Effort to move President and Mrs. Polk faces roadblocks

Ned Jilton • Apr 14, 2017 at 11:26 AM

Maybe President Polk and his wife have found peace after all.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how on March 27, the Tennessee Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 0141 to support the relocation of the James K. Polk tomb from the state Capitol to the President James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia, Tennessee.

Now it looks as if the president and his wife won’t be moved after all.

The Tennessee Historical Commission has weighed in opposing the move. On April, 4, the following was posted to the commission’s Facebook page.

“The proposal to move the graves of President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah Childress Polk from the grounds of the State Capitol in Nashville to the James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia has been in the news of late. The tombs have been located on the grounds of the Capitol for nearly 125 years, and there is no known equivalent example where a president and first lady’s graves have been moved after a century. The State Capitol and the Polk Home are two of the state’s 29 National Historic Landmarks, the highest level of historic designation for a property. Moving the graves to Columbia would create a false sense of history at the Polk Home, and would remove a monument from its historic location. Yesterday, (April, 3) THC Executive Director and Tennessee State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick McIntyre sent a letter expressing the State Historic Preservation Office’s opposition to the proposal. McIntyre wrote that ‘Given that this proposal is inappropriate as a historic preservation project, and that our agency will continue to oppose it, it is our recommendation to the Association that you suspend this initiative.’ ”

The folks at the Polk Home are currently working on a petition to convince the Tennessee Historical Commission to vote in their favor. But there is yet another roadblock to the move, the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Although the bill has not reached the floor of the House, some local representatives are expressing doubts about the proposed move.

“I don’t know where the bill is at the moment, but were it to come to a vote, I would be opposed,” said Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport. “Polk, as I understand it, wanted to be buried in his front yard, about two blocks from the Capitol. His house is, as you know, no longer there and he was buried where he is now. I think the current location best suits what the man wanted, and the location has never been an issue until now.”

Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, also has doubts about the proposed move.

“At this point, I see no compelling reason to move the president’s remains,” said Hill. “It is an honor for the Capitol grounds to have the unique distinction of the President and Mrs. Polk’s resting place and this shouldn’t change.”

Since the bill has cleared the Senate, if you wish to make your feelings known on the issue, you have to contact your state representative. Their contact information can be found by going to http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/ and clicking on “Find my Legislator” at the top of the page.

A court challenge also looms as a third roadblock to the proposed move. Some descendants of President Polk have voiced opposition to the exhumation, move and reburial in Columbia.

Currently the bill has been referred to the delayed bills committee. So, at least for now, President Polk and his wife can rest in peace.

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer at the Times-News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” series on Civil War history.