Tuesday, June 2, 2020

That Time That a President Robbed the Cradle

White House wedding day.

It was a quiet, dignified affair, if somewhat subdued because of the august personage of the groom, a portly 49 year old life-long bachelor.  The ceremony, witnessed by a handful of family, friends, and the groom’s staff, was held in an elegant second floor parlor known as the Blue Room  overlooking a spread of lawn.  A military band led by a fellow named John Philips Sousa provided the music, his own composition for the occasion.  The bride was a stunning 21 year old brunette in a simple white brocaded dress.  She wore no veil.  At the conclusion of the service the new husband did not offer his new wife the customary kiss.  He had been advised that it might look unseemly.  Instead the couple led the assembly to another well-appointed room where an afternoon reception was laid.  After a suitably brief attendance the couple retired to their private quarters.
There was no honeymoon at Niagara Falls, the popular destination of the fashionable.  They were both, after all, from nearby Buffalo, New York and had presumably seen them before.  Instead the busy man returned to his official duties the next day.  He did not even have to leave home.  His office was on the premises.  There he presumably scanned the morning newspaper to see what notice had been taken.  The wedding had created, as was to be expected, something of a stir but so far none of the scandal some had feared.  He was, after all, the sitting President of the United States, Grover Cleveland and the bride, the former Frances Folsom, had official been his ward since the death of her father, a former law partner.

The lovely bride, the former Frances Folsom.
It was the first and only marriage ceremony by a President ever held in the White House.  One other Chief Executive, John Tyler, had been married while in office but did not hold the nuptials at the White House.  The widower had married the 25 year old daughter of a New York Congressman who had been killed, along with senior members of the administration, when a gun exploded on the deck of the USS Princeton as the couple flirted over tea below.  That marriage turned out to be a long and happy one with seven offspring.  But people had forgotten about Tyler, the first accidental president and a deeply unpopular one who had also become the only former Commander in Chief to take up arms against the government he had once led as a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress and Congressman elect of the Rebel House before his death.
Later another Presidential widower, Woodrow Wilson would marry Edith Bolling in 1915 during his first term, but again would have the union solemnized in a church.  The formidable Edith would go on to pretty much run the country after her husband suffered a stroke campaigning for his beloved League of Nations.

Baby Ruth Cleveland about age 8 was a celebrity in her own right.
The future for Cleveland and his wife was sunnier than either of the other matches.  The couple’s first daughter, Ruth, was born while Cleveland was on hiatus from the presidency in 1891 but was raised in the White House during his second, non-consecutive term.  Baby Ruth, as she was called in the press, became the object of national adoration.  Unfortunately she died at age 12 in 1904 of diphtheria. The nation mourned and the Curtiss Candy Company named a candy bar after her, or at least that is what they told the lawyers for the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.
The Clevelands had four other children, including Esther who was born in 1893 in the White House, the last Presidential baby born there until John John Kennedy. 
Cleveland left office when William Jennings Bryan and the Populists seized control of the Democratic Party in 1896.  He supported a break-away Gold Democrat ticket that was trounced at the polls.  Republican William McKinley swept into the White House.

The Cleveland family with their four surviving children in retirement in New Jersey.
The Clevelands moved to an estate in Princeton, New Jersey where he served on the Board of Trustees of the University.  They raised their growing family and the former President still occasionally weighed in on national issues, particularly for Hard Money and the Gold Standard.  Always conservative, he disparaged agitation for Women’s Suffrage.
In declining health he died of a heart attack on June 28, 1908.  His last words were reported to be, “I have tried so hard to do right.”  He was buried in the Princeton Cemetery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church.  Nearly 40 years later Frances was laid alongside of him.

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