22 (and 24). Grover Cleveland (1)

Birthplace (February 8, 2007)

Remember that time the Democratic candidate got more popular votes than the Republican candidate, but didn't win the presidency? His name was ...

GROVER CLEVELAND! The year was 1892, and he lost to Benjamin Harrison. Yes, it happened to Al Gore too, but there's an important difference: when life kicked Grover Cleveland in the biscuits, he knuckled up, made lemons out of lemonade, waded through hell and high water, made a left turn and accidentally ended up back in hell, then got his bearings, went back through the high water and made it back to the White House four years later.

Al Gore mostly ate donuts and then started trying to ruin the global economy.

Stephen Grover Cleveland was born in Caldwell, New Jersey, in 1837, the fifth of nine children of a Presbyterian minister whose love of god was second only to his love of seeding his wife. His family moved to New York state when he was four; he eventually ended up stopping in Buffalo when a scheduled trip to Ohio was cut short by a charming 133 month lake-effect snow storm. While waiting for the thaw, he became a lawyer (though he never went to law school; he clerked for three years before passing the bar).

Here's where it gets BLADOW: He got elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881 on a reform platform, because who wouldn't want to clean up Buffalo? He was so good at keeping the streets clean that the next year he won the governor's race in New York. He was so impressive at being governor that he was nominated for president in 1884. He made a grand total of three campaign appearances outside of Albany (one to Buffalo and two trips to the store for milk). And he WON. From mayor of Buffalo to president of the United States in three years. Yee.

He lost his re-election bid in 1888, over the sexy, sexy issue of tariffs. But in 1892 he made his triumphant return to Washington ... for four more years, at which point his party got tired of him and went with proven winner William Jennings Bryan and his sexy, sexy issue, the coinage of silver. No, really.

The house in Caldwell is a tiny affair -- it was a Manse owned by his father's church. It has a very simple four-room layout downstairs; the G came from humble origins. The bed where Cleveland was born (and probably conceived, wink wink) is still there, as is his crib, and a few choice artifacts -- campaign materials, personal photos, a piece of his wedding cake. (It's fruitcake, which will not decompose until 2832.) It's a nice, quick visit, and the on-site guide has all kinds of great stories. Don't be shy. Tell her Chris sent you.

  • The only man to serve non-consecutive terms, Cleveland is counted as the 22nd and 24th president. Which, let's be honest, is kind of dumb. The only president born in New Jersey, and the only president buried there (Princeton), though for most of his life he was pretty good about avoiding that hellhole.
  • The name "Grover" came from the first minister of his father's Caldwell church (the Clevelands were the second family to live in the Manse). His mom called him "Little Grove." His nieces and nephews called him "Uncle Jumbo." I call him "Sugarwalls."
  • Links with Woodrow Wilson: both men were sons of Presbyterian ministers; both were born in a Manse; both went by their middle names; both became governors of states they were not born in; both ran as Democratic "reform" candidates fighting political machines; both were nominated for president after one year as governor; both were married during their presidencies. Cleveland retired to Princeton after leaving the White House and sat on the board for the University ... when Wilson was named the school's president. They hated each other.
  • Kicked off the current string of 20 straight presidents without a beard. As a young professional he grew a beard, had his picture taken, and then sent the picture to friends to gather their opinions on the look. They shot it down. So basically, Grover Cleveland invented MySpace.
  • In 1884 he survived one of the dirtiest presidential campaigns on record. The unmarried Cleveland was accused of having a bastard child with a widower named Maria Halpin, who worked in a clothing store in Buffalo. Though Cleveland was paying child support, paternity wasn't entirely clear because Halpin was also regularly checking the inseams of his law partner and mentor Oscar Folsom. So if you're ever time-traveling back to 1880s Buffalo, you know where the party is.
  • When Oscar Folsom died, Cleveland became the executor of the Folsom estate, which gave him dibs on Folsom's daughter Frances, whom Cleveland married in 1886. He was 49; she was 21. This is why Cleveland is often referred to as "the president I'd most like to high-five." She was the youngest First Lady in history, and she always will be, because these days you can't deal with the mental problems of a 21-year-old girl and run the free world at the same time.
  • Let's make this perfectly clear: he married the daughter (less than half his age) of his dead law partner. The same law partner that he shared a mistress with. And he might have had a bastard kid with the mistress. And he was elected TWICE. Politics used to be so much more interesting.
  • Before Cleveland married, his sister took care of hosting duties in the White House. She was a closet lesbian. And that's why we almost went to war with France in 1885 over food poisoning from beef jerky.
  • Folsom and Cleveland were married in the Blue Room of the White House, behind the Green Door. He is the only president to be married in that building, the only president to have a child born in that building, and on a related note, the only president not to get back his cleaning deposit. John Philip Sousa and the U.S. Marine Band played at his wedding, to the frustration of Frances, who wanted a DJ.
  • Often noted as the biggest beer-drinker of all the presidents, which led to the 1888 campaign slogan, "You think you're better than me?" Loved fishing and hunting.
  • Issued more vetoes than all previous presidents combined, which is why Congressmen affectionately referred to him as "Old ****face."
  • The press created a mock 1892 campaign pitting Cleveland's daughter "Baby Ruth" against Harrison's grandson "Baby McKee." Ruth won in a landslide when, one month before Election Day, McKee was caught snorting opium off his nanny's stomach. Baby Ruth candy bars are, by most accounts, named after Cleveland's daughter; this was also an honor shared by his son Zagnut.
  • Valued his privacy, and was the first of three presidents to beat a paparazzi into a coma with the handle of a garden rake. (FDR, Carter)
  • Spent the four years between his terms living in Manhattan and working as a bartender at a gay club in the East Village.
  • Attempted to counter Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech with the "Nickelplated Two-By-Four," to no avail.
  • #3 on F.H.M.'s "Hottest Grovers of All Time," behind Grover Norquist and Grover the Muppet.

