Monday, May 20, 2013

A Visit to Henry Clay's Tomb

I hate to admit it, but until yesterday, I had never taken the time to stop and visit Henry Clay's grave in the beautiful Lexington Cemetery. The towering monument is almost impossible to miss above the trees as one drives west on Main Street past the Mary Todd Lincoln House, but for some reason I had always continued on my way. Yesterday though, in my travels to do some research at the Young Library on the University of Kentucky's campus, I finally took a few minutes to go by and pay my respects to the "Great Compromiser." 

Clay died of tuberculosis in Washington D.C. on June 29, 1852, while serving as a senator. As the above broadside mentions, Clay's remains were brought back to Kentucky.  After arriving in Lexington, a memorial service was held on the lawn at his beloved estate, Ashland. 

An enormous processional covered the short distance across Lexington from Ashland to the cemetery. It is estimated that some 100,000 attended to pay their last respects to the statesman. Soon after his death the Clay Memorial Association was established with the idea of creating a worth monument.

In 1857, the cornerstone was placed for the astounding memorial that would eventually rise above his tomb. However, due to construction issues and costs, the monument was not completed until 1861. Clay's body was not placed in the mausoleum vault until his wife Lucritia's death in 1864. Henry and Lucritia now rest there together.

In 1908, the statue of Clay that tops the towering 120 foot pillar had to be replaced. Lightning storms had damaged the stone statesman and other damages made visiting the monument hazardous.   

In 1975-76, the limestone monument was cleaned and restored, and ownership eventually transferred from the City of Lexington to the Lexington Cemetery. Hopefully repairs can continue to be maintained to keep this monument to one of American's preeminent political icons available for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

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