Quirky Attraction: James Polk’s Tomb in Nashville

president polk grave

The Tomb of President James K. Polk
Location: Nashville, Tennessee (State Capitol, 6th Ave. N & Charlotte Ave.)
When to visit: Anytime during daylight hours
Cost: Free
Time needed: 5-10 minutes
Website: www.findagrave.com/memorial/823/james-k-polk (unofficial)

Nashville is a paradise for dead president seekers. In addition to President Andrew Jackson’s grave at the Hermitage, the tomb of one James K. Polk lies next to the Tennessee Capitol building downtown. His wife Sarah is in the grave with him.

Our 11th president died in 1849 and was moved to this location in 1893. The tomb is very modest, with the grave under a small roof surrounded by a short fence.

There’s not even a statue of Polk here. That’s especially odd when you consider that literally steps away are statues of both Andrew Jackson (left) and Andrew Johnson (right), two other presidents from Tennessee.

That’s right – President Polk’s grave has statues of two other men but not himself.

Andrew Jackson Johnson statues Nashville

Thanks to a reader for noting that the James K. Polk Home & Museum in Columbia, Tennessee offers a much greater chance to get to know President Polk.

They have daily guided tours and lots of exhibits about the former president. The museum is the place to go if you’re really into presidential history!

James K. Polk Grave Site: Facts About the President

James K. Polk was born in 1795 in Pineville, North Carolina. He was the oldest of ten children in a family of farmers – a background he would look back on fondly throughout his life.

After attending the University of North Carolina, he enrolled in law school and graduated at the top of his class in 1818.

He started a law practice in 1820, and his political career began in 1823 when he was first elected to the Tennessee State Legislature. Over the next two decades, he served in a number of different roles, from Speaker of the U.S. House to Governor of Tennessee.

In 1844, Polk ran for the presidency as a member of the Democratic Party and won. His single term saw an unprecedented amount of growth for the nation.

His commitment to expansionism and territorial growth helped to shape the modern United States. Texas, Wisconsin, and Iowa all joined the Union during his term.

james polk tomb
The grave of President James K. Polk up close.

Polk had committed to serving only one term as president, and he lived up to that promise. He declined to seek re-election in 1848 and watched as Zachary Taylor was elected to succeed him.

Polk died at age 53 just three months after leaving office, due to apparent cholera, which he evidently contracted on a tour of the Deep South. (Cholera is such a pain. I used to hate when I got it while playing Oregon Trail.)

I leave you with a few quirky facts about Mr. James K. Polk:

-He was the only president who had been Speaker of the House. (Sorry, Newt Gingrich. It was never going to happen for you.)

-He became president at age 49, making him the youngest commander in chief to that point.

james k polk grave nashville

-He was the first president to voluntarily step down after one term, fulfilling a campaign promise he had made.

-Historians consider him one of the most underappreciated presidents, since he accomplished most everything on his agenda.

Would you be interested in visiting the James Polk grave site?