89 years ago, May 23, 1926: Mencken confessed Fillmore bathtub hoax, “any facts . . . got there accidentally”

May 23, 2015

Reasons for my annual observance of a moment of silence, here on May 23, for the failed confession of Mr. Mencken should be obvious to even a sleepy reader.  Alas, annually the need grows to call attention to the dangers of hoaxing, as hoaxes particularly in the political life of the U.S. grow in number, in viciousness, and in the numbers of gullibles suckered.  Here, again, is our annual reading of the confession with a few photographs and new links thrown in for easy learning:

May 23, 1926, H. L. Mencken‘s newspaper column confessed his hoax of nine years earlier — he had made up whole cloth the story of Millard Fillmore‘s only accomplishment being the installation of a plumbed bathtub in the White House (in the 1850s known as the Executive Mansion).

H. L. Mencken, America's "wittiest defender of liberty," according to a story in the resurrected American Mercury. Image from American Mercury.

H. L. Mencken, America’s “wittiest defender of liberty,” according to a story in the resurrected American Mercury. Image from American Mercury.

Alas, the hoax cat was out of the bag, and the hoax information still pollutes the pool of history today.

Text of Mencken’s confession, from the Museum of Hoaxes:

Melancholy Reflections

On Dec. 28, 1917, I printed in the New York Evening Mail, a paper now extinct, an article purporting to give the history of the bathtub. This article, I may say at once, was a tissue of absurdities, all of them deliberate and most of them obvious…

This article, as I say, was planned as a piece of spoofing to relieve the strain of war days, and I confess that I regarded it, when it came out, with considerable satisfaction. It was reprinted by various great organs of the enlightenment, and after a while the usual letters began to reach me from readers. Then, suddenly, my satisfaction turned to consternation. For these readers, it appeared, all took my idle jocosities with complete seriousness. Some of them, of antiquarian tastes, asked for further light on this or that phase of the subject. Others actually offered me corroboration!

But the worst was to come. Pretty soon I began to encounter my preposterous “facts” in the writings of other men. They began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene. They got into learned journals. They were alluded to on the floor of congress. They crossed the ocean, and were discussed solemnly in England and on the continent. Finally, I began to find them in standard works of reference. Today, I believe, they are accepted as gospel everywhere on earth. To question them becomes as hazardous as to question the Norman invasion.

* * *

And as rare. This is the first time, indeed, that they have ever been questioned, and I confess at once that even I myself, their author, feel a certain hesitancy about doing it. Once more, I suppose, I’ll be accused of taking the wrong side for the mere pleasure of standing in opposition. The Cincinnati boomers, who have made much of the boast that the bathtub industry, now running to $200,000,000 a year, was started in their town, will charge me with spreading lies against them. The chiropractors will damn me for blowing up their ammunition. The medical gents, having swallowed my quackery, will now denounce me as a quack for exposing them. And in the end, no doubt, the thing will simmer down to a general feeling that I have once more committed some vague and sinister crime against the United States, and there will be a renewal of the demand that I be deported to Russia.

I recite this history, not because it is singular, but because it is typical. It is out of just such frauds, I believe, that most of the so-called knowledge of humanity flows. What begins as a guess — or, perhaps, not infrequently, as a downright and deliberate lie — ends as a fact and is embalmed in the history books. One recalls the gaudy days of 1914-1918. How much that was then devoured by the newspaper readers of the world was actually true? Probably not 1 per cent. Ever since the war ended learned and laborious men have been at work examining and exposing its fictions. But every one of these fictions retains full faith and credit today. To question even the most palpably absurd of them, in most parts of the United States, is to invite denunciation as a bolshevik.

So with all other wars. For example, the revolution. For years past American historians have been investigating the orthodox legends. Almost all of them turn out to be blowsy nonsense. Yet they remain in the school history books and every effort to get them out causes a dreadful row, and those who make it are accused of all sorts of treasons and spoils. The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.

* * *

As a practicing journalist for many years, I have often had close contact with history in the making. I can recall no time or place when what actually occurred was afterward generally known and believed. Sometimes a part of the truth got out, but never all. And what actually got out was seldom clearly understood. Consider, for example, the legends that follow every national convention. A thousand newspaper correspondents are on the scene, all of them theoretically competent to see accurately and report honestly, but it is seldom that two of them agree perfectly, and after a month after the convention adjourns the accepted version of what occurred usually differs from the accounts of all of them.

Political boss Harry M. Daugherty (later Attor...

