President Grover Cleveland spent some years in Clinton, Oneida County, NY, as a boy, while his father Rev. Richard Cleveland and his family lived at 26 Utica Street (the house was marked by the Clinton Historical Society in 1968).
Rev. Cleveland had arrived there in 1850 to take a position as Secretary of the American Home Missionary Society. The job required a lot of traveling which eventually took its toll on Rev. Cleveland’s health.
Grover’s brother William was a Hamilton College student during this time, and Grover attended the Clinton Grammar School at 86-88 College Street. He admitted to “reading a little Latin with two other boys in the class and floundering through four books of the Aeneid.”
Rev. Cleveland suffered from a gastric ulcer and gave up his job to take the pulpit of the Holland Patent Presbyterian Church in September 1853. He passed away from peritonitis October 1, 1853 after preaching one sermon there.
Cleveland’s sister Rose Elizabeth attended Houghton Seminary at the west end of Chestnut Street and also taught there. She served as Grover’s White House hostess prior to his marriage. Rose became a writer and editor and continued to keep a home called “The Weeds” in Holland Patent where her parents are buried.
She went to Italy in 1917 to care for orphans, contracted influenza during the pandemic of 1918 and died that year. She is buried in Lucca, Italy, a village in the Appenine Mountains.
By 1884 Grover Cleveland had developed a reputation of honesty and being a reformer and used the slogan “a public office is a public trust.” He took on Tammany Hall corruption as New York State Governor. Some called the squeaky clean Cleveland, “Grover the Good.”
The Buffalo Evening Telegraph broke a shocking story July 21, 1884 after Cleveland had been nominated by the Democrats for president. Under the headline “A Terrible Tale” the story explained that Grover, a bachelor, had an affair with Maria Halpin resulting in the birth of a son some 10 years earlier.
Cleveland’s opponent was James G. Blaine, the “Plumed Knight” from Maine. He had his own baggage, and was accused of using his political office for personal gain. Blaine was a flamboyant character who received a loan from the Union Pacific Railroad and then used his influence to secure a land grant for the Union Pacific.
Although Blaine was called “the continental liar from the State of Maine” by his opponents, he was celebrated as the Republican candidate in opposition to the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” This was an offensive reference to Democrats who opposed prohibition, supported immigration and Catholic rights, and defended the Confederate cause during the Civil War.
When the Halpin paternity story broke, mudslinging and scandalizing ensued. Grover Cleveland acknowledged the boy and provided financial support. Maria Halpin named the child Oscar Folsom Cleveland (Oscar Folsom was Cleveland’s law partner).
A familiar refrain of Republicans in 1884 went: “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”
Maria however, was alleged to have become an alcoholic and Cleveland worked to have her committed to an asylum and the boy to an orphanage. Cleveland paid the orphanage $5.00 per week. The boy grew up to become a medical doctor.
Cleveland’s truthfulness however, defused the question of his morality and he narrowly took New York and won the 1884 election by a slim margin – the first Democrat elected President since James Buchanan in 1857. Democrats then had their own refrain: “Hurrah for Maria, Hurrah for the kid, We voted for Grover And we’re damn glad we did!”
(Cleveland then lost the 1888 election to Republican Benjamin Harrison, but in 1892 defeated Harrison to become the only U. S. President to serve two nonconsecutive terms.)
Cleveland’s law partner Oscar Folsom met with an accidental death in 1875 leaving an 11-year old daughter, Frances. Grover married her at the White House in 1886; she was 21, and Grover 49. This was the only wedding of a sitting President in the White House.
Despite the intense press interest and gossip, the couple had two sons and three daughters and lived (apparently quite happily) until Cleveland’s death in Princeton in 1908. The “Baby Ruth” candy bar was named after their daughter Ruth.
Frances remarried in 1913, the first presidential widow to do so. She lived until 1947 and is buried next to the president in Princeton.
Illustration: Detail of “Another Voice for Cleveland,” a September 1884 political cartoon (Library of Congress).
Andrea Kelsey Calfee says
Fascinating story. I’ve posted it on my Facebook feed. As a lifelong Republican, age 75, born in Westchester Co NY, I have always found Democrat presidential stories more compelling than the others’. Now I know why — it has something to do with their Party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion”!