Presidents: Stephen Grover Cleveland
Birthplace: Caldwell, N.J.
Visited in 2007.
The birthplace of TWO presidents!
The magic bed where Grover was born (and probably conceived).
A closer shot of the humble abode.
Remember that time the Democratic candidate got more popular votes than the Republican candidate, but didn't win the presidency? Sure you do! His name was ...
GROVER CLEVELAND! The year was 1892, and Grover lost to Benjamin Harrison. Yes, it also happened to Al Gore in 2000, and Hillary Clinton in 2016, but there's an important difference: when life kicked Grover Cleveland in the biscuits, he knuckled up, made lemons out of lemonade, waded through hell and high water, made a left turn and accidentally ended up back in hell, then got his bearings, went back through the high water and made it back to the White House four years later. Gore and Clinton just kind of stewed.
Stephen Grover Cleveland was born in Caldwell, New Jersey, in 1837. He was the fifth of nine children born to a Presbyterian minister whose love of god was second only to his love of seeding his wife. The Cleveland family moved to New York state when Grover was 4 years old. As a young man, Grover eventually settled in Buffalo when a scheduled trip to Ohio was cut short by a charming 133 month lake-effect snow storm. He became a lawyer, although he never went to law school. He clerked for three years before passing the bar.
Here's where it gets nutty. Cleveland was elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881 on a reform platform -- because who wouldn't want to clean up Buffalo? He was so good at keeping the streets clean that the next year he won the governor's race in New York. He was so impressive at being governor that he was nominated for president in 1884. He made a grand total of three campaign appearances outside of Albany (one to Buffalo and two trips to the store for milk). And he WON. From mayor of Buffalo to president of the United States in three years. Wow.
Cleveland lost his re-election bid in 1888, over the sexy, sexy issue of tariffs. But in 1892 he defeated Harrison in a rematch and made his triumphant return to Washington. At the end of his second term, his party tossed him aside in favor of William Jennings Bryan and his sexy, sexy issue, the coinage of silver. No, really.
You're getting all this information because there's not too much to tell you about the birthplace in Caldwell. The relatively tiny structure was a Manse owned by his father's church. It has a very simple four-room layout downstairs. The bed where Cleveland was born (and probably conceived) is still there, as is his crib. One room features display cases with a few choice artifacts from Cleveland's later life -- campaign materials, personal photos, a piece of his wedding cake and so forth. (The cake is a fruitcake which will not decompose until 2832.) It's a quick visit -- but when I was there, the on-site guide had all kinds of great stories. Don't be shy. Tell her Chris sent you.
Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, N.J.
Visited in 2008 and 2016.
People are dying to get in here!
Cleveland rocks. Well, Cleveland stones, more accurately.
Pukka shells are left by people who didn't want Hawaii to be a state.
Another angle. Grover, a big man, gets the biggest marker.
While you're in the neighborhood ...
The grave of John Witherspoon. The founding father, not Craig's dad.
Next-level gallows humor.
It's usually not tough to find a presidential grave. If you're anywhere nearby, you can spot signs, or a flag pole, or a tasteful neon sign, or a corridor lined with chanting, torch-bearing druids. Princeton Cemetery had none of these things, and after searching for Grover Cleveland for about ten minutes, my wife and I were getting frustrated. We picked out an impressive looking obelisk in the distance and hoped that was our destination. As we headed for that obelisk, I just happened to glance to the left. And there he was.
Grover, the only man to be two presidents, has a worn marker that doesn't even mention he was president. All it says: Born in Caldwell, died in Princeton. Not even a mention of his real first name (Stephen). He's flanked by his wife, Frances, and a daughter (the famous Baby Ruth). Each of them has a headstone even more faded than Grover's. (When you visit, there's a good chance that someone will have draped the markers with pukka shell necklaces -- Cleveland has a special place in the heart of Hawaii Natives, for resisting the push for the annexation of Hawaii during his second term. We're more than century on and they haven't forgotten.)
So, why Princeton?
Cleveland was a New Jersean by birth, but his identity was largely tied to New York. He moved to his adoptive home state as a young boy, and all his early success came as a resident of Buffalo. In between his presidential terms, he made his home in New York City, and he might have returned there after his second defeat.
But Cleveland was an outdoorsman at heart, and the Princeton of the late 19th century had a rural feel. The community more or less recruited him; the school gave him access to great minds and culture, while he was still able to roam the countryside with his hunting buddies and young children. His family moved into a very nice home, which you can't tour because it's privately owned. He became a trustee of the university, and eventually settled into an easy life as a crusty, grumpy, mildly resentful old man. (One antagonist was Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic upstart who became Princeton's president.)
Cleveland died there in 1908, and from what I've read, his grave is a good fit for his overall character. He valued his privacy, didn't stand on pomp, and really cared about his family. But it's still pretty amazing to see a United States president with a grave no more opulent than anything you'd find in the average churchyard. Far out.
And Cleveland might not be the most famous resident of the cemetery. Aaron Burr is nearby, as is John Witherspoon -- not the comedian who played Ice Cube's dad in "Friday," but the Founding Father who signed the Declaration of Independence and was a mentor to young James Madison. Eagle-eyed visitors will also seek out the marker of William Hahn, whose great distinction is having one of the finest epitaphs in history: "I Told You I Was Sick."
Mutter Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Visited in 2009.
In 1893, President Grover Cleveland was dismayed to find a rough patch on the roof of his mouth. This was problematic, not only because it was cancerous, but because it threatened Cleveland's favorite pastime of eating like a hog. Rather than shatter the entire economy by making the news of his bumpy mouth public (as Grover Cleveland was the glue holding our fragile nation together), he said he was going fishing. Then he slipped onto a yacht in the East River and had surgeons secretly remove a small chunk of his head.
