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Grover Cleveland underwent a secret surgery for cancer during his second term as president. The United States was in the grip of a financial panic in 1893 when Cleveland noticed a sore on the roof of his mouth. Doctors diagnosed a cancer and urged the president to have it removed, but Cleveland insisted on secrecy — Ulysses Grant’s death by an apparently similar cancer only eight years earlier had unsettled the nation, and Cleveland was loath to publicize his health concerns in the midst of an economic depression.

So on June 30 Cleveland boarded a friend’s yacht under the pretense of a four-day fishing trip to the president’s summer home in Cape Cod. The ship’s saloon had been outfitted as an operating room, and six doctors quietly joined the president before the yacht set sail. Cleveland was anesthetized and surgeon Joseph Bryant removed five teeth and a large portion of his palate and upper jawbone. The team fitted him with a rubber prosthesis to conceal his disfiguration and told the press that only two bad teeth had been removed.

The secret was nearly lost when E.J. Edwards, a reporter for the Philadelphia Press, published an article about the surgery after confirming it with one of the doctors. But Cleveland denied it flatly and launched a smear campaign against him. The president returned to health, served out the remainder of his second term, and died finally in 1908. The disgraced reporter was vindicated only 24 years later, when one of the surviving doctors finally published an article acknowledging the truth.

(Thanks, Colin.)