ity as during that operation,” Dr. Keen later wrote.
The procedure lasted 90 minutes. To assure there
would be no external scars, the surgery had been
performed entirely within the patient’s mouth.
Even Cleveland’s trademark bushy mustache was
left untouched, the better to conceal the operation.
Four days later, on July 5, Cleveland was dropped off at Gray Gables, his ummer home on Buzzards Bay. By the middle of July, while still at Gray Gables, he wasfitted withavulcanized-rubber prosthesis that plugged the hole in his
mouth and restored his normal speaking voice. All
the while, the public was told that the president
had suffered nothing more serious than a toothache. By the end of that month, he was fishing on
Buzzards Bay as if nothing had happened.
Photos: (top right) U.S. Naval Historical Center, National Library of Medicine, (top right) Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library
On August 29, however, the Philadelphia Press
published an account of the operation. The author
was Elisha Jay Edwards, the paper’s 46-year-old
New York correspondent, who had been tipped off
to the operation by a doctor friend who’d heard
about it through the grapevine. Edwards then
confirmed the story with Ferdinand Hasbrouck, a
dentist who’d administered the president’s anesthesia on the Oneida. Edwards’ report was remarkably accurate, and it still stands as one of the great
scoops in the annals of American journalism. But
nobody believed it. Cleveland, who’d carefully
cultivated a reputation for honesty, flatly denied
the report — and the public believed the president. E. J. Edwards was utterly discredited. Rival
papers labeled him a “disgrace to journalism” and
a “calamity liar.” Though Edwards would continue
working well into the 20th century — in 1909, he
became a columnist for the fledgling Wall Street
Journal — his career was tainted, seemingly forever,
by allegations that he’d faked the story about the
secret operation on Grover Cleveland.
Cleveland would serve out the rest of his
second term. He lived the rest of his life with
no known recurrence of cancer. His successful
treatment was an extraordinary achievement in
American medicine, though only a handful of
people knew about it. Even after Cleveland died in
1908, the secret held. In 1917, W. W. Keen finally
broke the embargo by publishing a full account of
the operation in the Saturday Evening Post. Keen
had always regretted how E. J. Edwards had been
so unjustly maligned. By publishing his account,
Keen said he hoped to “vindicate Mr. Edwards’
character as a truthful correspondent.” By then,
24 years had passed since the operation, and
only three witnesses to the events on the Oneida
were still alive: Keen, Elias Benedict, and John
Erdmann, who’d been Joseph Bryant’s young
OCTOBER | NOVEMBER 2011
assistant and was now himself an acclaimed surgeon. Also still among the living was E. J. Edwards,
and after Keen’s account was published, the old
newspaperman was inundated with congratulatory
letters and telegrams.
The ultimate fate of the Oneida is unknown.
Around 1914, Elias Benedict sold the yacht, which
was rechristened the Adelante and converted into
a towboat. During World War I, the Adelante was
commandeered by the U.S. Navy and put into
service setting up a network of maritime radio
stations along the Maine coast. After the war, it
went back into service as a towboat, operating
out of New York under the names John Gulley and
Salvager. By 1941, the boat, once one of the grand-est yachts in the world and the site of a unique
episode in American history, had been abandoned.
Presumably it was sold for scrap.
Journalist E. J.
Edwards (above right)
broke the story, but
no one believed him.
In 1914, the Oneida
(above left) was
Adelante, and refit-ted as a towboat.
Matthew Algeo first became interested in the secret operation
on Grover Cleveland about 10 years ago, when he saw the
president’s still-preserved tumor on display at a museum in
Philadelphia. His new book about the operation is called The
President is a Sick Man. His previous book, Harry Truman’s
Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American
Road Trip, was named one of the best books of 2009 by The
Washington Post. His wife is an American diplomat, and the
couple currently lives in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. For more on
Algeo, this story, his book, and more pictures, visit www.thepresi-dentisasickman.com
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