Political boss Harry M. Daugherty (later Attorney General of the United States), left, with Senator Warren G. Harding (later President of the United States) at Harding’s home in Marion, Ohio during the 1920 presidential campaign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I point to the Republican convention of 1920, which nominated the eminent and lamented Harding. A week after the delegates adjourned the whole country believed that Harding had been put through by Col. George Harvey: Harvey himself admitted it. Then other claimants to the honor arose, and after a year or two it was generally held that the trick had been turned by the distinguished Harry M. Daugherty, by that time a salient light of the Harding cabinet. The story began to acquire corroborative detail. Delegates and correspondents began to remember things that they had not noticed on the spot. What the orthodox tale is today with Daugherty in eclipse, I don’t know, but you may be sure that it is full of mysterious intrigue and bold adventure.

Ambassador Myron T. Herrick was part of the U....

Ambassador Myron T. Herrick was part of the U.S. delegation to the International Chamber of Commerce which sailed on Kroonland in 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are the facts? The facts are that Harvey had little more to do with the nomination of Harding than I did, and that Daugherty was immensely surprised when good Warren won. The nomination was really due to the intense heat, and to that alone. The delegates, torn by the savage three cornered fight between Lowden, Johnson, and Wood, came to Saturday morning in despair. The temperature in the convention hall was at least 120 degrees. They were eager to get home. When it became apparent that the leaders could not break the deadlock they ran amuck and nominated Harding, as the one aspirant who had no enemies. If any individual managed the business it was not Harvey or Daugherty, but Myron T. Herrick. But so far as I know Herrick’s hand in it has never been mentioned.

* * *

English: Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier i...

Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier in arena before fight at Boyle’s Thirty Acres. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I turn to a more pleasant field — that of sport in the grand manner. On July 2, 1921, in the great bowl at Jersey City, the Hon. Jack Dempsey met M. Carpentier, the gallant frog. The sympathy of the crowd was overwhelmingly with M. Carpentier and every time he struck a blow he got a round of applause, even if it didn’t land. I had an excellent seat, very near the ring, and saw every move of the two men. From the first moment Dr. Dempsey had it all his own way. He could have knocked out M. Carpentier in the first half of the first round. After that first half he simply waited his chance to do it politely and humanely.

Yet certain great newspapers reported the next morning that M. Carpentier had delivered an appalling wallop in the second round and that Dr. Dempsey had narrowly escaped going out. Others told the truth, but what chance had the truth against that romantic lie? It is believed in to this day by at least 99.99 per cent of all the boxing fans in Christendom. Carpentier himself, when he recovered from his beating, admitted categorically that it was nonsense, but even Carpentier could make no headway against the almost universal human tendency to cherish what is not true. A thousand years hence schoolboys will be taught that the frog had Dempsey going. It may become in time a religious dogma, like the doctrine that Jonah swallowed the whale. Scoffers who doubt it will be damned to hell.

The moral, if any, I leave to psycho-pathologists, if competent ones can be found. All I care to do today is to reiterate, in the most solemn and awful terms, that my history of the bathtub, printed on Dec. 28, 1917, was pure buncombe. If there were any facts in it they got there accidentally and against my design. But today the tale is in the encyclopedias. History, said a great American soothsayer, is bunk.

[Emphasis in that last paragraph added here.]

Mencken’s confession gets much less attention than it deserves.  In a just world, this essay would be part of every AP U.S. history text, and would be available for printing for students to read individually in class and to discuss, debate and ponder.  Quite to the contrary, state legislatures today debate whether to require teaching of the hoax that disastrous climate change is not occurring, only 45% of Americans claim to know better for certain; more legislatures work hard to devise ways to insert hoaxes against biology (evolution and human reproduction, notably), astronomy and physics (Big Bang), history and even education (Islam is a root of socialist thought, President Obama is not Christian, weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, teachers are socialists).

In 2013, the governing body of the Boy Scouts of America voted on whether to allow homosexual boys to be Scouts — as if an 8-year-old kid joining Cub Scouts knows enough about sex and love, and sex predation, to threaten the Constitution of the U.S. if we allow him to learn how to put alphabet macaroni onto a board spelling out “Mom,” or to learn how to carve an automobile out of a block of wood and race it on a closed-course track.  The so-called Family Research Council (FRC) has conducted a campaign of vicious hoaxes against the measure, even going so far as to purloin official logos of the Boy Scouts to suggest they speak for BSA.  The hoax has millions of victims, they claim.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., GOP Members of Congress call for investigations into wrongdoing evidenced in e-mails between the White House and State Department and CIA, over the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.  To hear the GOP describe it, you’d never know that the GOP opposed President Obama’s actions to save the city of Benghazi from destruction by dictator Muammar Gadhafy a few months before, that the GOP slashed the security budget for all U.S. diplomatic missions, leaving Ambassador Stevens underprotected, that the GOP was opposed to much of the work of Ambassador Stevens, or that the incriminating e-mails were hoaxed up by GOP Congressional staff.  [This paragraph was written two years ago; still oddly valid in 2015.]

