This photo depicts Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, reading a newspaper on the porch of his home in Mount McGregor, New York. Taken just four days before he died of throat cancer, this photo is the last known photo of President Grant before his passing.
Despite having not only been a President of the United States, but also a famed general and folkloric war hero during the Civil War period, President Grant had spent the last year of his life almost destitute and virtually bankrupt. In May of 1884, Grant discovered that the investment firm which contained most of his net worth had collapsed entirely, and as a result, Grant was left nearly penniless. As if that wasn’t enough, it was only two months later that Grant would be diagnosed with throat cancer, likely caused by his habit of frequently smoking cigars. Fearing for the well-being of his wife and his children, Grant was left grasping at straws in order to secure them a stable future – until none other than Mark Twain, a personal friend of Grant’s, had suggested that he publish a written collection of his memoirs. Grant was famously known as an incredible storyteller, and would captivate audiences with verbal recounts of his exploits in the Civil War; Twain had heard many of these stories himself and insisted that Grant immortalize them in writing.
In order to sustain Grant, Twain had granted him an advance payment of $1,000 and secured him a contract with Twain’s own newly-formed publishing house. For the remainder of his life, before he finally succumbed to cancer, Grant diligently composed his memoirs – sometimes writing more than 60,000 words a day. It was only three days before this photo was taken, and just a week before he finally died, that Grant had finished his memoirs. When Twain had approached Grant with the good news that over 100,000 advance copies of the memoirs had already been ordered, Grant was able to pass away in peace knowing that the financial security of his wife and family would be sustained with the royalty payments.