Written by Bruce White
A flurry of activity took place at the Grover Cleveland Birthplace in June when Gateway Fence of Cedar Grove, NJ arrived on site. Their mission was to stabilize and rehab the elegant wooden fence that defines the Birthplace property along Bloomfield Avenue. The historically accurate fence has enhanced the Birthplace over the past three decades but was showing signs of age, so plans went into action to save it for the future. Michael Brown, owner of Gateway Fence generously agreed to donate time and expertise to make the fence shipshape, just in time for the Annual 4th of July Ice Cream Social. After consultation with Sharon Farrell, Caretaker of the Birthplace and with officials from the NJ State Department of Environmental Protection, approval was given for Gateway to perform stabilization work on the fence. On June 18 Mike’s crew of technicians repacked or set into concrete the upright posts making them plumb and reattached the various wooden elements of the fence that had come loose. As a result, the fence is now in stable condition and ready for a fresh coat of stain, which will further safeguard it.
Photographs from the 19th century showed a fence in place along Bloomfield Avenue, but by the late 20th century the fence was gone. In 2001 the GCBMA decided to create a historically accurate reproduction of a fence typical to Caldwell in the 19th century and commissioned Walpole Woodworkers to produce and install one. At that time, Dorothy Budd Bartle, GCBMA President donated the majority of the approx. $38,000 needed to purchase the fence; upon installation the GCBMA donated the fence to the State of NJ. In May 2018, GCBMA Board Member Bruce White reached out to Michael Brown, owner of Gateway Fence of Cedar Grove, NJ to ask for his expertise and advice on how best to save the fence which was visibly deteriorating. Mike offered to assess the fence and make the repairs necessary to stabilize it, doing so as a charitable contribution. During his initial site visit, Mike quickly determined that many of the upright posts were leaning and showed signs of wood rot; he noted that many of the other fence elements showed signs of rot and were starting to fail as well.
The GCBMA is committed to further preserving this very visible element of the Birthplace site, so additional planning is ongoing, in concert with plans to construct a new Visitor Center on site later this year. In the meantime, we can all rest easier knowing that the fence is stable and looking better than it has in years. Thanks again to Michael Brown and Gateway Fence!
“For a third year, Gelotti’s of Caldwell will be hosting Caldwell’s celebration of National Night Out on August 7th from 6:00p.m. – 9:00p.m. The event will be held at the Grover Cleveland Birthplace where free ice cream will be provided. Tours of the birthplace, old fashioned and modern lawn games, displays of the birthplace traveling trunks, and a performance from the Dapper Dans will also take place. The Grover Cleveland Birthplace Association is proud to help Gelotti’s with this event which is organized to give back to those who protect, serve, and make Caldwell great. Displays of firetrucks and rescue vehicles are also planned for the night. Please follow the Gelotti’s and Grover Cleveland Birthplace facebook sites for more informaiton.”
At the Grover Cleveland Birthplace 4th of July Ice Cream Social this year (2018), the educator “Traveling Trunks” will be spotlighting “Baseball” and the connection to Grover Cleveland and other Presidents. Young (and older) attendees at the “Social” will be encouraged to see our display and take “first pitches” with red, white, and blue wiffle balls. Attendees will also be treated to our previous displays, “The Origins of Basketball” and “The History of the Frisbee”. You might also see a few people recite “Casey At the Bat” and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at our annual event.
In the recent book, The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball and the White House by Curt Smith, Smith discusses a 1885 meeting with the championship Chicago White Stockings and President Grover Cleveland at the White House. Cleveland was a long time baseball fan. When meeting “Cap” Anson, Captain of the White Stockings, Cleveland asked how his old friend, Jimmy “Pud” Galvin was. When Cleveland was sheriff and mayor of Buffalo, he and Galvin were good friends.
Cleveland was a fan but certainly not in playing shape when President. In the book Baseball, The Presidents’ Game by William B. Mead and Paul Dickson, the authors also write of this White House meeting. When greeting the rest of the team, Cleveland had difficulty shaking the hands of the physically fit White Stockings players. Player Mike “King” Kelly wrote, “There wasn’t a man in the crowd that wasn’t six feet in height and were all in lovely condition. Their hands were as hard as iron. The president’s hand was fat and soft”. When Kelly shook Cleveland’s hand, he “….squeezed so hard that he winced”. As a result, Kelly reported that Cleveland’s hand was in pain and very swollen. Kelly added, “…he would rather shake hands with 1,000 people than a bad nine after that day” and did not shake hands with the team when they left. Cleveland’s hand nearly “doubled in size”. (Mead and Dickson point out that Cleveland was our second heaviest President and weighed 250 pounds. Cleveland once said, “bodily movement is among the dreary and unsatisfactory things of life”.) Although Cleveland had challenges with the handshaking, Kelly concluded, “He impressed me as being a charming, courteous gentleman who had considerable backbone, and democratic enough to be a Democratic president of our glorious country”.
