San Diego has always been good to the Grants — the family of the Civil War general and 18th president of the United States.
Two of President Ulysses S. Grant’s sons lived here in the late 19th century, and one of them built the grand downtown hotel that still bears the president’s name, U.S. Grant. President Grant’s wife, Julia, spent winters here after her husband’s death, and their granddaughter moved to La Jolla and never left.
At least three of Grant’s great-great grandchildren still live in the county. This weekend, one of them, La Jolla animal behaviorist Terry Rothwell, is shedding many of the inherited possessions that link her to the military hero whose nickname was “Unconditional Surrender.”
A Massachusetts auction house will attempt tomorrow to sell a batch of Grant-related items owned by Rothwell, including a painting of the president’s father, a tea box (for storing tea bags) presented to Grant by the emperor of Japan, and dozens of books, photographs, letters and postcards. Together, the auction house estimates the more than 50 lots in the auction are worth tens of thousands of dollars.
“At some point, I’ll be moving and downsizing. It’s time most of the stuff went somewhere else,” said Rothwell, who hopes the items will land in a collection that’s open to the public.
Frank Kaminski, chief executive officer of Kaminski Auctions, expects as many as 300 to 400 people will attend the auction tomorrow, with more viewing (and bidding) online.
Rothwell said she was especially attached to a brass “carriage clock” — a sturdy travel clock designed to be lugged along on trips — that the auction house expects will go for as much as $12,500.
President Grant gave the clock to his wife on her birthday in 1881, and it’s engraved with their names. “Sometimes as a kid, I’d pick it up by handle, and think, ‘Gee, she touched this in the same way I’m touching it now,'” Rothwell recalled.
San Diego’s best known Grant connection is Ulysses Grant Jr., one of the president’s sons, who became notorious for leading his father into a disastrous business deal that left both nearly penniless. He came to San Diego in 1892 with his family, built the U.S. Grant Hotel and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Rothwell, who trains dogs in the style of the Cesar “The Dog Whisperer” Milan, is the descendant of a lesser-known Grant son, Jesse, a mining engineer who, writes author Doug Wead, spent his life basking in the glory of being a president’s son. He even tried to run for president himself on the Democratic ticket in 1908, but failed to get any traction.
While Rothwell is keeping some Grant memorabilia, including a writing desk, she says she’ll miss the antiques going on the block in a town just outside Boston.
“When I’d walk into my living room, they were silent friends really,” she says. “There’s a silent camaraderie that you build with artifacts that have been handed down.”
– RANDY DOTINGA