22nd & 24th PRESIDENT
NAME: Stephen Grover Cleveland. He was named after the Reverend Stephen Grover, whom Cleveland’s father had succeeded as minister in Caldwell, New Jersey. By age 19 he began signing his name S. Grover Cleveland and a couple years later dropped the initial.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: A massive, hulking figure, at 250 pounds the heaviest president up to that time, Cleveland stood 5 feet 11 inches tall and had a great bull neck, strong jaw, double chin, and ham-like fists. His hair, quite thin by middle age, was brown, his eyes blue, and his complexion fair. He wore a great bushy mustache. He spoke crisply in a strong resonant voice. His health generally was sound. In 1893, at the beginning of his second term as president, a malignant tumor was discovered in his mouth. In a secret hour-long operation performed aboard a yacht owned by Commodore E.C. Benedict as it cruised the East River off Manhattan, a team of doctors led by Dr. Joseph Bryant removed the president’s left upper jaw and part of his palate and fitted him with a vulcanized rubber prosthesis that retained the natural contour of his jawline. In this operation and in a second one performed to remove suspicious tissue nearby, all surgery was done from within the mouth to avoid an external scar. The cancer never recurred. Although speculation that Cleveland was seriously ill arose in the press, the White House categorically denied it. The operation remained a secret until 1917, when Dr. W.W. Keen, one of the physicians present, described it in detail for the Saturday Evening Post.
PERSONALITY: In his Pulitzer-prize winning biography, Allan Nevins observed that Cleveland had a dual personality. “To the end of his life,” wrote Nevins, “his intimates were struck by the gulf which separated the exuberant, jovial Cleveland of occasional hours of carefree banter, and the stern, unbending Cleveland of work and responsibility, whose life seemed hung round by a pall of duty.” He had a quick temper and spoke bluntly.
PRIMARY SOURCE: DeGregorio, William A. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. 7th ed. Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2009.