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.
servants—at Thirty-Sixth and Chestnut Streets, in what was then the “country,” where they raised corn and potatoes and even a cow and some chickens. On Sundays the family ate cold roast beef, “so as to give the cook as little work as possible on the Sabbath.” William Williams Keen was one of the country’s most famous doctors when he was asked to join the surgical team that would secretly operate on the president. Keen’s career spanned from the Civil War to World War I. NATIONAL LIBRARY OF
there was a correlation between the squalid conditions in field hospitals and the staggering mortality rate of wounded soldiers, but it wasn’t until Joseph Lister promulgated the germ theory of disease that Keen fully grasped the connection. Surgery pre-Lister was a gamble that most patients were bound to lose. Even if you survived the operation itself—no mean feat, especially in the days before anesthetics—there was a better than 50 percent chance you would die of a postoperative infection.
people will knowingly elect to the Presidency a coarse debauchee who would bring his harlots with him to Washington and hire lodgings for them convenient to the White House.” Pulitzer, on the other hand, sensed Cleveland’s popular appeal, especially among the working class, and he promoted his candidacy unrelentingly. The World listed four reasons for endorsing Cleveland: “1. He is an honest man; 2. He is an honest man; 3. He is an honest man; 4. He is an honest man.” (Once Cleveland was
to New York City, where he taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography at the New York Institute for the Blind. The institute was archetypically Dickensian, cold and dreary, with dreadful food and a loathsome headmaster named T. Colden Cooper. The 116 unfortunate inmates, ranging in age from eight to twenty-five, had been remanded there, often involuntarily, by county officials throughout the state. In the fall of 1854, Cleveland quit his job at the institute, presumably without regrets.
senator William Allen picked up the cudgel for the committee. Senator Allen: Was the man a member of Congress? Mr. Edwards: I suppose that is in the nature of cross-examination tending to get me to disclose. But I will say that he is not a member of Congress. Senator Allen: Was he a clerk in the employ of the Government? Mr. Edwards: I ought to draw the line at that question, and I decline to answer it. I do it with respect. Senator Allen: You understand, you have no right to secrete the