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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

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A Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland

A Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland - Charles Lachman

Grover Cleveland, with his two, non-consecutive terms in office, has the potential to throw off one's presidential reading balance sheet. Lucky for me, dude's got intrigue for miles, and also happened to live in an era when (with the likes of Harper's Weekly, and The Judge in full swing) there was some great political cartoon work. 


I got more than a whiff of Cleveland's questionable mating habits from reading The President Is a Sick Man. (After all, I did outline a fairly compelling case for a solid Woody Allen/Soon Yi parallel.) However, in the hands of Charles Lachman, executive producer of tv tabloid show "Inside Edition," the ignominious activity level is ratcheted to a whole new level. In some ways, Lachman fell into the same trap that captured the journalists of Cleveland's time- losing credibility as accusations rolled from the tier of deplorable to that of a degenerate. But for now, let's get the circus started (below, Cleveland as elephant). 


The Circus Starts


Since a fellow obscure president literary aficionado, and the source of the recommendation for this book has already written a pretty great review outlining the major plot points of this Cleveland tale, I'm going to take the liberty of highlighting a somewhat random spattering of the eponymous scandals of this Secret Life


Ma ma where's my pa? AKA The Maria Halpin Scandal

The rumors are true, Cleveland, in his boozy days as Mayor of Buffalo, fathered an out-of-wedlock child with local "shop girl," Maria Halpin. The act that rendered Maria in the undesirable state of pregnancy, it would appear, occurred with questionable levels of consent. In ye olde late 19th century terminology, Cleveland "managed to seduce" Halpin. 


Ma ma wheres my pa


Of course, if you were to ask former Missouri Congressman Todd Akin about this, you might come to the conclusion that there was no way this was a case of "legitimate" rape, as a child was born of the "situation." As you might imagine, Cleveland's detractors wanted to take hold of this story and run with it.


The research journalism that went into this story is outlined in great detail. It seems that even members of the clergy wanted in on this mission, as Rev. Dr. George H. Ball helped publicize the illegitimate child news during the 1884 election. Ball's involvement (and his own activities with the ladyfolk) would later be of great importance in a libel suit Ball filed against the Evening Post which had accused him of "lewd personal behavior." 


Little Frank the Child Bride:

There were bits and pieces surrounding Cleveland's bride Frances "Frank" Fulsome, 27 years his junior, that were new to me. For example, while I was aware that Cleveland was executor of the Fulsome estate following his friend/law partner's death (at which time Frances was 11), I did not know that this meant that "Uncle Cleve" became a "legal guardian" to Frances.  


Wedding of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom 1886


Sexuality in the White House:

Cleveland was a bachelor at the time he first took office- a status that was seen as being cause for concern unto itself. Essentially, the logic at the time was that for a man of Cleveland's age not to be married meant he either was a whoremonger, or gay. It also meant that every lady who walked into the White House was a potential paramour. 


Before Frances and Grover wed in 1886, Cleveland's sister Rose (aka "Miss Libbie") was acting FLOTUS. And, as it turned out, Rose "enjoyed the company" of the fairer sex (I'll pause here for you to gasp). This was kept under wraps as her visiting lady friend was assumed to be a candidate for her brother's attentions. Rose, being the baller that she was, used her visibility as White House hostess to launch her literary career, and then stepped gracefully away from the limelight to enjoy her life away from some of the scrutiny. 


Rose Elizabeth Cleveland


For more on Rose, I highly recommend checking out "Speculating on Presidential Sexuality & the First Lesbian First Lady" at Carl Anthony's presidential pop culture blog. 


The Takeaway?

This was a fun one to read (well, listen to). For me, there was something a bit less exciting about having the scandals put out there one after the other in all their glory. In the 30 odd presidential reads I've completed thus far, I love finding these tidbits tucked in amid discussions of tariffs and taxes. You won't learn much about the Cleveland presidencies but you will get more than a sense of the crazy character that was POTUS 22 and 24.