I never thought much about U.S. President Grover Cleveland until after my father died, and it became relatively easy to research genealogical records on the Web. To say that my dad was laconic was charitable. He seldom said more than a few sentences in a year and was not given to revealing much about our family history.
I did learn was that my paternal grandfather shared a name with Grover Cleveland, who was the only U.S. president to serve non-consecutive terms. According to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, he was the 22nd (1885-1889) and 24th (1893-1897) President of the United States. I celebrate his birthday each year on March 18 with a toast.
On the back of a black-and-white family photo of my paternal grandfather was a spidery notation that read “Grover Cleveland Sines.” After my father’s death, I searched unsuccessfully for years for this photo, which I so strongly resembled.
I had to assume that my grandfather must have been named for the former President. I eventually found out Grover Sines was born on December 6, 1885, during Cleveland’s first term. I also discovered that the President, whose full name was Stephen Grover Cleveland, had two nicknames: Big Steve and Uncle Jumbo.
Other than a name, the two men apparently had little in common. My grandfather died on October 18, 1918, of the Spanish flu epidemic, when my father was 4 years old. His younger brother also died at around the same time from influenza. The only other thing I learned about my grandfather was that he made a living selling chunks and chips of ice to his Ohio customers.
The First Grover
I decided to find out more about President Cleveland. I found out he was born on March 18, 1837 in Caldwell, New Jersey and died June 24, 1908 in Princeton. He more or less stumbled into politics as a young lawyer after a local businessman asked him to run for the office of mayor in Buffalo, New York. He won.
The National Park Service reports that Cleveland was the first Democratic Chief Executive following the Civil War. My schoolbooks always pictured him as a sturdy, stout man with a big mustache.
Cleveland’s family moved to New York State when he was a youngster. After his father died in 1853, he gave up any hope of going to college. Following a stint teaching at Gotham’s New York Institution for the Blind in 1853-1854, he ended up on a relative’s farm near Buffalo. He eventually got a job as an apprentice clerk in a law firm. During the Civil War, he was able to hire a substitute to satisfy his military service.
After being elected mayor of Buffalo, Cleveland won the Democratic nomination for governor in 1882 and prevailed at the election. He managed to annoy New York’s Tammany Hall organization and secured the 1884 Presidential nomination without its support.
Historians remember Cleveland as opening thousands of acres to homesteaders and returning nearly half a million acres of reservation to Native Americans. He assumed the Presidency as a bachelor and in 1886, married Frances Folsom, his former ward and the 21-year-old daughter of a former law partner. This was the only Presidential wedding held in the White House, and Frances Cleveland became the youngest of all First Ladies.
The Clevelands returned to New Jersey in retirement. The former President sat on the board of Princeton University. Prior to his death, he published a variety of magazine articles.
Each March 18, I remember this distinctive U.S. President and his namesake, the grandfather I never got to know.