third term, Grant and his wife, Julia, traveled the world and were treated like royalty. That also was short-lived. In later years, Grant borrowed money from William Vanderbilt to buy ownership in a Wall Street brokerage venture. Within a short time, his partner was accused of illegal practices and Grant lost it all. He was forced to pay Vanderbilt back with virtually all of the items presented to him by the foreign dignitaries he had met on his travels.

After his biography was published, Grant regained fame later in life, though his wife received most of the royalties from those after his death of throat cancer. That cause of death wasn't entirely surprising. He was a constant smoker of cigars. After one famous battle victory, an adoring public sent him 10,000 boxes as a "thank you." He is believed to have smoked them all.

To this day, his legacy lives in St. Louis, but not as a firewood salesman. Just outside of the city, he built a home named "Hardscrabble," where he and Julia lived. It's still there to this day and open to the public. Ironically, in 1907, August Busch, the Budweiser beer baron, purchased the home; the Busch family still owns it today. A more fitting tribute to a lifelong drinker would be hard to imagine.

There's one last thing. During Grant's administration, one of the scandals that rocked his presidency involved what was called, "The Gold Ring." That involved several railroad barons who tried to corner the gold market with the help of one of Grant's key assistants. It was eventually stopped, but it resulted in a substantial economic calamity that lasted for years.

Given that, it's only fitting that the newest Presidential Golden Dollar is in honor of U.S. Grant. As the 18th President, it will be the 18th such coin issued in the series.

Special rolls of the coins are available from the U.S. Mint and can be purchased by collectors who visit the website at www.usmint.gov. Those attending the official release ceremony were able to exchange paper dollars for the new "golden" metal variety.

Oh... the ceremony was held at Grant's home on the Busch family property in St. Louis. For those who were lucky enough to be there, cheers!

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