The Who2 Blog

Ulysses S. Grant: His Last Desperate Days

Photo of President Grant in stocking cap, looking weak, with a writing pad in his hands

It was “the first really successful celebrity memoir in American history” — and Ulysses S. Grant wrote it while dying of tongue and throat cancer:

“Everybody in the United States knew that Grant was dying. The nation, in a very basic way, held its breath to see who would win this race.”
Grant, the former president and Civil War hero, was in deep debt due to bad investments. In great pain, he retreated to a cottage at Mount McGregor in upstate New York for a last great effort to erase his debt and provide for his widow. The cottage is now a historic site.
Many of his personal effects are still there: his bedclothes, his hairbrush, and of course, his “cocaine water.”
“It was used to bathe his throat and his tongue, to give him some relief from the pain,” Welch explained.
“Is that sediment down there, is that cocaine?” Rocca asked.
“That’s cocaine, and every year the New York State Department of Parks and Recreation measures this and makes sure that none of it is gone.”
Grant died four days after finishing his book. (For others who did the same, see our loop Publish and Perish.)
(Photo: Ulysses S. Grant writes his memoirs at Mount McGregor on June 27, 1885 — 26 days before his death.)


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