Cleveland’s Victorian work ethic is spotlighted in this meeting with the White Stockings. When leaving, Anson asked Cleveland if he would come to a White Stockings game but the President turned him down. Cleveland stated, “What do you imagine the American people would think of me if I wasted my time going to the ball game?”. Smith writes how Cleveland understood how Victorian America would “applaud” him for his work ethic..
Presidents attending baseball games didn’t end with Cleveland’s decision not to go to a game. In between Cleveland’s two terms, Benjamin Harrison became the first president to attend a major league game (June 6, 1892) when he saw the Cincinnati Reds beat the Washington Senators, 7-4 at the Swampoodle Grounds, which was located on the grounds of the present Union Station.
By Cleveland’s second term, he had John Geydler, a government clerk recite the poem Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, by Ernest Lawrence Thayer when delivering a document to the White House. In later years, Geydler became President of the National Baseball League. A copy of Casey at the Bat was recently donated to the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association 1880’s/1890’s “traveling trunk” for educators.
The website of the National Baseball League mentions the following “tidbits” about Presidents and their connections to baseball.
— George Washington: At Valley Forge, an unidentified soldier mentioned in his diary the game of “base”. He writes, “He [Washington] sometimes throws and catches a ball for hours with his aide-de-camp.”.
— Abraham Lincoln: A Currier and Ives editorial cartoon shows Lincoln in a baseball themed drawing running against Stephen Douglas, John Breckenridge, and John Bell. (The PBS series Abraham and Mary Lincoln discusses how Lincoln was playing handball when waiting for the results of the Republican Convention. Mead and Dickson state there are various accounts saying he was playing baseball when waiting for the results. The authors also mention how he often walked out behind the White House to watch baseball being played on the “White Lot”, which is where the “Ellipse” is now located.)
— Andrew Johnson: A big baseball fan, Johnson also watched baseball being played on the “White Lot”. (Mead and Dickson report that when there was a Washington city match between the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Athletics, and Brooklyn Atlantics, Johnson have government employees time off to watch).
— Ulysses Grant: Grant was the first to have a professional team (the Cincinnati Red Stockings) to visit the White House.
— Chester A. Arthur: Arthur brought the Cleveland Forest Citys of the National League to the White House.
— William F. McKinley: McKinley brought the Washington Senators to the White House.
— William H. Taft: In 1910, Taft started the traditional “first pitches” of the season by throwing to Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt: FDR choose not to “suspend” playing during World War II.
— John F. Kennedy: JFK threw three “ceremonial” first pitches for the Washington Senators and at the 1962 All Star Game, Although he was a Red Sox fan, he never attended a game at Fenway Park in his years as President.
— Richard Nixon: Even when living and working in Washington, D.C., President Nixon always called the California Angels his “hometown” team. In 1972 (as President) and 1992 (post Presidency), Nixon published his “pick” for historical dream teams from 1925-1992, (Smith).
— Ronald Reagan: In his early years as a Chicago Cubs radio broadcaster for WHO, Reagan “re-created” accounts of major league games from telegraph reports. In 1937, while joining the Cubs at spring training in Los Angeles, he got his first break as a actor by getting a Hollywood screen test. His acting career eventually led to politics as Governor of California and President. (Smith discusses how after Reagan was inaugurated in 1981, he used Speaker of the House Tip O’ Neill’s office to change his clothes. The Speaker pointed out that a desk the new President was using belonged to Grover Cleveland. O’Neill wrote that Reagan was thrilled and stated, “Hey, Grover Cleveland! I played him in the movies!”. Reagan was referring to Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1952’s The Winning Team. O’ Neill stated, “No, no, Mr. President. You played Grover Cleveland Alexander, the baseball player”. O’ Neill felt that Reagan was “a good, lovable guy”.)
