|Princeton, NJ||June 12, 2004|
1946 marked the 200th anniversary of the establishment of Princeton University. Many celebratory events were held over the course of the academic year, with the penultimate festivity being a formal bicentennial dinner on June 16, 1947 in the new Dillon Gymnasium. One of the honored dinner guests was the 82-year-old wife of local businessman Thomas J. Preston, who was also a former professor at the institution and an alumnus. In the course of the evening Mrs. Preston spoke with an attendee about how she loved the time she lived in Washington, D.C. and mentioned she enjoyed talking with people who also lived in the capital city. Her new acquaintance remarked, “How interesting. Where did you live while in Washington?” If the diner expected Preston’s response to consist of a neighborhood or an avenue, he was in for a surprise. Quietly, she replied, “In the White House.” For what the man did not know was that, half a century earlier, Mrs. Preston was Frances Folsom Cleveland, first lady of the United States.
That aforementioned dinner guest may not have recognized his octogenarian conversation-mate, but few first ladies held the nation’s attention like Frances Folsom Cleveland did. In 1886, at age 21, she wed 49-year-old Grover Cleveland, the sitting president. Wide swaths of the American public were enamored with the new woman in the White House — Frank was the youngest presidential spouse to serve as first lady and was regarded by many people as a beauty. Companies used her likeness without permission to sell all manners of merchandise.
When former President Cleveland died in 1908, his widow was 43 years old. Five years later she married Thomas J. Preston. In doing so she became the first wife of a president to remarry after said president’s death. The only other first lady to do so was Jacqueline Kennedy, who wed Aristotle Onassis in 1968 — also five years after her own presidential spouse’s death.
After her passing in October 1947 — four months after the Princeton University bicentennial dinner — Mrs. Preston was buried at Princeton Cemetery. She was consigned to the earth in a plot that keeps the remains of her parents, her daughter Ruth, and her first husband, the former president. Mr. Preston, her second husband lived until 1955. His grave is located fifty road miles away at Rosedale Cemetery in Montclair, New Jersey.