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1893 Grover Cleveland Visit Medal. 

Struck to commemorate President Grover Cleveland's visit to the World's Columbian Exposition and United States Mint Exhibit on May 1st 1893. 

Not sure if these were issued only on the day of his visit or continued as a souvenir item. The number of known examples would suggest a fairly limited distribution.

DSCN7032-horz.jpg

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Wow.  That's quite remarkable.

The reason is that shortly after March 4, 1893, President Cleveland, starting his second (and non-consecutive) term, had discovered a growth in his mouth.  He had a long history of placing a pinch of tobacco in his mouth several times a day. The White House physician confirmed it as cancerous and President Cleveland contacted his friend and former Surgeon General of NYS, Joseph Bryant, MD, and asked him to visit him.  Dr. Bryant quickly confirmed the diagnosis.

President Cleveland made the decision that the nation must never know.  Just twelve years earlier, President Garfield had been shot but died a lingering and horrifying death three months afterward due to the total malpractice of his physician.  President Cleveland also feared that the growing Panic of 1893, a financial disaster second only to the Great Depression and a result of the economic policies of President Harrison, was no time for the nation to hear the new president had life-threatening cancer.

The President and Dr. Bryant decided secret surgery was the only hope.  In late June, they borrowed a friend's yacht, Oneida, and Dr. Bryant and a team of surgeons operated for about two hours.  Using ether and nitrous oxide, the President actually revived during the surgery and had to be immediately put back under.  The tumor was removed, successfully, but the President's upper left  jawbone and palate were badly disfigured.

The yacht sailed to New Hampshire and the Cleveland summer home, Grey Gables, so the President could recover.  Dr. Bryant knew of a man in Upstate New York who was in a new dental profession known as orthodonture.  Dr. Gibson created a vulcanized rubber prosthetic to replace the jaw.  It had to be frequently updated, but it worked.  Mr. Cleveland lived fifteen more years.

Nobody outside of that circle of men ever knew.  All took a vow of silence.  Dr. Bryant and Dr. Gibson (I have forgotten his first name) took the secret to their graves.  Both men were from the small town where I live and are buried in a local cemetery.  I wrote an article for our local historical society several years ago.  I knew of the story, but never knew that those two remarkable men were from this town.  

If President Cleveland was in Chicago on May 1, 1893, he already knew of the seriousness of his disease and was already making plans with Dr. Bryant.

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We posted some articles last week about President Cleveland's visit to the 1893 World's Fair, to commemorate the anniversary of his birth (March 18, 1837):

http://worldsfairchicago1893.com/tag/grover-cleveland/

We'll be posting much more about his visit for Opening Day of the Fair in the days leading up to May 1 (the 125th Anniversary). Despite his recent cancer diagnosis in March of 1893 (thanks for that information, Jim!),  Mr. Cleveland continued to smoke cigars in May 1893.

The enormous crowds on the fairgrounds for the opening ceremony showered Grover Cleveland with respect and continuous cheers. “The dignity which becomes a great office was manifest in President Cleveland’s bearing," wrote the Tribune.  "… he stood out in all the majesty of power which is of the people, comes from the people, and returns to the people.”

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I don't know if any physician was able to link tobacco in any form to oral cancer or any other carcinoma in that time. It's likely that President Cleveland continued to use tobacco  and was unaware of the risk.  

President Grant, however, continued to smoke cigars as long as he was not in pain from the throat cancer afflicting him.  At one point, he may have been smoking as many as a dozen to fifteen cigars a day.  He even chewed cigars. That's incredible.  In his final months at Mount McGregor near Saratoga, he was reduced to drinking cocaine water to treat the pain.  It must have been awful for him.  Grant Cottage Historic Site at Mount McGregor still has the large sealed jar of cocaine water President Grant was forced to use.

 

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