- Historic Sites
When The President Disappeared
While panic gripped the nation in 1893, Grover Cleveland suffered his own secret ordeal on a yacht in Long Island Sound.
October 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 6
When Cleveland’s left antrum was fully exposed, it was seen to be filled with “a soft, gray, gelatinous mass”—the lethal sarcoma. Scooping and scraping this away, Dr. Bryant pared the excavation’s limits to remove as many wild fringe cells as possible.
Bleeding was kept to a fortunate minimum—only about six ounces (one tumblerful). What with hot water, ice packs, pressure, and the cauterizing effect of the heated blade, they had to tie off only one blood vessel. Before 2 P.M. all was finished, the cavity stuffed with gauze, the patient back in bed. When he started coming to, about three o’clock, they gave him one-sixth of a grain of morphine. Pulse, blood pressure, and temperature all behaved well, the latter at no time rising above 100.8 degrees.
While the President slept, all hands took a stiff drink and a late lunch. In their vigils that night they knew what no one else in America or the world knew: that the President of the United States had, with their aid, confronted a mortal enemy and, in all likelihood, defeated it for himself and his nation in silence.
Late the next afternoon, July 2, Cleveland felt well enough to leave his bed and walk around a bit. His spirit matched his iron constitution, and through the packings in his mouth he did not complain but thanked those who came in turn to read to him.
He was not told about a difficulty that had arisen with Dr. Hasbrouck. As soon as his job was done the first day, this gentleman asked to be set ashore. The others firmly declined. To go in now might jeopardize their tremendous secret, and besides there might be complications such as hemorrhaging, with more gas needed. But by the afternoon of July 2 Hasbrouck was frantic as well as disgruntled. He was, he said, 48 hours late for another critical operation. Now the rest relented, and the tender put Dr. Hasbrouck ashore at New London.
On July 3 Cleveland was up and around all day. He belatedly signed the ship’s register with a hand that was quick and firm.
On July 4 the Oneida ran in to Sag Harbor, where Dr. Keen was put ashore.
Late in the afternoon of the fifth, the Oneida moored in Buzzard’s Bay and a squat, limping figure wrapped in a cloak made his way up the private dock at Gray Gables. The world was told that he had been treated for two ulcerated teeth and a recurrence of his pedal rheumatism. While he went to bed, his friends mounted guard, Joe Bryant not far from bedside, Dan Lamont to cope with a hornets’ nest.
At nearby Buzzard’s Bay village, the gentlemen of the nation’s press had been kicking their heels for five full days and nights with no word of any kind as to their President’s whereabouts. When the Oneida was sighted offshore, fretfulness became fury which Lamont confronted in an old gray barn on the Cleveland estate. With a smoothness to match anything later displayed by a Steve Early or a Jim Hagerty, Dan Lamont gave them the rheumatism routine and expressed hurt dismay at all questions probing for a “malignancy,” a mortal illness. He sent the reporters away silenced if not mollified, but they were back again the next day with a fresh line of attack.
Vice President Stevenson, they said, had heard the President’s condition was so serious that he was entraining at once from New York to come up and investigate. Dan Lamont squelched this move by announcing that Mr. Stevenson was neither invited to nor expected at Gray Gables.
In view of Stevenson’s cahooting with the Silverites and his influence in the Senate, a hard-money New York columnist cracked: “The Buzzards will please keep aloof from Buzzard’s Bay!”
So no “buzzard” came, but on July 7 the President’s devoted friend and favorite actor, Joe Jefferson, came, cheering him vastly. And Dan Lamont and Joe Bryant stayed on, the latter taking Cleveland out, as was their custom, to fish for stripers and drumfish from a rowboat, where the salt air was as good therapy as any. An orthodontist, Dr. Kasson G. Gibson was brought up from New York to make impressions, and he quickly fashioned a hard-rubber plug for the gaping jaw hole.
Despite his continuing discomfort, by July 12 Cleveland was doggedly at work on his message to Congress for August 7. It went slowly. He had got little done by the seventeenth, when Joe Bryant ordained another trip to sea in the Oneida. This time their object was, again in utmost secrecy, to remove the rubber plug and see how the wound was healing. As they had feared, patches of evil tissue were regrowing; so they managed another gas job by themselves as Dr. Bryant scraped the hole with thorough diligence.
SIDEBAR: DR. KEEN MAKES ANOTHER APPEARANCE