Grover Cleveland Fisherman President
What do Grover Cleveland Fisherman President and Joseph Decatur, Dr Kassen Gibson and the small town I grew up in in Upstate NY have in common?
Grover Cleveland, who in my opinion was one of our best presidents was arguably one of the better fisherman and outdoors sportsmen presidents of all time. I will show some more on Mr. Cleveland, whom he and his wife had associations to 19th Century Lure, Rod and Reel makers of Upstate NY in the future. However a friend of mine shared this article the other day, and not only did it make sense to tie his travel to central NY with his sporting affinities, below is a great article about a Dr who my grade school in the sleepy town of Norwich NY was named after, Gibson Elementary.
Although Norwich, a sub 10K resident town which is known for its inventions such as Pepto Bismal, and Chloroseptic the area also had antique lure ties. Anyone whos done some research on Captian Henry Welch of the Welch and Graves Duo will notice the Norwich as his birthplace. So while doing research Ive come to know things I wish I knew and had interests in when I spent 18 years there.
Grover Clevland and his wife were spoken of highly and even written about in Henry Loftie Catalogs as users and purveyors of his rods and even his hair products also had another reason to visit upstate and the surrounding areas.
Joseph Decatur Bryant, MD, was a prominent New York surgeon who had been inspired to pursue the study of medicine by his teachers at the Norwich (NY) Academy. At the height of his career, he practiced his art in New York City and during this time he became friends with Governor Grover Cleveland. Their friendship lasted the rest of their lives. In 1893, newly elected President Cleveland (he served two non-consecutive terms) was starting his second four years in the White House when he became aware of a “sore spot” in his mouth. Several Naval doctors determined it was a carcinoma and Cleveland called upon his good friend, Dr. Joseph Bryant, for two reasons. Dr. Bryant was a highly skilled and respected surgeon and President Cleveland knew his friend would honor his request to keep the surgery secret.The surgery was performed on a private yacht, The Oneida, in the waters off of New York Harbor in the summer of 1893. Cleveland wanted this privacy because the long, lingering suffering and death of President James Garfield in 1881 following an assassination attempt had deeply distressed the nation. Secondly, President Cleveland had inherited an economic mess quickly sliding into a serious depression from his predecessor, Rutherford B. Hayes. Cleveland feared that if his health situation was revealed, it could damage public confidence and cause stock market disruptions at an already bad time.
Dr. Bryant honored the request and the extensive oral surgery went well. It was a dangerous procedure for that time period and even the use of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) as an anesthetic was not always successful. In this case, all went well and Cleveland and Bryant went on to Grey Gables, the President’s summer home in New Hampshire along the coast so that the President could begin to recuperate. A short time later, a second less extensive surgery was needed to remove one small remaining lesion and this, too, was completed in secret on the Oneida.
Because of the extent of the surgery, Dr. Bryant contacted a medical colleague who was also a Norwich, NY native, Dr. Kasson Gibson, DDS, who was an oral surgeon which was a new medical field of practice in 1893. Dr. Gibson’s task was to create a comfortable, workable rubber prosthetic to serve as a jaw bone to replace the one removed during the first surgery. It worked very well and Cleveland often remarked at how comfortably it fit. As a result, the President’s facial features and his voice appeared as they had prior to the surgery. It was all a remarkable accomplishment.
Neither Dr. Bryant or Dr. Gibson ever revealed the story and they took their part in this remarkable event to their graves. They did not personally profit in any way but they did honor their nation by their service and then by their silence and their faithfulness to their friend, the President of the United States.
Dr. Bryant also assisted the Cleveland family (Grover and Frances) when he delivered their daughter, Esther, in September of 1893, just months after the President’s surgery. She remains the only child to have been born in the White House.
Dr. Bryant always called Norwich his home and his “fishing camp” on Chenango Lake still stands. His cemetery memorial in Mount Hope in Norwich is the only known cemetery stone in Chenango County to have been designed by Tiffany and Company in New York City.
Dr. Gibson’s family includes many contributors to the Norwich community especially his brother, Stanford Gibson, a highly respected educator, for whom a local school is named.
Both Dr. Bryant and Dr. Gibson served their nation well and asked for no accolades. They were men of their word and they saved a president’s life and then went on about their own lives. Their all but forgotten contributions deserve to be remembered and their faithfulness to their word deserves to be respected.