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For Grover; the President, Not the Puppet: “Grover Cleveland’s Birthplace”

In spite of the hell the last presidential election ( brought upon our country, I am still a fan, an admirer really of the office of the president. I find the men (and hopefully women someday) who uphold this office to be rather impressive. Whether or not we are of the same political party, I can still have appreciation for those who built themselves up in order to achieve the highest position in the land. The drive, strength, and smarts it takes are all qualities I hope to also possess and use for the greater good.

My current annual to do list ( included the birthplace of a man and former president I needed to get better acquainted with; Grover Cleveland.

Prior to this visit I have to admit I knew precious little about this man who presided over our country for two non-consecutive terms, a stat he exclusively holds. This visit was therefore very different from my visits to the former homes of FDR ( and Teddy Roosevelt ( I even knew a plethora of information about Founding Father Benjamin Franklin when I walked through the path of what remained of his homestead ( But what I lacked in knowledge I made up for in curiosity.  

Stephen “Grover” Cleveland was born in a modest home in Caldwell, New Jersey on March 18, 1837. He was our nation’s twenty-second and twenty-fourth president, respectively. His first term began in 1885 and his second in 1893, all of which I learned on this tour. President Cleveland was also the only president to get married in the White House. 

President Cleveland’s childhood home might seem small to the average visitor, but I found it much larger than other period structures I have visited. This was especially true given that the home was built over three hundred years ago.

Even though the Cleveland family called this place home, they didn’t actual own the house. It belonged to the nearby Presbyterian church where young Grover’s father was a minister. The house came as part of his salary and where the Cleveland’s lived from 1834 until 1841. 

Another fascinating fact was that Grover would go on to pass the bar exam in New York and practice as a lawyer without ever having gone to law school. He had no formal education after the age of thirteen, when his father died, and Grover went to work to help support the family.

Grover was the fifth of nine children born to his parents Richard and Ann. This home was a tight fit for such a large group considering there was no central heat or cooling system, nor indoor plumbing, in those days. All of the rooms were available for the family’s use except one in the front which the church still used as an office. 

The kitchen seemed big except when you realize that in the winter it was the only place to keep warm and in the summer a constant source of heat when meals were being prepared. 

The children all shared a room in the back and the parents bedroom still has the original bed and cradle the family used. The so-called living room contained the family’s bible and some of the handmade children’s toys.

The room formerly used by the church has many interesting mementos from Grover’s adult life such as items from his wedding, political campaigns, as well as clothing. 

One all of the things I learned during my brief but informative tour, was the reminder that not all First Ladies were not actually married to the Presidents of their times. Some Presidents were widows or bachelors so their daughters or even sisters served in the role. Such was the case for Grover’s first two years in office. But after an introduction from a friend’s daughter he met and married Frances Folsom (no relation to the prison where Johnny Cash sang I presume). 

Mrs. Cleveland was the youngest First Lady to date and the couple went on to have five children. His eldest daughter, Ruth, was lucky enough to have a candy bar named after her. I trust you have heard of it as it was almost Ross and Rachel’s daughter’s name. The candy bar vetoed that option as you will no doubt recall.

I have purposefully chosen to avoid going into President Cleveland’s politics both inside and out of office because what I learned here had much more to do with the man. Quite frankly that is the more interesting side.

Need further proof Grover Cleveland was extraordinary? Okay here it is: he was the only Democrat to become president between 1861 and 1912 during a Republican strong hold of the government. 

As Grover Cleveland began his political journey there were folks wise enough to preserve this site. New Jersey was the last to purchase the home in 1934 even though it had been opened to the public since 1913. It is now of course a National Historic Landmark (

After leaving the White House, Grover and Frances returned to New Jersey where they purchased a home in Princeton. That home, Westland Mansion, is now in private hands but I had hoped to pass by just for a photo op. However, Princeton was over an hour further into New Jersey and that seemed too long to go without being able to actually go inside. 

President Cleveland died of a heart attack in 1908 and is now buried in Princeton, New Jersey as well. 

Though his death is sad the cause is not unheard of. What makes his health much more interesting is apart of the small bit of knowledge I actually had before I came here thanks to “Mysteries at the Museum” on the Travel Channel. In 1893, the same year he won the election, he had an ultra secretive surgery on a friend’s boat.

President Cleveland had discovered a tumor on the roof of his mouth and his doctors decided it was cancerous, thus needing to be removed. Afraid of what effects on the economy and society would be if the public knew the seriousness of the situation, President Cleveland decided against telling anyone except those intimately involved. Not even Vice-President Stevenson knew about it at the time. 

The surgery seems barbaric even for the times. A chair was affixed to a table and the President was put under via nitrous oxide and ether. A lightbulb was put directly over the President as the only means of light. 

While the surgery only took ninety minutes, the doctors has removed a large part of  the President’s upper jaw including five teeth. He recovered during a vacation on Cape Cod and the public was told he had a severe toothache. Eventually he received a prosthesis that replaced what was missing and corrected his speech.

Obviously, the fact that the President even survived was a miracle, let alone that he was cured. The truth about his illness was only confirmed ten years after he died by one of his physicians. 

When he died fourteen years later, President Cleveland’s last words were: “I have tried so hard to do right.”

Oh Grover, if only our current President thought this way while he is alive AND in office. 

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