Where the Magic Happened

The Grove in Grover (4/22/08)

You can't always judge a man by his final resting place, but in the case of Grover Cleveland ...

It's usually not too tough to find a presidential grave -- there are signs, or a flag pole, or a tasteful neon sign, or a corridor lined with chanting, torch-bearing druids. Princeton Cemetery didn't have any of these things, and after looking for Grover for about ten minutes, we set off toward an impressive looking obelisk across the way. En route, I just happened to take a glance to the left, and there he was:

The only man to be two presidents has a worn, beaten marker that doesn't even mention he was president. All it says: Born in Caldwell, died in Princeton. Not even a mention of his real first name (Stephen).

He's flanked by his wife, Frances, and a daughter (the famous Baby Ruth, as you can see below if you squint), each with headstones even more faded than his. Someone, for some reason, had hung some pukka shell necklaces on the side of his marker.

From what I've read, the whole setup matches the man -- he valued his privacy, didn't stand on pomp, and really cared about his family; you have to figure he was proud of what he'd accomplished politically, but so much of it must have seemed beyond his own doing (it all happened so fast) that he might have taken it all with a grain of salt.

One of the kicks of seeing these graves is how different they manage to be. McKinley followed Cleveland in office and wasn't significantly more important from a historical perspective. But he has a tomb overlooking Canton that has to one of the more massive grave markers in North America. Grover's grave is as worn down as any random marker you'd find in your local churchyard.

Far out.

Gross Anatomy (12/26/09)

In 1893, President Grover Cleveland was dismayed to find a rough patch on the roof of his mouth. This was problematic, not only because it was cancerous, but because it threatened Cleveland's favorite pastime of eating like a hog. Rather than shatter the entire economy by making the news of his bumpy mouth public (as Grover Cleveland was the glue holding our fragile nation together), he said he was going fishing. Then he slipped onto a yacht in the East River and had surgeons secretly remove a small chunk of his head.

I share this delightful tale of Americana because I recently visited that small chunk at Philadelphia's Mutter Museum. It's a medical museum dating to the 1860s, still organized along the principles of mid-19th century medicine: hideous deformities in delightful wooden cases. You owe it to yourself to go.

Now, maybe you're saying, "Chris, I don't much care for Grover Cleveland. His use of the veto was both obstructive and philosophically undemocratic." Well then, why not go for the PIECE OF JAMES GARFIELD?!?!?! Yea, a dollop of skin from James Garfield's back, removed during his autopsy, now sits on a Mutter Museum shelf as plain as day. Maybe your travel plans will never take you to Garfield's tomb, but if you're in Philly you can still pay your respects to a pinkish-white divot of our 20th president, who died of ... uh, mid-19th century medicine.

