The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth
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On July 1, 1893, President Grover Cleveland vanished. He boarded a friend’s yacht, sailed into the calm blue waters of Long Island Sound, and--poof!--disappeared. He would not be heard from again for five days. What happened during those five days, and in the days and weeks that followed, was so incredible that, even when the truth was finally revealed, many Americans simply would not believe it.
The President Is a Sick Man details an extraordinary but almost unknown chapter in American history: Grover Cleveland’s secret cancer surgery and the brazen political cover-up by a politician whose most memorable quote was Tell the truth.” When an enterprising reporter named E. J. Edwards exposed the secret operation, Cleveland denied it. The public believed the Honest President,” and Edwards was dismissed as a disgrace to journalism.” The facts concerning the disappearance of Grover Cleveland that summer were so well concealed that even more than a century later a full and fair account has never been published. Until now.
Democratic Party, Cleveland risked alienating pro-silver Democrats in the South and West. It was widely believed he had blown his chance to win the nomination in 1892, though he didn’t seem to mind. “At any rate,” he said, “no one can doubt where I stand.” And he decided to seek the nomination anyway. The Cleveland family in 1893: Grover, Ruth, and Frances. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS At the Democratic convention in Chicago in June 1892, Cleveland, as expected, faced fierce opposition from pro-silver
bunting had been erected at the bottom of the steps on the east side of the Capitol. About ten thousand people stood shivering on the frozen ground to watch the ceremony. Frances Cleveland, Grover’s wildly popular wife, was one of the first to emerge from the Capitol. As soon as she appeared, a huge cheer went up—the loudest of the day, according to some observers. Frances took special care walking down the slippery marble steps to her seat on the platform, for, unbeknownst to anyone outside her
in New York, there was even a rumor circulating that the president had had a tumor removed from his mouth. Inevitably this rumor made its way into the pages of the more sensational papers. That afternoon, Frances telephoned the reporters waiting at Walker’s hotel and asked them to refrain from publishing any more “disquieting stories” about the president. She explained that there was no mystery about his whereabouts: he was fishing, and he “intended to take his time and stay as long on the way
such a lucrative franchise that the author had no interest in politicizing it. In any event, the parallels are striking. As historian Gretchen Ritter writes, “Baum lived in the midst of a highly charged political environment and ... he borrowed from the cultural materials at hand as he wrote.” If Grover Cleveland was the inspiration for the Cowardly Lion, L. Frank Baum never said as much. Throughout his medical ordeal, however, the president had shown himself to be anything but a coward. Even
nineteenth–century conditions and practices, 68, 88, 89 presidents and, 89 surgery, Cleveland’s. See also surgery cover–up effects of, 185–86, 190 Keen’s published account, 209–16 moustache and, 75 patient risk factors, 72 physician team recruitment, 63–64, 77, 78 postoperative condition, 93–96 postoperative recovery, 113–18, 123–24, 151–53, 184–85 preoperative examinations, 86–87, 89 preparation and planning, 53–55, 62, 64, 77–79 surgical tools used, 92 travel day, 81–86 tumor