Grover Cleveland: Secret Jaw Operations - A News Leak


ON AUGUST 29, 1893, the Philadelphia Press published a three-column dispatch, or letter, from "Holland" -- Mr. E. J. Edwards -- its New York correspondent, startling the whole country by giving the first positive intimation of an alleged serious operation upon President Cleveland, performed by Dr. Joseph D. Bryant, of New York, on board Commodore E.C. Benedict's yacht, the Oneida. He gave the names of the medical men present and many details of the operation. This was said to have been done on July first, immediately after Mr. Cleveland had called the special session of Congress for August seventh.

Holland stated that the operation consisted in the removal of some teeth and of considerable bone, as far as the orbital plate of the upper jaw on one side. This dispatch was substantially correct, even in most of the details, as will be seen later.

The news was immediately spread broadcast and at once gave rise to a heated controversy. At the time of the publication of the dispatch Mr. Cleveland had been in Washington for the special session of Congress on August seventh, and four days later had gone to Gray Gables, his summer home on Buzzard's Bay, for rest and recuperation, as was publicly alleged. He returned to Washington on August thirtieth. On September fifth he opened the First Pan-American Medical Congress, in Washington, when his voice was "even clearer and more resonant" than on March fourth at his inauguration. Two weeks later he spoke at the Centenary of the Founding of the City of Washington. He met many persons officially and socially. No scar or other evidence of an operation existed, neither eyeball was displaced, his cheek was not fallen in, his voice did not betray him, and his general health was evidently as good as could be expected by one who for four months had endured a horde of pestiferous officeseekers and the terrible anxiety of the existing financial crisis.

Many newspapers denied that any operation had been performed; others said that, at the most, it consisted in the removal of two teeth and possibly a little rough bone. They cited not only the lack of physical evidence already mentioned, but the statements of Doctor Bryant, of Cabinet officers, of the President's private secretary, and a signed statement by Mr. L. Clarke Davis, editor of the Public Ledger and a close friend of the President, who wrote that Holland's statement "had a real basis of a toothache." Some papers denounced Holland's letter as "infamous," and claimed that the whole story was a "cancer fake," and "a deliberate falsification."

Doctor Bryant, who was the only spokesman for all the medical men who had participated in the operation, was naturally unwilling to discuss his patient's case for professional reasons, and the weighty additional reason of the serious influence of any full statement he might make upon the tense and disastrous financial crisis. He rightly minimized the operation as far as possible.

But many papers pointed to the recent denials of the doctors in the case of General Grant, and of other public men, which proved to be inexact. They declared the alleged statement of Colonel Lamont, the Secretary of War, Mr. Cleveland's most intimate friend, who had also been on board the Oneida during the operation, that the President was "a sick man -- how sick we cannot tell," was the correct statement of the actual facts.

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