Mystery: Who Took the Head of Ulysses S. Grant?

Lucinda Barbosa Ahukharie, police staff member i i

hide captionLucinda Barbosa Ahukharie, chief of the judicial police in Bissau, and a member of her staff hold a hand from the demolished statue.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
Lucinda Barbosa Ahukharie, police staff member

Lucinda Barbosa Ahukharie, chief of the judicial police in Bissau, and a member of her staff hold a hand from the demolished statue.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
Only metal pieces remain of the Ulysses S. Grant statue. Its head is still missing. i i

hide captionOnly metal pieces remain of the Ulysses S. Grant statue. Its head is still missing.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
Only metal pieces remain of the Ulysses S. Grant statue. Its head is still missing.

Only metal pieces remain of the Ulysses S. Grant statue. Its head is still missing.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
President Ulysses S. Grant was considered a hero in Guinea-Bissau. i i

hide captionPresident Ulysses S. Grant was considered a hero in Guinea-Bissau.

Library of Congress
President Ulysses S. Grant was considered a hero in Guinea-Bissau.

President Ulysses S. Grant was considered a hero in Guinea-Bissau.

Library of Congress

It's well known that Ulysses S. Grant was a great Civil War general. But in a lesser-known bit of history, the 18th president of the United States was also revered in the West African country of Guinea-Bissau.

Recently, though, a metal statue of Grant in that country went missing, only to be found buried — headless and sliced into pieces.

The mystery of what happened to Grant's head continues to puzzle local police.

In the 1800s, Grant helped resolve a bitter dispute between Guinea-Bissau's then colonial ruler, Portugal, and its rival Great Britain. In gratitude, the Portuguese erected a statue of the American president in the old capital Bolama. When Portugal was swept from power after the liberation war of independence in the 1970s, many vestiges of Guinea-Bissau's colonial past, such as statues, were demolished. Ulysses S. Grant managed to survive.

But towards the end of August, the metal statue of the former American president mysteriously disappeared. After journalistic and police investigations, the statue — now headless — was traced to a scrap yard. Scrap metal is a valued commodity in Guinea-Bissau. The metal merchant and the governor of Bolama Island were taken in for questioning.

The head of the judicial police, Lucinda Barbosa Ahukharie, whose family comes from Bolama, said the metal statue had been chopped up into about a dozen large pieces. But his head was still missing. Ahukharie was rather sad about the whole sorry episode. She said the legacy of the one-time American president was tied up with Guinea-Bissau's and her own history and heritage.

"Ulysses Grant is part of our legacy," the police chief says. "He was from the colonial era and part of a heritage that we should preserve. He's part of Guinea-Bissau's history. He belongs to my family history, too. It was a pity someone had to chop him up."

Ahukharie says police have some leads and hope to find Grant's head, so that they can put their old American friend back together again.

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