Grant Cottage Visitor Center Exhibit Installed for 2019 Season
A new exhibit for the Grant Cottage visitor center has been installed in time for the opening of our 2019 season. Titled, “Grant Becomes a Cancer Patient, 1884 to 1885,” the exhibit explores the General’s final months from a medical perspective. Using period medical equipment and related artifacts from the Trombley-Prosch collection, the story of Grant’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and diet in the final weeks of his life on Mount McGregor is interpreted.
A main goal of the exhibit is to draw attention to the story of the revolutionary transition in the medical and public perception of cancer brought about by Grant’s terminal illness. The General’s cancer diagnosis and the intense publicity surrounding the final year of his life provided catalysts for a new understanding of the disease and a profound shift in the disease’s persona. Prior to Grant’s illness, cancer carried the stigma of punishment for grave sin. After his death, the country was left to ponder how a beloved figure such as the General who had faced both financial and health crises in the final months of his life with such dignity, courage and determination, could be afflicted with a disease that was “contrary to nature.” This question, along with rising cancer rates and advances in the field of pathology, sparked a transition to legitimate public concern and medical inquiry.
A second goal for the exhibit is to note Grant’s dawning awareness of the danger of addiction in the use of cocaine, given to him as a new wonder drug to control pain (unlike morphine, cocaine’s addictive quality was yet unrecognized by the medical community). As he became aware of his developing tolerance for the drug, he attempted to decrease the dose of his medication in the face of nearly unbearable pain. He worked with his treating physician Dr. John H. Douglas to develop a medication schedule that optimized his pain medication’s effectiveness. Grant did this with the expressed intent of helping future patients suffering intense chronic pain – an act of compelling personal determination that resonates 134 years later.
Melissa Trombley-Prosch, Friends of Grant Cottage Site Historian