What's that? You despise James Garfield, too? Well the Mutter has got you covered, you hateful bastard -- you can tip your cap to a chunk of the brain of the GUY WHO SHOT GARFIELD! It looks like lasagna noodles, and it's just a few shelves down from the thorax of John Wilkes Booth. But the Mutter is so much more than small pieces of presidents and assassins:

  • A wall of skulls. Sometimes, you'll be walking through a museum, and you'll think: "These displays are very nice, but I was really hoping for a floor-to-ceiling monument to death." Not a problem at the Mutter! Just find the wall of brain samples from the criminally insane, then turn around. You can't miss it.
  • Human leather. Nowadays, if you make any kind of personal posession out of another human being, then you get your own special on MSNBC. But there was a more romantic and civilized time in this country, when respected men could make leather out of people, then use it in the binding for an anatomy textbook. And guess where you could see such a book? Awwwwww yeah.
  • Siamese twins. The Mutter has not only a plaster cast of Chang and Eng -- the original Siamese twins -- but also the liver that they shared. This is relevant, in that one of the brothers was a surly drunk while the other was not. Also, did you know that they married sisters and had 22 kids between them? I bet you feel super bad about using Match.com now, huh?
  • Megacolon. Sometimes the nerves in your colon shut off, stopping the peristaltic motion needed to move waste matter through your digestive system. Those who doubt the resilience of the human body would assume these leads to quick death. Those who visit the Mutter Museum knows it leads to a colon as thick as telephone pole and about five feet long, on display in the Mutter Museum after a slow, painful death. This actually happens! There are some people who actually allow their colon (or ovarian cyst, or whatever) to get this big! "I can't drop those last 125 holiday pounds," they might say. "I wonder if it has anything to do with me not going to the bathroom for the last 8 months ... hmm ... Nah. Pass the cheese."
  • A lady whose body has turned to soap. Sadly, this is not in the bathroom next to a lady whose body has turned to paper towels, but it's still kind of neat. She's in the "Han Solo in carbonite" pose.

It is a tremendous collection, from the shrunken heads on down. It is a museum that preserves not only medical specimens, but also my hope that doctors will one day be able to clone Grover Cleveland without having to desecrate his grave, then run him for a third term on a bipartisan ticket with a clone of James Garfield. But I must take issue with one display.

I can handle fetuses in jars or diseased genitalia samples. But the jar of extracted kidney stones may be the most evil object on the entire planet. Concentrating that much suffering in one location might open a portal to a hell, allowing the armies of Satan to run roughshod o'er the mortal plane. This jar should be either destroyed or featured prominently in a comedy/horror screenplay.

That aside, I have to recommend this fine establishment. Though you cannot take pictures inside, it is the kind of institution that sells a megacolon postcard in the gift shop, right by the Gingerbread Siamese Twin cookie cutters. Truly, it was the best Boxing Day ever.

Bruce Dickinson of is Running Out of Ideas (March 20, 2007)

"Grover Cleveland," by Iron Maiden

The ship of democracy,
which has weathered all storms,
may sink through the mutiny of those on board.
(grover cleveland � 19th century a.d.)

Near New York City
From a world devoid of pity
In a land called Caldwell, New Jersey
Was born a son
To a minister presbyteri-an
And his name was Stephen

At the age of four
His clan did move up north
As a young man he dabbled in politics
By the Lake Erie
In 1881 A.D.
He utterly became the mayor of Buffalo

Grover Cleveland
His name gave strength to countrymen
Grover Cleveland
Born a simple New Jerseyan

Through great acclaim
Of the goodness of his name
He soon became the statewide governor
Across the barren wastes
He brought his armies to face
The opponents of civil service reform

In �84, he was almost undone
By tales of a bastard son
But no bastard could destroy the conqueror
Stephen inflicted pain
On James G. Blaine of Maine
And so became the 22nd president

Grover Cleveland
He liked to fish and drink much beer
Grover Cleveland
His name makes angels shake with fear

The vorpal veto pen
Flashed time and time again
And so was slain much questionable legislation
But Harrison, a fork-tongued foe
A Republican sustained by tariff woes
Took by force the White House from him, despite losing the popular vote

With vengeance in his heart
Cleveland offered retort
In 1892 he hoped to vanquish Harrison
The blood-drenched media campaign
Traded on his family name
Including his daughter Baby Ruth, which many people believe is the origin of the name of the popular candy bar

Grover Cleveland
His nephews called him �Uncle Jumbo�
Grover Cleveland
He thought women�s suffrage was dumbo

[14 minute guitar solo]

Maching on marching on

[23 minute guitar solo, Eddie appears on a cross of silver]

The hoary beast of economic depression attacked
The golden standard was splashed with grime
And so, though restored to the Potomac throne
Nothing much happened in his second term

But even so, he was president twice
Not to mention that at the age of 49
He married a 21-year-old
So you have to respect that, am I right fellas?

Grover Cleveland
He was never a big fan of the media
Grover Cleveland
He died of a heart attack in Princeton, New Jersey

One man's quest to be the humblest person alive
Copyright 2013, Chris White