An Act of Great Personal Courage and Bravery - And It Can't Happen now!
It was 1893. For the first (and, so-far, only) time in our history a U.S. President who had been defeated for re-election managed to win a second non-consecutive term as President. That man was Stephen Grover Cleveland, who was ferociously honest, devoted to good government, and hopelessly out of his depth when it came to social changes going on in his country. Although recognized today as one of our near great Presidents, Cleveland inherited a bad financial mess from his predecessor Benjamin Harrison, and a depression broke the year Cleveland returned to the White House, that would bedevil him for most of his administration. Bluntly he (like Monroe, Van Buren, Buchanan, Grant, and Herbert Hoover) did not know what to do to end a depression. He only knew that classic economic thought insisted that the gold standard had to be maintained.
Unfortunately there was considerable support in the U.S. (including a phenomenally successful third party called "The Populist" Party) that believed that free, unlimited minting of free silver coins would help the small businessman, the farmer, and the workers defeat the worst aspects of the depression. Among the leaders of this heretical view was Vice President Adlai Stevenson I (the grandfather of the future Governor of Illinois and two time Presidential loser to Dwight Eisenhower). Cleveland was aware of Stevenson's feelings, and suspicious of them.
Cleveland was a robust but very fat man, and in the summer of 1893 he noticed a pain in the roof of his mouth. An examination of it proved that it was a cancerous growth, which if not treated by surgery (no chemotherapy back then) would kill him. Cleveland did not want Stevenson to become President - and so he could not tell him about the cancer because Stevenson might decide to try to force Cleveland out of office due to inability to handle the office because of his health. Instead, Cleveland arranged through a wealthy friend to take a vacation on his yacht. The yacht, while in New York City waters, was the scene of Cleveland being put under by anesthesia, and a surgery to remove the cancer taking place. Afterwards he went by the yacht to Buzzard's Bay to recuperate.
Unfortunately even in 1893 it was not possible to have a perfect news blackout. A reporter named E.J.Edwards discovered that Cleveland's movements were only vaguely known and reported. He traced down the story to a Philadelphia specialist, Dr. W.W.Keen, who proved less than willing to discuss the case (Keen had conducted Cleveland' biopsy on the growth). But when Edwards was about to uncover the truth, Cleveland reappeared, in apparently good health. The odd story was not published in 1893. In fact, it did not see print until 1917, when Dr. Keen wrote about it. By then Cleveland's second administration was long over, and he had died in 1908.
This episode of THE GREAT ADVENTURE had Barry Sullivan (a frequent performer on the show) as Edwards, George Macready as Dr. Keen (here using his normal icy politeness to protect the public from a panic), and Leif Erickson as Cleveland. The actors were pretty good in this dramatization of an odd historical event, with only one falsity in the tale - a confrontation at the end between Erickson and Sullivan about whether it is to public benefit to know about such matters in a period of social and economic unrest. This did not take place (Cleveland probably never met Edwards), but it is used to conclude a nice little episode of a forgotten show.
Could it happen again. Fletcher Knebbel's novel (later television series) VANISHED touched on a President disappearing like that (in fact, Peter Graves mentions Cleveland's disappearing act in that series' dialog). But with the over scrutiny towards Presidential health today, and the media's constant monitoring of the President's movements, it is probably highly unlikely that it can ever be done again.
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