Jeff Kramer, who usually is a a humor columnist, in the Syracuse, New York, Post-Standard:
Millard Fillmore flash mob commemorating birthday is a snow-smashing success
Published: Monday, January 10, 2011, 6:00 AM
Moravia, NY — You know your legacy is in trouble when your biggest claim to fame is having a bathtub installed in the White House, and even that’s a lie.
So it has always been with Millard Fillmore. Americans remember their 13th president as mediocre, wishy-washy and fat — if they remember him at all.
Still, a president is a president, and for a few minutes this past Friday, even Millard found his posthumous mojo. At least 50 people gathered in his hometown of Moravia for a flash mob birthday boogie choreographed and led by my daughters Miranda, 10, and Lily, 8. The event was organized by me as part of my New Year’s resolution to reach out to techno-savvy young people before one of them remotely shuts off my oxygen.
Everyone was in a great mood. “Happy Birthday, Millard!” the crowd shouted after churning up the slush in the parking lot of Modern Market with a dazzling display of grapevines, sprinklers, funky chickens and more.
Among the celebrants was Mr. Jan Hunsinger, a history/government teacher at Moravia High School. He brought a group of students to be part of the gala, plying them with extra credit.
“Thanks for doing this,” Hunsinger said to me. At least I think he said it. Truth is I didn’t take notes. Note-taking is Old Media (lame) and poor flash mob etiquette. The whole point of a flash mob is to convene en masse as directed by viral media, commit a planned public act and disperse. The last thing you want is some mainstream media dork asking questions like “Can you spell your name for me again?” and “How does this flash mob change your perceptions of Millard Fillmore?”
I also learned that Millard took Peru’s side when American entrepreneurs were stealing that country’s bird droppings for fertilizer. Instead of coming to the aid of the American businessmen, Fillmore insisted that no one should take Peru’s bird turds without Peru’s permission. Peru was deeply grateful, and America gained international cred. A statue of Fillmore was erected in Peru. Predictably, it became obscured by the very substance he had helped to protect.
That’s all I have to say about Fillmore for now. I’m grateful to him, Moravia, my girls, the nice lady who bought them flowers and to everyone who made the flash mob rock. I’ll close with Fillmore’s inspiring last words, uttered as he was being fed soup.
“The nourishment is palatable,” he said. Then he died.
Here’s hoping that somewhere up there in that great bathtub in the sky, Millard — happily stuffed with palatable nourishment — was looking down on us last Friday and smiling.
Jeff Kramer’s humor column runs Mondays in CNY. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fillmore wasn’t a total washout as President, contrary to his reputation. Among other things, he was the guy who dispatched Commodore Perry to Japan, to open that reclusive nation to trade, and to stop them from executing random sailors from America washed up on their shores. In a direct way, we might say Fillmore was responsible for World War II in the Pacific — once awakened to the thrills and advantages of international trade, Japan went after it with a vengeance, and then after empire. That is to say the opening of Japan was momentous; history and commerce would never be the same again, in the Pacific.
And that quote, “The nourishment is palatable.” Fillmore probably didn’t say that. Even in death his words get little respect. The story of Fillmore’s death in the New York Times mentioned that he had been ill, and that at what turned out to be his last meal, some soup, Fillmore had said it was okay. The paper reported that Fillmore had said that the nourishment was palatable. Someone, later, put quotes around the reporter’s words, and made them Fillmore’s. You’d think someone would remember him for the Peruvian guano remarks instead, no? (Gee, I’m not sure Mr. Kramer described that episode accurately.)