I share this delightful tale of Americana because I have visited that small chunk at Philadelphia's Mutter Museum. It's a medical museum dating to the 1860s, still organized along the principles of mid-19th century medicine: hideous deformities in delightful wooden cases. You owe it to yourself to go.
Now, maybe you're saying, "Chris, I don't much care for Grover Cleveland. His use of the veto was both obstructive and philosophically undemocratic." Well then, why not go for the PIECE OF JAMES GARFIELD?!?!?! Yea, a dollop of skin from James Garfield's back, removed during his autopsy, now sits on a Mutter Museum shelf as plain as day. Maybe your travel plans will never take you to Garfield's tomb, but if you're in Philly you can still pay your respects to a pinkish-white divot of our 20th president, who died of ... uh, mid-19th century medicine.
What's that? You despise James Garfield, too? Well the Mutter has got you covered, you hateful bastard -- you can tip your cap to a chunk of the brain of the GUY WHO SHOT GARFIELD! It looks like lasagna noodles, and it's just a few shelves down from the thorax of John Wilkes Booth. But the Mutter is so much more than small pieces of presidents and assassins:
- A wall of skulls. Sometimes, you'll be walking through a museum, and you'll think: "These displays are very nice, but I was really hoping for a floor-to-ceiling monument to death." Not a problem at the Mutter! Just find the wall of brain samples from the criminally insane, then turn around. You can't miss it.
- Human leather. Nowadays, if you make any kind of personal posession out of another human being, then you get your own special on MSNBC. But there was a more romantic and civilized time in this country, when respected men could make leather out of people, then use it in the binding for an anatomy textbook. And guess where you could see such a book? Awwwwww yeah.
- Siamese twins. The Mutter has not only a plaster cast of Chang and Eng -- the original Siamese twins -- but also the liver that they shared. This is relevant, in that one of the brothers was a surly drunk while the other was not. Also, did you know that they married sisters and had 22 kids between them? I bet you feel super bad about using Match.com now, huh?
- Megacolon. Sometimes the nerves in your colon shut off, stopping the peristaltic motion needed to move waste matter through your digestive system. Those who doubt the resilience of the human body would assume these leads to quick death. Those who visit the Mutter Museum knows it leads to a colon as thick as telephone pole and about five feet long, on display in the Mutter Museum after a slow, painful death. This actually happens! There are some people who actually allow their colon (or ovarian cyst, or whatever) to get this big! "I can't drop those last 125 holiday pounds," they might say. "I wonder if it has anything to do with me not going to the bathroom for the last 8 months ... hmm ... Nah. Pass the cheese."
- A lady whose body has turned to soap. Sadly, this is not in the bathroom next to a lady whose body has turned to paper towels, but it's still kind of neat. She's in the "Han Solo in carbonite" pose.
It is a tremendous collection, from the shrunken heads on down. It is a museum that preserves not only medical specimens, but also my hope that doctors will one day be able to clone Grover Cleveland without having to desecrate his grave, then run him for a third term on a bipartisan ticket with a clone of James Garfield. But I must take issue with one display.
I can handle fetuses in jars or diseased genitalia samples. But the jar of extracted kidney stones may be the most evil object on the entire planet. Concentrating that much suffering in one location might open a portal to a hell, allowing the armies of Satan to run roughshod o'er the mortal plane. This jar should be either destroyed or featured prominently in a comedy/horror screenplay.
That aside, I have to recommend this fine establishment. Though you cannot take pictures inside, it is the kind of institution that sells a megacolon postcard in the gift shop, right by the Gingerbread Siamese Twin cookie cutters.
Bruce Dickinson of is Running Out of Ideas (March 20, 2007)
"Grover Cleveland," by Iron Maiden
The ship of democracy,
which has weathered all storms,
may sink through the mutiny of those on board.
(grover cleveland - 19th century a.d.)
Near New York City
From a world devoid of pity
In a land called Caldwell, New Jersey
Was born a son
To a minister presbyteri-an
And his name was Stephen
At the age of four
His clan did move up north
As a young man he dabbled in politics
By the Lake Erie
In 1881 A.D.
He utterly became the mayor of Buffalo
His name gave strength to countrymen
Born a simple New Jerseyan
Through great acclaim
Of the goodness of his name
He soon became the statewide governor
Across the barren wastes
He brought his armies to face
The opponents of civil service reform
In '84, he was almost undone
By tales of a bastard son
But no bastard could destroy the conqueror
Stephen inflicted pain
On James G. Blaine of Maine
And so became the 22nd president
He liked to fish and drink much beer
His name makes angels shake with fear
The vorpal veto pen
Flashed time and time again
And so was slain much questionable legislation
But Harrison, a fork-tongued foe
A Republican sustained by tariff woes
Took by force the White House from him, despite losing the popular vote
With vengeance in his heart
Cleveland offered retort
In 1892 he hoped to vanquish Harrison
The blood-drenched media campaign
Traded on his family name
Including his daughter Baby Ruth, which many people believe is the origin of the name of the popular candy bar
His nephews called him Uncle Jumbo
He thought women's suffrage was dumbo
[14 minute guitar solo]
Maching on marching on
[23 minute guitar solo, Eddie appears on a cross of silver]
The hoary beast of economic depression attacked
The golden standard was splashed with grime
And so, though restored to the Potomac throne
Nothing much happened in his second term
But even so, he was president twice
Not to mention that at the age of 49
He married a 21-year-old
So you have to respect that, am I right fellas?
He was never a big fan of the media
He died of a heart attack in Princeton, New Jersey