This could be considered a “Truman” story – since he provided the setting.
The Truman Part
In 1947, Harry S Truman was a generally unpopular President. He had assumed the office upon the death of very popular Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was considered by most-who-mattered, a light-weight. Truman himself, had no illusions, although he also knew he was beset by huge problems and challenges after World War II.
Truman and his wife Bess Wallace had much in common: they were the same age, went all through school together and had compatible dispositions. They also lost their fathers while they were still young. Harry’s mother, Martha (nee Young) had the limited means of a farming family. Madge Wallace (nee Gates) was financially comfortable but lacked the personal skills to live on her own. The Trumans lived with her, until the point where she lived with them. Both mothers, however, had longevity in their genes.
Thus when Harry became President, he was happy to share his new surroundings with family whenever it was feasibly possible.
Truman was also assiduously courting General Eisenhower, whose support and friendship he deemed valuable, if not essential, to any political aspirations he might have, albeit flimsy at best.
The Ike Part
In 1947, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, formerly the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, was arguably the most famous (and probably popular) person in the country, if not the world. Having led a successful massive military invasion to rid the world of Nazi and fascistic terror, Ike, as everyone called him, could have his choice of occupation. He was still in his mid-50s.
When General George Marshall was named Secretary of State for Truman, Ike assumed his old job as Chief of Staff of the Army. Ike was also being assiduously wooed by various political factions who were feeling him out for Truman’s job. Ike always shunned political activism, and was assiduously ducking everything and everybody.
But when Truman invited Ike to a small luncheon at the White House during the summer of ’47, Ike saw no reason to decline.
It is always customary at White House gatherings of mixed company, for a gentleman to escort a lady to the table and serve as a dining companion, i.e. making pleasant conversation.
Ike was resplendent in his dress uniform, and looked every inch the Great Man that history perceived him to be. But he was a bit non-plussed when he was assigned to escort an elderly Mrs. Preston to the table. It was common knowledge that Truman’s 80-something year old mother-in-law was a permanent White House resident, and other older women were guests that afternoon. Ike likely assumed that his table-mate was a Truman relative, and he had been invited to help “honor” the ladies. He was gracious and gave Mrs. Preston his arm.
She was 83 years old, but in fine health and faculties. At 5’6”, she stood straight and strong without a cane. Her face was bright, and she listened and conversed with intelligence. She did not seem to be the least bit overwhelmed in the presence of either President Truman or General Eisenhower.
In fact, she seemed delighted with her surroundings, taking everything in. She remarked to Ike, that she was so happy to be back in the Old House again. Ike pleasantly queried if she had been there before. “Oh yes, General,” she told him. “I was married in the White House and lived here for nearly eight years. I was married to President Grover Cleveland.”
Mrs. Preston had been First Lady before Ike was even born.
Mrs. Cleveland and Mrs. Preston
Frances Folsom (1864-1847) was only 21 when she became First Lady. Sitting POTUS Grover Cleveland was 28 years her senior, and had been the law partner and best friend of her father. When Oscar Folsom died in an accident when Frances was 11, Cleveland, as executor of the estate, became her legal guardian, and, in an avuncular sense, loved her dearly. By the time she was in her late teens, studying at Wells College in Aurora, NY, he was Governor – and his interest in her began to change, once her hair was put up and her hems were let down.
Their marriage lasted more than twenty years, until Cleveland’s death in 1908 at age 71. Frances was only 44. It had been a happy marriage, producing five children and Frances always claimed she loved her husband dearly. Grover Cleveland, overweight, sedentary and with heart trouble looked a decade older.
Five years later, she married Thomas Jex Preston, Jr., a man only two years her senior. Well born and well educated, both in the US and abroad, he had made a substantial fortune in business, and thus decided to pursue his passion: archeology. He became a professor at Wells College, where he had the opportunity to meet its most famous alumna, Frances Cleveland, who served on its Board of Trustees. She encouraged him to apply for a position at Princeton University, where the retired POTUS conducted occasional classes.
Preston was offered the position, and came to know both Clevelands. After the former President died, Preston discretely courted Mrs. C., and they finally married in a small, intimate ceremony in 1913.
From all accounts, theirs was also a happy and perhaps a more companionable union. They seemed to enjoy the same things: travel (GC disliked it), the arts (GC knew little about it), and congenial company (GC preferred his own set).
Only a few months after being Truman’s guest, and Ike’s dining mate, Frances Cleveland Preston died peacefully in her sleep during a visit to her son in Baltimore. Her second husband outlived her, dying in 1955, at age 94. They had been married for 32 years.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Frances Preston is buried in the Cleveland family plot, in Princeton, NJ.
Boller, Paul Jr. – Presidential Anecdotes, Oxford University Press, 1981
Dunlap, Annette – Frank: (Frances Folsom Cleveland) – SUNY/Excelsior, 2009