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Presidential Objects in Our Collection

By Anna Greco
Cribbage board by President Grover Cleveland

Presidents, upon leaving office, have long been encouraged to establish Presidential libraries, where the American public has access to documents, objects and other historical materials that reflect their service. To date, 13 presidential libraries are overseen by the National Archives, the first library having been established in 1939 for President Franklin Roosevelt. But the United States of America has had more than 13 presidents. What has become of the collections and ephemera of our 32 other presidents? As American citizens and history lovers, we want more! Where can we find objects of interest to Presidential historians, amateur and professional, to better know the fascinating and little-known details of their lives?

The personal items belonging to past Presidents find their way into several different kinds of collections. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Martin Van Buren have had their homes turned into museums at Monitcello (VA), Montpelier (VA) and Lindenwald (NY). You can find George Washington’s dentures on display at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore. The Greenwich Historical Society, has a special presidential items featured in its Archives, including many items from the life of George H. W. Bush, who grew up in town. Today, however, we will take a closer look at a unique item in the Greenwich Historical Society’s collections that belonged to President Grover Cleveland, who often visited friends in Greenwich during his lifetime.

President Grover Cleveland

Hand Carved Cribbage Board, 1903,  Grover Cleveland, Greenwich Historical Society

President Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, serving from 1885 to 1889, and again from 1893 until 1897. One of his closest friends was “Commodore” E. C. Benedict, who lived in Greenwich and famously owned the yacht Oneida. Commodore Benedict, a banker and yachtsman, lived in a mansion on the 80-acre peninsula on the Long Island Sound in Greenwich known as Indian Harbor. (The home, although modified, still stands today.) On land and at sea, President Cleveland and Benedict enjoyed playing cribbage. Cribbage, a card game in which two or more players accumulate points in several rounds tracked on the distinctive peg boards, was a popular game of the period. This well-used, rough-hewn board shown above was carved by the president during one of their cruises on the Long Island Sound.

Want to know more about cribbage? Find a modern version of the rules here.

The Oneida was a part of an important event in the former president’s life. Shortly after President Cleveland was elected for a second term, he noticed a bump on the roof of his mouth. During the Fourth of July weekend in 1893, the President had a secret surgery aboard E. C. Benedict’s yacht to remove the reportedly cancerous lump. The country was entering an economic depression and he feared that news of his poor health would further impact the economy. Cleveland claimed to be taking a fishing trip with his good friend Commodore Benedict, but rumors spread. President Cleveland never publicly admitted to the surgery even after he left office.  

The 201-foot yacht “Oneida“, 1904, Photography Collection, Greenwich Historical Society
Indian Harbor was built in 1895 for Elias and Sarah Benedict and was featured among “Greenwich’s Great Estates,” a book published in 1986 by the Greenwich Junior League. The home was significantly dismantled and altered in 1938.

By Anna Greco

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