Grover Cleveland’s political career took off in New York state, and as president he made his most momentous decisions in Washington, but his story begins and ends in New Jersey. The king of nonconsecutive terms is buried in Princeton, the town where he spent his post-presidency as a member of the board of Princeton University. And he was born in Caldwell, a town of seven thousand or so not too far from New York City – at least in terms of geography.
Cleveland’s family came to Caldwell when his father, Richard, was named pastor of the local Presbyterian church. The church owned a home on Bloomfield Avenue for the pastor’s family to use. From the outside it looks good sized, but the biggest room of the house was designated as the pastor’s office, and was off-limits to the rest of the brood – a rather large brood, in the case of the Clevvelands, Grover (or, technically, Stephen Grover) was child number five, and in all his parents had nine. Babies slept in a cradle next to mom and dad’s bed, but all the other kids slept in one room upstairs.
The Clevelands stayed here until Grover was about four, when the future president’s father took a position in New York state, the place where Grover become mayor of Buffalo, governor, and then president. Shortly after his death, friends and supporters purchased the house where President Cleveland was born and turned it into a museum in his honor. They’d established a trust fund to pay for future operations, but that money was in the stock market and the Depression wiped it out. The state of New Jersey eventually purchased the site and operates it today as intended.
The state has apparently just recently decided to disallow photography inside the house, but what you’ll see is primary artifacts from Cleveland’s early life, such as his baby carriage, and his political life, like his White House chair and his desk as New York governor. The most intriguing exhibit, though, is the one about Cleveland’s wedding, the only presidential wedding conducted in the White House. Visitors can see the ornate marriage certificate, the wreath Francis Folsom wore during the ceremony, and… a piece of the wedding cake.
Now this wedding took place in the 1880’s, and you’ll be forgiven for wondering not only why, but how a museum could display such a thing, and without refrigeration, no less. The answer is simple: the Clevelands served fruitcake at their wedding, and as we all know fruitcake is nature’s one exception to the “all things must pass” rule. This probably goes without saying, but it looks like a shriveled up old piece of cake.
The museum’s hours are somewhat limited, apparenlty due to budget issues, but it’s a quick and interesting visit. Our tour guide, Paula, was clearly enthused by all the Grover-mabilia, and told lots of funny and interesting stories about the guy. My favorite was a story about the Civil War, during which Cleveland hired a substitute to fight in his place. The man survived, but had been shot and in later life fell on hard times. The story goes that he came to the now-famous and successful Cleveland to ask for help, and Grover gave him five bucks. “After all that,” Paula laughed, “the best he could do was five dollars?!?”