ON JULY 1, 1893, GROVER CLEVELAND, the president of the United States, disappeared. He sailed into Long Island Sound on a friend’s yacht and was not heard from again for four days. What happened on that yacht was so incredible that, when the truth was finally revealed, most Americans simply would not believe it — and an innocent man’s reputation would be ruined. The story begins about two months earlier, in early May. The nation was in the midst of a crippling recession that would come to be known as the Panic of 1893. A speculative bubble had burst: railroads. The railroads were hopelessly overbuilt, and by the end of the year, some 119 of them would go bankrupt, bring- ing countless other businesses down with them. Unemployment skyrocketed. Stocks crashed. And all the while the nation was mired in a bitterly divisive debate over currency, namely whether the dollar should be backed by gold or silver.
On May 5, in the midst of this economic and political
turmoil, Grover Cleveland noticed for the first time an unusual
bump on the roof of his mouth. Given all he had on his plate at
the time, it wasn’t until the middle of the following month that
he finally had the bump checked out. His personal physician,
Joseph Bryant, diagnosed the growth as a cancerous tumor. “It
is a bad looking tenant,” Bryant told Cleveland. “Were it in my
mouth I would have it removed at once.”
But Cleveland feared the markets would collapse and public
confidence in the economy would be shattered if it came to be
known he had cancer, a disease so feared at the time that the
word itself was avoided in polite company. He’d consent to
the removal of the tumor only if the operation was kept secret,
even from his vice president, Adlai Stevenson (grandfather of the
future presidential candidate). Only the president’s doctors, his
family, and his closest friends would be privy to the truth.
Cleveland decided that the best place for the secret opera-
Photo: Historic New England
The iron-hulled yacht Oneida, site
of a presidential cover-up. Inset:
President Grover Cleveland.
OCTOBER | NOVEMBER 2011
BoatU.S. Magazine | 47