After Grover Cleveland made history in November of 1892, the first thing he did was reward himself with a trip to Hog Island, just off of his beloved Eastern Shore. Cleveland had just become the first person (and he is still the only one) to win non-consecutive terms in the White House. He had won the election of 1884, and he had lost the one in 1888.
The president-elect decided to celebrate his election triumph on Hog Island, Virginia. He had been down there before with John Sergeant Wise, a prominent lawyer and politician. The two didn’t seem to even notice that they were from very different sides of the political aisle. Here is what Wise had to say about President Cleveland:
“I have known him to sit on a calm sunshiny day in a duck blind for ten consecutive hours, with nothing but a simple luncheon to break his fast and nothing but whistlers and buffleheads coming in to his decoys, and return home at night with nothing but a dozen “trash” ducks … as content and uncomplaining as if he had enjoyed real sport.”
On that November 1892 trip, the president took the NYP&N railroad into Exmore, then a carriage of some sort over to Willis Wharf, and then a boat to Hog Island. He spent a week and a half out there, engaged in nothing but “recreation and rest.”
There was a stretch in the trip when rain got in the way of Cleveland’s various hunting and fishing expeditions, but the people of Hog Island came up with a delectable distraction from the miserable weather. They brought all of the best cooks from the island settlement of Broadwater over to the hunting lodge and had them join forces to create a “repast [that] has never been excelled,” as a reporter for the New York Herald put it. The menu included oysters, terrapin, turkey, roast beef, and wildfowl of every variety.
Come dessert time, the islanders served the president a true local delicacy, Hog Island figs. Today, there is a variety of fig descended from the trees on the island that is known as the “Grover Cleveland fig” and regarded in modern-day foodie circles as quite a delicacy.
That post-election visit was just one of several the president made down to Hog Island. On another of his visits,
“[Island resident] Mary Anna Doughty came out of her house to call her four young sons to dinner only to find them shooting marbles in the lane with the President. When she called them in, Cleveland is said to have asked if he too could come, and happily joined the family for a meal of fried pies and milk.”
Needless to say, Cleveland was a much-beloved figure on the Lower Eastern Shore. When he won his first election as president, the town of Locustville erected a 65-foot “Cleveland pole.” There were big celebratory bonfires in Temperanceville and Mappsville. A cannon was shot off 50 times in Modest Town. In Mearsville, a merchant changed the name of his store to “Cleveland.”
That store wasn’t the only thing named after the Shore’s favorite president. Several couples named their children after him. There was a Grover Cleveland Harris in Exmore, a Grover Cleveland Tull in Pocomoke City, and a Grover Cleveland Brittingham, also of Pocomoke City.
—Posted by Jim Duffy on April 28, 2017
NOTE #1: Most of the material here comes from a wonderful little book by the writer Kirk Mariner titled True Tales of the Eastern Shore. Here is the book on Amazon. I have four or five of Mariner’s books on my shelves, and I have enjoyed them all thoroughly. Not all of his work is available online. The best places to find hard copies locally are at Sundial Books in Chincoteague and The Book Bin in Onley.
NOTE #2: In the photo up top, that is Grover Cleveland on the right in the fishing boat. To the left here is a newspaper cartoon about the president’s love of fishing. Here is Cleveland’s Wikipedia bio, if you are curious about him. Here is an article in the Saturday Evening Post about how much he loved to fish. And here is my favorite quote from Cleveland on that topic–it’s from an article he wrote titled, “Defense of Fishing.”
“What sense is there in the charge of laziness sometimes made against true fishermen? Laziness has no place in the constitution of a man who starts at sunrise and tramps all day with only a sandwich to eat, floundering through bushes and briers and stumbling over rocks or wading streams in pursuit of elusive trout. Neither can a fisherman who, with rod in hand, sits in a boat or on a bank all day be called lazy—provided he attends to his fishing and is physically and mentally alert at his occupation.… Fishing imposes a self-restraint and patient forbearance upon its advanced devotees which tend to prevent sudden outbursts of feeling. It must be admitted, however, that when the largest trout of the day winds the leader about a snag and escapes after a long struggle, or when a large salmon or bass, suddenly, by an unexpected and vicious leap, frees himself from the hook, the fisherman’s code of morals will not condemn the holder of the straightened rod if he impulsively, but with all the gentility at his command, exclaims: ‘Damn that fish!'”
NOTE #3: Thanks to reader Rod Russell for alerting me to the fact that there is another connection between Grover Cleveland and the Eastern Shore. After Cleveland’s death, his widow remarried and became Frances C. Preston. The Prestons then bought a home on the Wye River near Queenstown, up on Kent Island. That home is known nowadays as the Bryan-Preston House, and Mr. Russell had a cousin who owned it for a while starting in the 1950s.