Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth

by Matthew Algeo

Pub Date: May 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56976-350-6
Publisher: Chicago Review

A micro-history of a White House coverup, a journalist's reputation defiled and the eventual emergence of the truth.

NPR reporter Algeo (Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip, 2009, etc.) examines a slice of American history from 1893, when President Grover Cleveland disappeared from public view for about a week around the Independence Day holiday. With the nation suffering an economic depression, Cleveland and his advisors did not want to heighten the panic with the truth: The president had been diagnosed with cancer of the mouth. The president arranged for the tumor to be surgically removed by a team of physicians aboard the yacht of a friend. Cleveland's wife Frances and his press aide lied to journalists and anybody else who asked about what was occurring on the yacht. Journalists accepted the lies, and the general public believed Cleveland had undergone nothing more than uncomfortable dental work. The truth did not begin to emerge until late August, after accomplished journalist E.J. Edwards broke the story in a Philadelphia newspaper. Despite Edwards' longtime reputation as a fair and accurate reporter, other journalists, government officials and general readers believed he had concocted the account. Edwards would not receive total vindication until 1917, when one of the surgeons who assisted in the operation on the yacht published an account in the Saturday Evening Post. Algeo is a determined researcher and fine stylist, and the story of presidential illness serves as an effective connecting thread through a somewhat broader account of the United States during the hard economic times of the 1890s.

A memorable lesson in how journalists can dig out the truths beneath official lies.