“I am waiting for her to grow up,”
said Grover Cleveland on occasion when people asked why he wasn’t married.
The little lady in question was Cleveland’s very young ward or goddaughter, Miss Frank (aka Frances) Folsom. Her father was a good friend of the President’s and when he died, Grover became the executor of his estate and looked after “Frank.” There is actually some question of her first name, but it is believed she was christened “Frank.” History, though, has dignified her with the more formal and feminine choice.
Grover Cleveland was our only President to serve two non-consecutive terms and that is about all anyone remembers of him (that and his use of Federal troops in the Pullman strike in Chicago, of course). Presidents were small change back in that day–as was the federal government. The whole of D.C., Congress included, still pretty much packed up and left town come about, oh, April….. There were no PACs, lobbying was still done in the lobby and photo-ops were at a bare minimum. There was no telegraph equivalent of CSPAN or MSNBC unless you count Extra! Extra! Extra! editions of newspapers. White House interns hadn’t been created yet and if they were there they were male. In short, Grover had time to kill. So, unlike the fictional widower president in the 1995’s The American President, old Grover had time to woo his gal and wed her without much fuss, no paparazzi trailing them, no intercepted cellphone calls or SNL parodies. Heaven for a politician in love, I’d say.
Once little Frankie was in college, old Grover would put on his best stomach-hiding trousers and fullest frock coat and high-tail it up to Aurora, New York, to visit her at Wells College. He doesn’t strike me as very dashing, but maybe he was witty or bumblingly sweet? Maybe it was like a Student — Professor hook-up? I hope his carriage was a back-in-the-day Porche or BMW 7 series and not an old guy Lincoln if you see what I mean. Whatever his secret, and possibly it was just simply that they loved each other, the interest was mutual for romance soon blossomed. I like to think he had asked her father for her hand at the christening. Grover, apparently a bit shy or possibly a secret romantic, proposed in a letter that I hope was sweet. I also hope she kept it all of her life. I hope when she died it was pressed with a rose or wildflowers or something that he brought her some time, the print faded, the paper a bit smudgy from happy re-reading over the many years.
Miss Cleveland, ipso facto First Lady
Meanwhile back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the President’s sister. Miss Rose Cleveland, served as First Lady for her brother. Miss Cleveland embarked on a literary career while First Lady by publishing essays on George Sand. Miss Cleveland is today regarded as the nation’s only lesbian First Lady. Like her later counterpart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Miss Cleveland made a home for several years with two other women. In her time she was seen as a classic “bluestocking”–or studious intellectual.
Although improbable today, neither the proclivities of his sister, nor his chasing a lovely much-younger woman, ever got President Cleveland into the 19th Century equivalent of the Saturday Night Live though I’m sure the wags of the day made hay of it after the nuptials occurred. Wikileaks never got to intercept and publish one of the couple’s loving missives–our loss, I’m sure.
Back in Buffalo, Frank decided to head off to Europe to celebrate finishing college. Apparently, Grover proposed before her trip. I like to think the groom-to-be wrote his bae poetry and sweet nothings in letters and peppered her with telegrams (the 19th Century’s answer to texting) reading LHK [love, hugs, kisses] even if he was really thinking LH6 [lets have ___]. So, while Gro’ was pining away at the White House, Frank strolled European streets, hopefully in a lovely linen dress and hat trimmed in pale violet ribbon with a parasol of ruffles for the sun. She certainly would have done so with a chaperone at her elbow and her Baedeker in hand. Maybe she sent G-C coded postcards to the White House. That would be sweet and fun–liven up what had to be an incredibly dull job in those days. After all, we were still a bit-player on the international scene. No National Security Agency, no terrorists, no global warming, no nukes. Grover likely did more gland-handing than anything else while in office.
At last, probably by letter, the date and place of the wedding were fixed and Miss Folsom returned to New York on a liner and was whisked away on a Revenue Cutter (that day and age’s version of the Coast Guard) and thence to a swank hotel in New York City to which Grover beat a hasty path. Love was sufficiently rekindled for the marriage to take place a few days later. And, happily, there was no congressional inquiry into the misuse of the Cutter. Photo: Bride of the White House by Francis Howard Williams.
