Grover Cleveland was born in New Jersey in 1837. He was the son of a poor Presbyterian Minister. After an early career as a lawyer, he was elected our 22nd and 24th President. Cleveland was the only President to leave the White House and return for a second term four years later. He was also the first President to be married in the White House. And he was the only president to ever undergo life-saving surgery on Commodore E.C. Benedict's yacht - the Oneida!
Legend has it that E.C. Benedict met President Cleveland in 1888 at Buzzards' Bay, Cape Cod. Benedict went to pick up his daughter at a social event at a yacht club. His daughter had met Mrs. Cleveland, and offered to take her on a boatride. Upon meeting the President, Benedict discovered they had a lot in common. They had similar backgrounds, and both loved to fish. This was the start of a great friendship. They spent a lot of time together, sailing to different locations on Benedict's yacht. Cleveland moved to New York City after his defeat in 1889, and moved into a house next to a house rented by Benedict. A secret passageway was built from one house to the other so they could share time and talk.
In June 1893, President Cleveland was diagnosed with a malignant cancer of the upper pallette. Since the U.S. economy was in a bit of a downspin, President Cleveland wanted to keep news of his surgery quiet. It was decided that the operation would be performed on the Oneida so as not to draw attention. No one would suspect the two going out as usual. The main bar was converted to an emergency operating room. A barber's chair lashed to the mast became a makeshift operating table. Several dentists and doctors were secreted aboard.
The boat sailed up the East River of New York so as not to draw attention. President Cleveland was given "laughing gas" as an alternative to ether. (Doctors were afraid President Cleveland would not wake up due to his physical condition.) On July 2, 1893, two doctors had to remove an entire section from the roof of the mouth. The hole was cleansed, packed with ice and stuffed with gauze. The next day, the President was up and about. Cleveland grabbed a peach and started chewing on it, much to the chagrin of his doctors. Despite the press hounding the doctors, they were able to convince reporters that Cleveland had simply had several teeth extracted.
One of his doctors was not happy with the President's healing. On July 17, the President once again boarded the Oneida. Commodore Benedict sailed with his famous guest to Newport, RI. The Oneida was spotted behind Goat Island. Here his doctor performed additional surgery. No one ever knew about the second surgery! The public just thought Cleveland was enjoying an extended holiday.
In 1917, the second operation was revealed by Dr. William Keen in The Saturday Evening Post. On September 5, a report was released and reported in The World, which contained many intentional errors to kill the story. The Commodore even stated that there was much ado about nothing since it was just a case of tooth extraction. The story quickly died a quiet death.
Photo Courtesy of the Naval Historical Center