— George H.W. Bush: A former Yale first baseman, Bush gave the “first pitch” at the first “new old park”, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, (Smith).
— George W. Bush: On October 11, 2001, Bush gave the “first pitch” at the World Series following the attacks on 9/11. In front of a crowd at Yankee Stadium, the President threw a perfect strike. Bush was also a managing partner of the Texas Rangers before becoming Governor of Texas and President.
— Barack Obama: In addition to the MLB website, Smith reports that in 2011, Obama was set to throw out the first ball for the Washington Nationals’ season. He hid his “hometown” White Sox cap when going to the mound, put it on, and pitched.
Mead, William B. and Paul Dickson, Baseball, The President’s Game.
Farragut Publishing Company, Washington, D.C. 1993.
Smith, Curt, The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball and the White House. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 2018.
Spencer, Lyle, “Baseball, Presidents Go Back A Long Way”, Major League Baseball website, accessed June 25, 2018.
Thank you to the Board of the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association for inviting me to say a few words today about the significance of President Cleveland for Caldwell. Today, at the beginning of Grover Cleveland Week as we celebrate his 181st birthday, I want to briefly mention two aspects of his legacy that I believe can serve as an example for us: his belief in political responsibility and his commitment to people before party.
I first became fascinated by the figure of Grover Cleveland 3 years ago, on my first visit to this historic site. I had lived in Caldwell for about 4 years, but never had visited the birth house. So, I brought my oldest daughter, Aubrey, with me, and we were given a wonderful tour by Sharon Farrell that included time to play with early 19th century toys in the parlor and the opportunity to see how people at that time lived day to day. On our way out of the house, we stopped by the gift shop where we purchased a parasol and a small book with the title “Good Citizenship.” The book is actually a collection of two speeches by Grover in Chicago, the first being from October of 1903, to the Commercial Club, and the second being from 1907, to the Union League Club. In the first, he lays out his vision of what politics is all about. After decrying those whose blind faith in seemingly “inevitable” American prosperity dulls their sense of duty and who distance themselves from political involvement by stating “I am not a politician”, President Cleveland states:
“Every citizen should be ‘politician enough’ to bring himself within the true meaning of the term, as one who concerns himself with ‘the regulation or government of a nation or state for the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity.’ This is politics in the best sense, and this is good citizenship.”
This quote grabbed my attention that day and has made quite an impact on me. It is an attempt to redeem a term that has become synonymous with corruption and to reclaim its actual meaning. It is a reminder to all of us that we should all be “politician enough” to get involved in issues of government at every level: local, county, state, and federal. We may not all decide to run for office, but we all can educate ourselves about public policy; we can all talk to a neighbor, we can all write a letter to the editor, we can all volunteer to serve on a municipal committee or at the food bank. We can all serve the public in some capacity. We can share our talents, our time, and our creativity with the world around us, starting right here in the Caldwells.
And all of us need the benefit of each other’s ideas. There are significant policy questions facing our local communities that urgently need all of our input. For example, should Caldwell merge its police department with West Caldwell? Should Caldwell sell its public water utility to a private company or bond the roughly 4.5 million dollars necessary to repair its hydraulic infrastructure? Should Caldwell repair the parking deck of the Community Center piecemeal or begin from scratch? These questions, that have already been touched on in Council meetings this year, need public input so that local officials can be held accountable to the people. In his first Inaugural Address, President Cleveland said that every American owed to the country a “close scrutiny” of public officials with a “fair and reasonable estimate” of their performance and that this was the “price of our liberty.” To continue the analogy, if we do not become aware of what is happening in government, we become guilty of stealing our liberty by not paying our fair share of attention to it. Given the availability of meeting records and the ability to watch meetings from the comfort of our homes, it is a relatively small price to pay. If you’ve never attended or watched a Council or other public meeting, this week would be a great time to begin.
People Over Party
Another aspect of Grover’s legacy is his commitment to people before party. In today’s often hyper-partisan, personally destructive political climate, that we see frequently in the news, in our mail, and online, President Cleveland offers a vision of politics that is grounded in the highest ideals of patriotism which transcend any type of partisan or personal agenda. In 1883, Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was the Governor of New York looking for ways to reform the civil service system of that state. His ideas caught the attention of a young a Republican, who had just been re-elected as a Representative in the New York legislature. His name was Theodore Roosevelt. Despite their different labels, they found a way to work together for civil service reform, much to the anger of both of their respective party’s leadership. Perhaps more importantly, they cultivated a friendly respect for each other’s desire for better government. In his 2nd term, President Cleveland would later re-appoint Theodore Roosevelt to the United States Civil Service Commission. This is just one example of how Grover was committed to people before party. In his first Inaugural Address, he stated:
“…the best results in the operation of a government wherein every citizen has a share, largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely partisan zeal…and a correct appreciation of the time when the heat of the partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the citizen.”