Other hoaxes that plague our nation, national security, and freedom from fear:

  • Texans fret that President Obama will invade Texas and annex it into the United States of America.
  • Many business lobbyists scream that rogue scientists cooked up global warming, and tell us that all of us frogs will know when the water is too warm, and can leap to safety later.
  • Any Google or Bing search turns up high dudgeon ne’er-do-gooders who scream that we need to bring back DDT to beat malaria, Ebola, West Nile virus and tooth decay, though DDT has always been available to fight disease-carrying insects, and it won’t work against Ebola, and it’s inappropriate against West Nile.
  • Et cetera.
  • Et cetera.
  • Et cetera.

If you see pale faces among the GOP Congressional staff or the FRC this morning, it may be because the ghost of H. L. Mencken appeared to them last night to give them hell.  We could hope.

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience, and repetition of the facts.


Millard Fillmore, live on Peachtree Street, 1854

March 4, 2015

Lower Peachtree Street, Atlanta, in 1910, 56 years after ex-President Millard Fillmore visited. Library of Congress photo via Chamblee54

Lower Peachtree Street, Atlanta, in 1910, 56 years after ex-President Millard Fillmore visited. Library of Congress photo via Chamblee54

Chamblee54, in a history of Peachtree Street studded with interesting photographs, notes Atlanta’s first-time brush with any ex-president:

In 1854, Atlanta entertained, for the first time, a man who had been President. On May 2, Millard Fillmore arrived from Augusta on a private rail car.

Two years after the Whigs refused to nominate Fillmore for a term of his own, he was out touring the country?

Several accounts explain that Fillmore and his wife Abigail wanted to tour the U.S. after his presidency.  Unfortunately, she died shortly after he left office.  He pined through the rest of 1853, but by February 1854 had decided to tour by himself, without his children, accompanied by friends he could persuade to join him.

That same month, Fillmore decided to take the trip southward that he and Abigail had not been able to take. Given the timing, some observers believed that Fillmore had a political motive in making the journey.  They suspected that he might be planning to speak out against the Nebraska Bill [proposed by Illinois’s U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas]. Others were convinced that it was a leisure tour.  But whatever Fillmore’s intentions may have been, his speeches to southern audiences were relatively neutral.  He restated his faith in the [Missouri] Compromise, but he spent mos tof his time enjoying a series of receptions, dinners, and parades in his honor throughout the region.  A marching band escorted him through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky.  Girls scattered his path with flowers in Montgomery, Alabama.  A row of trains blew their whistles in greeting in Atlanta, Georgia.  Fillmore returned home refreshed and with renewed faith in his fellow Americans.

Alison Behnke, Millard Fillmore (a child’s history of the man), 2005, page 92.

A longer description came out of Robert J. Scarry’s 1982 biography:

By late February 1854 Fillmore had resumed his plans to travel.  He perceived that a southern trip would do him good and that the journey would divert his mind from the loss of Abigail.

*******

Fillmore hoped Francis Granger, John P. Kennedy, and Washington Irving would go with him on the trip. Granger lost interest, and Irving, who had been asked by his friend Kennedy, was in no mood for politics.

*******

En route to Atlanta from Augusta on the Georgia Railroad, they stopped at Greensboro where a large crowd of teachers and students of the Female College greeted Fillmore and Kennedy.  They dined at Madison.  At Stone Mountain an escort committee from Atlanta met them.

At the Atlanta Depot a novel reception welcomed them.  A large number of locomotives were present with their steam up.  When the Augusta engineer signalled their arrival they all opened up their valves and whistled out a welcome the like of which, reported a newspaper, “no mortal man had heard before.” The shouts from the crowd and locomotive whistles were deafening to one reporter.  By carriage the party went from the depot to the Atlanta Hotel where a reception was held.

Fillmore had become hoarse. Nonetheless, he managed to say that he was impressed by the large population and that he had heard that it was a beautiful village in the center of the state. He also admonished the state legislature to to take note “of the array of female loveliness before me” seated at the reception.  If they did so, he joked, they wouldn’t hesitate to locate the state capital at Atlanta.  At that time the capital was at Milledgeville.  Atlanta became the capital in 1877.  In the evening, after dinner, a ball was held.  Fifty young ladies dressed in white with bouquets of flowers were a highlight of the occasion.

Robert J. Scarry, Millard Fillmore, 1982, pages 247-252 variously.

Any photos of Fillmore in Atlanta?

Millard Fillmore is in some ways the ultimate exemplar of American civic boosterism.  These accounts tend to be softball, even when the potential political effects of his trip to Atlanta are discussed.  One gets a sense that contemporary accounts of the trip were equally bland and uncontroversial.  Fillmore’s trip offered a lot of local chamber of commerce precursors a chance to plug their local industry, development and pride.  Fillmore seems incapable of not offering pride-stoking flattery to these group of people.  That’s not necessarily bad.