The wedding took place on June 6, 1886, in the White House Blue Room—which had been “converted into a Psyche’s Bower of loveliness” for the occasion. (Illustration is of the Blue Room in Lincoln’s time). [Admit it–you read that as Psychic, right? I know I did…..] Grover’s brother was one of the clergy assisting in the ceremony and John Philip Sousa conducted his famed Marine Corps Band in “the dulcet strains of the perennial wedding march” as the couple entered–Frank “leaning heavily” upon G-C’s arm. The couple, touchingly, changed the traditional vows to omit the idea of “to obey, ” choosing instead to promise to “honor, love and keep.” So much sweeter–especially when the husband is old enough to be the bride’s father. Takes the paternal aspect out of the equation. (Williams, 1886 and history.com)
The bridal gown can only be described as “Sumptuous”–think Di and Kate and you get the idea. She wore myrtle and orange blossoms, wore no jewelry and carried not a bouquet of flowers, but a pretty fan. The 49-year-old President, as statesmen do at such evening affairs, wore “Canonical evening suit of black” with a white tie peeking out from under his various chins. I expect the 19th-century male equivalent of Spanx were also worn for effect. Frances, with her lithe 21-year-old figure appropriately corseted, probably made every man in attendance suck in his gut. We won’t discuss what the wives present were thinking, but I doubt it was “how sweet,” don’t you? The pastor was just a tad this side of a gas-bag–his prayer monopolized the 10-minute ceremony, but once it was over he got to point and declared them to be husband and wife.
Like Jackie Kennedy, Frank was the subject of endless curiosity from the country. Grover having accepted paternity for a young man of about Frank’s age probably helped. And, let’s be honest here, G-C would not have made the 1880’s “Sexiest Man Alive” contest, now would he?
Let the Feeding Frenzy Begin: The Honeymoon
Before there was Jackie , there was Frank Cleveland–a 21 year old Rock Star of a First Lady–right there with Princess Di in press coverage–national obsession proportions. The country went crazy for her. Here’s proof: by the end of the 1880’s “Grover” was the 56th most popular name for a baby boy and Frances for a girl ranked even higher at 41. See?
So while the couple rushed off for the consummation devoutly to be wished for (well as much as one can rush in a landau and non-bullet train) hillbillies, rubberneckers, journalists, former slaves, tradespeople, little kids, dogs, you name it besieged their honeymoon love-shack at Deer Park Retreat in the Alleghenies. With only a police officer or two at most to keep the intruders at bay, the curiosity-seekers probably dampened Grover’s amorous intent a bit, so I hope they got to have a little love-fest in his private railroad car on the way up. Imagine having the spot of your wedding night immortalized for all time with a sign pointing to the place!
Thankfully Presidential p.d.a. selfies weren’t big at the time. the G-Man’s abs probably weren’t as great as he’d have liked them to be, but I’m sure the new Mrs. G had some lovely dainties to tempt him even if she didn’t dwell on the possibility of G being a MAMIL [Middle Aged Men In Lycra]. I’m guessing he ditched the Spanx-like undies on the train so she wouldn’t see them. I’m hoping her corset cover was pale violet–I’m pretty sure G would have been a violet and lace man. Happily, Cosmo, did not then exist so no one had to read speculation about how the couple enjoyed their first real ‘alone time.’
Well, to make an already long story shorter, Mr. and Mrs. G-C truly did live happily ever after–even having several early childless years (unless there were stillbirths or miscarriages to mar that time).. They had three daughters starting with Ruth (for whom it is thought the “Baby Ruth” candy bar was named) who was born in 1891, Esther (the first baby born in the White House to a First Lady) and Marion.
This trio was followed by two boys–Richard and Francis. I like to think that Grover said “No–no way, one ‘Grover is enough’ when, in the fashion of the day, she sweetly asked to name Richard ‘Grover, junior’ [though his name was really ‘Stephen Grover’], but that when she told him No. More. Kids. he insisted that Francis be named in honor of Mom. She would then counter and get her way so that ‘Grover’ was his middle name [She did. It was.] That would be so touching, wouldn’t it? A little ‘Frank’ without the gender confusion? Sort of Like ‘Frank Junior, junior’ on Friends!
The couple stayed in love even after part of G-C’s jaw was removed leaving his mouth disfigured and forcing him to wear a rubber insert. I’m sure Frank was simply glad he lived thru the surgery which was conducted at sea on a yacht! Imagine today, well not “today-today” but in modern times, the most powerful man on Earth having surgery on a private yacht? About as likely as Sadam Hussein’s brother being head of our Navy.
G-C died at age 71. Five years later Frances remarried but chose to rest for eternity beside her sweet Grover. His New York Times obituary can be read here