Monday, February 18, 2013

MYSTERIOUS MONDAY: A President's Day Mystery

by Libby Sternberg

Today is President's Day, an appropriate time to reflect on a real presidential mystery, one covered expertly in a nonfiction book released by Chicago Review Press in 2011. Here are just the facts, ma'am:

The president: Grover Cleveland
The year: 1893
The mystery: the president vanishes

For five days in the summer of 1893, President Grover Cleveland was incommunicado, out of sight and out of touch. In those days before instant communication, even this blackout of presidential contact was still unusual.

Where was the president? Why had he disappeared? When did the true story finally surface?

Author Matthew Algeo answers all these questions and more in his tightly written story of a secret medical emergency involving the country's CEO: The President Is a Sick Man.

When President Cleveland was diagnosed with a cancerous lesion on his soft palate, drastic action was recommended--surgery to remove the tumor. But in 1893, health issues of public figures were not publicly discussed, especially if the health issue was serious and could have an impact on the leader's ability to....lead. So the president and his doctors decided to keep his condition secret and to deal with the surgery where no one could find him to question what was going on.

The operating theater for this delicate procedure was none other than a friend's yacht, sailing the "calm, blue waters of Long Island Sound" as the president's physicians cut out the malignant growth in the summer of 1893.

Despite the concealment efforts, one intrepid reporter sniffed out the story. When he started reporting the tale, he was mocked and derided, called a "disgrace to journalism," only vindicated a quarter century later with the publication of a story in the Saturday Evening Post about the operation and the journalist's role in digging it up.

That journalist, by the way, ended up doing all right, despite his public condemnation. He went on to write for the Wall Street Journal in 1909 and became involved in a legal case that helped set the precedent for reporters' protecting anonymous sources.

These details and more set the stage for an intriguing little story. When I first picked up this book, I knew nothing about Grover Cleveland and was only vaguely aware of the issues of the day. But Matthew Algeo weaves in history about the gold vs. silver currency wars of the day, the Panic of 1893, railroad bankruptcies and more.  In a mere 228 pages, Algeo relates the mystery of Cleveland's "vanishing," and gives readers a neat little history lesson about fin de siecle America.

An informative read, a good mystery, and some great storytelling. Highly recommended for this President's Day!


Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist and editor-in-chief of Istoria Books.

Istoria Books's "Mysterious Monday" program features posts about mystery writing, reading, bookselling and more by writers from beyond the Istoria stable. Stop back on Mondays for insightful posts on the mystery genre. Check out Istoria Books's mystery offerings here.

Mysterious Monday posts from the past:

Coming up: Authors Gary Alexander and Joyce Yarrow talk about favorite characters and favorite character types in mystery, and book blogger and reviewer Marlyn Beebe shares her thoughts on what she likes in mysteries
Like Istoria Books on Facebook!

No comments:

Post a Comment