American history classes were once rife with presidential errata. In my school days, presidential trivia was the bedrock of learning about the American experience. Some of the first bits of knowledge generations of American school children learned concerned presidents. These bits and pieces of presidential lives loom large in American history: Washington’s cherry tree, Lincoln’s fence rail, and Roosevelt’s big stick are all touchstones for students of American history.
In the course of human affairs, though, some presidents get lost in the shuffle. One of the eras that seems to burst with forgettable presidents is the late 19th Century. We at Monumental Photography refer to these men as The Muttonchop Presidents. The Muttonchop Era began March 4, 1877 with the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes and ended March 4, 1897 with the inaugural of the clean-shaven William McKinley. In between, the U.S. was led by Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Grover Cleveland (again). Arthur was the only one to have true muttonchops, but all men represent a period when facial hair was the norm for the U.S. President. The prior two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, were the first two presidents to wear beards. They, however, are not include on the list of forgettable presidents–freeing millions of humans from bondage and winning the American Civil War tends to make a man stand out in a crowd. The Muttonchop Presidents were remarkable men in their own right, however, even if they do get lost in a sea of Gilded Age grooming habits.
This week, we look at Grover Cleveland in front of City Hall in Buffalo, New York, courtesy of photographer Brady Carlson. Cleveland holds the distinction of being the only U.S. President to be elected to two non-consecutive terms, which makes him both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Cleveland was elected president in 1884 and 1892. In between those elections, he was defeated by Rutherford B. Hayes. Opponents of the Electoral College take note: despite losing the electoral vote, Cleveland received 48.6 percent of all votes, while Harrison had just 47.8. So, the winner was the loser–or the loser was the winner, depending on your point of view. It was the third time in U.S. history that had happened. It would not happen again until 2000, when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore.
Cleveland was a shrewd politician and a conservative icon in the days before Fox News. he was pro-business, fiscally conservative, and a champion of political reform. He took on–and defeated–the boss politics and patronage systems running rampant both in his home state of New York and nationally as chief executive. His crusade for reform as Mayor of Buffalo and, later, as Governor of New York was so popular that an entire wing of the Republican Party threw their support to Cleveland in the 1884 election. This group was given one of the greatest nicknames in U.S. political history, the Mugwumps.
The statue pictured was one of two by sculptor Bryant Baker at the dedication of Buffalo’s new City Hall in 1932. The other statue is of Buffalo native and forgettable 13th President Millard Fillmore. Cleveland’s statue is a bronze statue on an engraved polished granite base. On the rear of the base is inscribed: “I have tried so hard to do right.”
A guy named Grover with great facial hair whose followers were called Mugwumps–it sounds like the makings of a great alt-country act. This guy should have much more cred with the hipsters. Long live the Muttonchop Presidents!