A President, A Yacht, And
A Secret Operation

By Matthew Algeo
Published: October/November 2011

This is the story of one of the most brazen and bizarre cover-ups in the annals of the American presidency. In his new, critically acclaimed book, The President Is a Sick Man, and here in an exclusive for BoatUS Magazine, national-award-winning political historian Matthew Algeo tells the full story of this extraordinary conspiracy.

Photo of the Oneida, a luxury yacht

On July 1, 1893, Grover Cleveland, the president of the United States, disappeared. He sailed into Long Island Sound on a friend's yacht and was not heard from again for four days. What happened on that yacht was so incredible that, when the truth was finally revealed, most Americans simply would not believe it — and an innocent man's reputation would be ruined.

Photo of President Grover Cleveland
President Grover Cleveland.

The story begins about two months earlier, in early May. The nation was in the midst of a crippling recession that would come to be known as the Panic of 1893. A speculative bubble had burst: railroads. The railroads were hopelessly overbuilt, and by the end of the year some 119 of them would go bankrupt, bringing countless other businesses down with them. Unemployment skyrocketed. Stocks crashed. And all the while the nation was mired in a bitterly divisive debate over currency, namely whether the dollar should be backed by gold or silver.

On May 5, in the midst of this economic and political turmoil, Grover Cleveland noticed for the first time an unusual bump on the roof of his mouth. Given all he had on his plate at the time, it wasn't until the middle of the following month that he finally had the bump checked out. His personal physician, Joseph Bryant, diagnosed the growth as a cancerous tumor. "It is a bad looking tenant," Bryant told Cleveland. "Were it in my mouth I would have it removed at once."

But Cleveland feared the markets would collapse and public confidence in the economy would be shattered if it came to be known he had cancer, a disease so feared at the time that the word itself was avoided in polite company. He'd consent to the removal of the tumor only if the operation was kept secret, even from his vice president, Adlai Stevenson (grandfather of the future presidential candidate). Only the president's doctors, his family, and his closest friends would be privy to the truth.

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