James K. Polk's Remains May Be Moving to a Fourth Grave

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt / Stacy Conradt

James K. Polk died just three months after leaving office in 1849, having likely contracted cholera on a trip to New Orleans. One of the more successful one-term presidents—he expanded the territory of the nation by a third, among other achievements—Polk died at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, and was temporarily buried outside of town, in keeping with the law for cholera victims.

A year later, his remains were disinterred (the concerns over cholera contamination presumably having passed) and moved to their second location, a William Strickland-designed tomb located in a prominent spot at his former home, Polk Place—the final resting place he had requested in his will. When Sarah Polk died more than 40 years later, she joined her husband in the tomb. But they did not rest in peace.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In his will, Polk had specified that the house pass into state ownership and that a “worthy” blood relative be allowed to live there. But the couple had no children, and after Sarah died, scores of Polk's relatives came forward to challenge the will—they wanted to sell the land and divvy up the profits. They got their way, and the house was sold to out-of-town developers, who opted to demolish the home. The Polks' remains were disinterred in 1893 and reburied on the grounds of the state Capitol in Nashville.

Brent Moore, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Polks have resided at the Capitol for well over a century now, in a quiet spot that State Senator Joey Hensley says is overlooked. That’s why he has introduced a bill that would move the Polks—again—to the President James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia, Tennessee. The home was built in 1816 by Polk’s father; the former president lived there for just five years as a young man.

Detractors say it’s a cheap, disrespectful ploy to increase tourism to Columbia, which is currently most famous as “the mule capital of the world.” Others, including the curator of the museum, say it’s simply a better way to honor James and Sarah Polk than the afterthought at the Tennessee Statehouse. The state Senate will debate the bill tonight, although the move will also require the approval of the state’s House of Representatives, governor, the Tennessee Historical Commission, and a local judge. No word on whether Polk is spinning in his grave at the thought of being moved yet again.

[h/t The New York Times]