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Talk about Clandestine Operations

July 22, 2011 by Reader's Connection

At a press conference in October of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson was asked about his recent gall bladder surgery; and being a down-home guy, he lifted his shirt to reveal his new scar.

I don´t want to mess up anyone´s day, but you can go to the Frog Hospital blog to see the famous Charles Tasnadi photograph of LBJ’s tummy. And you can read the Fred Owens complaint that Johnson started a horrible trend toward too much public intimacy. Owens is not alone in feeling this way.   

The President Is a Sick Man

At the opposite end of the surgical-revelations spectrum was President Grover Cleveland, who in July of 1893 sailed onto Long Island Sound on the yacht Oneida, had a cancer removed from the roof of his mouth (with the yacht’s saloon serving as surgical theatre), and sailed on to his summer home in Massachusetts.

Almost no one knew about the surgery, and Cleveland wanted it that way. Not even the Vice President had been told. Cleveland was afraid that the nation, already torn by a great financial panic, would come apart if word of his illness was spread.

Matthew Algeo’s new book The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilfies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth tells the story.

The title alone almost tells the story. But Algeo gives us Grover Cleveland, who would have been idolized by the Tea Party if the Tea Party had been around back then. He gives us the battle of gold vs silver, the bitter competition among newspapers, and the surgical practices of the day, which had improved since the Civil War but had a ways to go. And he lets us know that, despite what you’ve heard, the Baby Ruth candy bar probably wasn’t named after Cleveland’s daughter Ruth. 

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure
It’s an illuminating and entertaining read. I may go back and check out Algeo’s 2009 book Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip. Algeo visited Central Library when that book was new, and if you missed his interview at that time, you can click below and hear it now.  




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