Given the current political climate as reflected in national trends and social media, I believe that we can all agree that we live in such a time. Perhaps we should make a specific effort this week to remember that we are all Americans first and that parties are merely a means to a more perfect Union, knowing that we all want what’s best for our community, even if we may disagree on how to achieve it. Let the days be forever gone when we are criticized for extending (or even shaking) the hand across the aisle or acknowledging good ideas, regardless of which side or school of thought offers them. Let us emulate Grover’s commitment to people before party.
During this Grover Cleveland Week in Caldwell, the Borough encourages all residents who are able, to visit this birth house and learn more about his legacy. I hope you find his call to political responsibility and his commitment to people before party both motivational and inspiring. Perhaps President Grover Cleveland Week can become something more than encouraging residents to visit this birth house, as worthwhile as that always is. Perhaps it can become a week of celebration, education, and service for which Caldwell will also be known, enriching both our Borough and visitors from across the country.
In closing, I will leave you with a quote from President Cleveland’s speech in Chicago in 1907:
“…our nation lives in us – in our mind and consciences. There it must find nutriment or die. The land we live in is safe as long as we are dutifully careful of the land that lives in us.’”
Councilman Jonathan Lace submitted Resolution 3-72 declaring the week of March 18th, 2018 as Grover Cleveland Week in the borough of Caldwell to the Council for consideration at the 3/6/2018 meeting. The resolution passed! Please make sure to visit the Grover Cleveland Birthplace House during the week of March 18th.
Adele E. Meyer – Verona – retired. Worked in QC for several companies and teacher
Evan Mc Laughlin – West Caldwell – history teacher James Caldwell High School
Louis L. Picone – Succasunna – Express Scripts & author of several books on presidents their birthplaces & deaths, final days,burials and beyond. (Books available at birthplace at “Grover’s Corner Gift Shop” – For gift shop hours click here)
The Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association
is sponsoring their annual conference on Saturday, March 17, 2018
at the First Presbyterian Church at Caldwell – corner of Roseland and Westville Avenues, Caldwell-
Featuring an Illustrated Lecture by Marta McDowell entitled “All The Presidents’ Gardens”
Marta McDowell teaches landscape history and horticulture at the New York Botanic Garden. She was awarded the American Horticultural Society book award for her book All the Presidents’ Gardens. That book also made The New York Times best seller list. Ms. McDowell won a 2014 Gold Award from the Garden Writers Association for her book, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life. She is now working on a revision of her first book, Emily Dickinson’s Gardens due out in a full color edition by Timber Press in 2019. A popular lecturer, she has been a featured speaker in locations ranging from the Chicago Botanic Gardens to the Smithsonian Institution.
Registration is at 9:30am followed by coffee, tea, and other refreshments.
The meeting begins at 10:00am. Following her lecture, Ms. McDowell will be available to sign her book and there will be a box lunch served.
The cost per person is $35 for the lecture and lunch.
Make reservations via e-mail or phone.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 973-747-2794
– Payment at the door –
Lunch will 12:00am-1:00pm
After lunch, there will be a teacher’s workshop from Grades 3-12 to introduce materials from the “Traveling Trunks” program available from the Grover Cleveland Website, opportunities for school trips, and to introduce educational outreach plans and possibilities with the upcoming building of the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Visitor’s Center. The GCBMA offers a Traveling Trunks Program for educational institutions,service organizations, and other groups interested in keeping the legacy of Grover Cleveland alive, as well as getting to feel the historical past of how people of three different periods lived and were influenced by the historical events of their day. There are three Traveling Trunks, representing the 1830’s, 1860’s (Civil War) and1880-90’s. The Trunks are portable history lessons that can travel to schools, scouts,home schooling parents, nursing homes, and other organizations. Participants at the workshop will examine the contents of the trunks and be introduced to ways the artifacts can be used in the classroom. Professional Development certificates will be offered for the entire day. This part of the workshop will last approximately one hour.