3 Supervillain-Worthy Origin Stories of Famous Presidents

#1. Grover Cleveland's Ridiculous Cancer Heist

Eastman Johnson

Part of me was tempted to never elaborate on this entry. To just type "Grover Cleveland's Ridiculous Cancer Heist" and leave it hanging there, unexplained, and let your imaginations run wild. Is he stealing cancer? What's he going to do with all that cancer? Or is he stealing from cancer? If you want, you can skip this entry and let your brain fill in the blanks with whatever madness you can concoct, but if anyone wants to know the insane truth ...

The Supervillain Origin Story

[I'm cheating, because this isn't technically an origin story, but it does fall under the category of supervillain-esque schemes, so it felt like a good fit.]

Grover Cleveland was a man who held himself to a high moral standard all his life (his last words were "I have tried so hard to do right"), which is why I was pretty surprised to discover that one of the most shocking displays of presidential deception took place on his watch. While president, a cancerous tumor was discovered in Cleveland's mouth. Cleveland knew that he needed to get the tumor removed, but he also knew that news of the tumor would make him (and by extension America) seem weak, and he was worried that this news might tank the national economy. So this man, who built his career around the image of incorruptibility and goodness, staged a secret medical procedure, like an Ocean's Eleven heist, but with doctors and mounds of cancer instead of piles of money and Matt Damon.

PhotoQuest/Archive Photos/Getty Images
And with the raw sexuality of Clooney and Pitt combined.

President Cleveland assembled a small team of specialists and scheduled a top-secret surgery, and, to make sure the media didn't catch wind of the whole procedure, arranged to have the surgery take place on a fucking boat. He did it over Fourth of July weekend, when people could assume he was just enjoying a trip with his family. In reality, most of his family didn't know about the surgery or the cancer. Only Cleveland's wife and the small team of doctors knew. Even his vice president was kept in the dark.

On July 1, 1893, President Cleveland was sedated by nitrous oxide, strapped into a chair anchored to the mast of a ship in the middle of the ocean, and given major surgery. (It's been a while since I cracked open a medical textbook, and doctors reading along at home can confirm in the comments, but I'm almost certain that performing major surgery at sea was frowned upon, even then.) The doctors made all of their incisions inside Cleveland's mouth to make sure they wouldn't leave a visible scar and removed the cancer. Which is good, because if they'd slipped or run into some nasty waves and accidentally killed the president, I literally have no idea how they could possibly explain that to anyone.

Studio-Annika/iStock/Getty Images
"What can I say? The president is a really, really bad fisherman."

So far in the story, it could be argued that Cleveland isn't doing anything evil. Is he sneaky? Sure, but he did what he did to protect America and to prevent anyone from freaking out. But it's the epilogue that takes this story from "crazy plan" to "evil scheme" territory. One of the dentists who helped perform the procedure went public with the story as soon as it was clear that Cleveland was going to be fine. He believed that, since the danger had passed, there was no reason to keep the surgery a secret anymore. When he came forward, however, the White House aggressively and categorically denied his claims. The dentist was ridiculed, and when he eventually died, his reputation was that of a crazy liar. Apparently, President Cleveland's way of saying "Hey, thanks for performing my secret and illegal surgery" sounds a whole lot like "You're a FUCKING LIAR I'VE NEVER EVEN HEARD OF YOU."

Daniel O'Brien is the head writer for Cracked and author of How to Fight Presidents, which you can pre-order right now!

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