Within a dozen years the nation would be engulfed in the Civil War.  Atlanta would be burned.  The railroads Fillmore rode would be torn up by Union armies.

What a snapshot, even without photos.

A not-often seen image of Millard Fillmore.  Via Accessible Archives.

A not-often seen image of Millard Fillmore. Via Accessible Archives.


Millard Fillmore, blazing paths as an ex-president

January 15, 2015

Caption from the University of Buffalo: Aurora [New York] town historian Robert Goller delivers the commemorative address indoors at the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center in Forest Lawn. Photo: Douglas Levere - See more at: http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/campus/campus-host-page.host.html/content/shared/university/news/ub-reporter-articles/stories/2015/01/fillmore_commemoration.detail.html#/imagegallery/5

Caption from the University of Buffalo: Aurora [New York] town historian Robert Goller delivers the commemorative address indoors at the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center in Forest Lawn. Photo: Douglas Levere – See more at: http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/campus/campus-host-page.host.html/content/shared/university/news/ub-reporter-articles/stories/2015/01/fillmore_commemoration.detail.html#/imagegallery/5

I finally found reports of the ceremonies at Millard Fillmore’s gravesite, from January 7, Fillmore’s 215th birth anniversary.  This one comes from the Seneca (New York) Bee:

Historian delivers annual address at Fillmore memorial

by MARY BEST
Reporter

Frigid temperatures didn’t turn away a crowd at the 50th annual Millard Fillmore Commemoration Ceremony at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Jan. 7.

The program, presented by the University at Buffalo and co-hosted by Forest Lawn and the Buffalo Club, was celebrated on Fillmore’s 215th birthday. Robert Goller, Town of Aurora historian, gave the memorial address.

New York Air National Guard Col. Kevin Rogers began the ceremony by laying a wreath at Fillmore’s grave site from President Barack Obama, in keeping with tradition of past presidents. Deputy Mayor of the City of Buffalo Ellen Grant also presented a wreath, later adorned with pins from representatives of Fillmore’s legacy organizations.

Fillmore returned to Buffalo following his loss of the 1852 presidential election. He had a hand in establishing and ensuring the survival of many organizations including the Albright Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System, the SPCA serving Erie County and the University at Buffalo.

Due to the subzero wind chill, Goller delivered the memorial address from the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center after the wreath dedications.

Goller began his address describing Fillmore’s humble beginnings, including the rough journey Fillmore took from Central New York on foot to arrive to his family’s home in Aurora.

“It’s easy to forget that in Millard Fillmore’s day, there wasn’t even a railroad to take the future president halfway across New York State,” Goller said.

The Aurora Historical Society, which runs the Millard Fillmore National Historic Landmark Museum, is also raising funds to commemorate Fillmore’s legacy by commissioning a presidential site to include a statue and a recreation of Fillmore’s law office. Goller also noted Fillmore’s role presiding over the Senate as vice president during a turbulent time in history, which dealt with slavery and secession.

Fillmore’s greatest legacy, however, happened after his time at the White House was over, an often overlooked period of time, according to Goller.

“While Fillmore’s presidency was relatively short, he was probably one of the most effective at using the power of the post-presidency to lend support to important efforts,” Goller said. “The word retirement certainly didn’t describe Millard Fillmore after he left the White House, and we have a much better community today because of it.”

Goller ended by noting the revitalization of Buffalo, most notably the development at the waterfront. He credited Fillmore with igniting the fire when he showed the same passion in the Western New York Community more than a century ago.

“We must not forget that it’s the people, not necessarily the buildings that make the community thrive,” Goller said. “Today we honor one of those people who saw potential in our community and maybe do our best as stewards of our community to continue Millard Fillmore’s legacy of civic pride and community spirit.”

email: @beenews.commbest


New York Air National Guard honored Millard Fillmore, presented President Obama’s wreath at grave

January 7, 2015

I wasn’t there; this is the press release:

107th Airlift Wing Honors Millard Fillmore During Annual Ceremony at Presidents Grave Wednesday, Jan. 7

New York Air National Guard Col. Kevin Rogers places a wreath from President Barack Obama at the gravesite of President Millard Fillmore on Jan. 7, 2015. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Brandy Fowler, 107th AW)

New York Air National Guard Col. Kevin Rogers places a wreath from President Barack Obama at the gravesite of President Millard Fillmore on Jan. 7, 2015. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Brandy Fowler, 107th AW)

BUFFALO, NY (01/07/2015)(readMedia)– New York Air National Guard Col. Kevin Rogers marked the 215th birthday of President Millard Fillmore by laying a wreath from President Barack Obama at the grave of the 13th President on Wednesday, Jan. 7.

The tribute from the 107th Airlift Wing Inspector General, was part of the 50th graveside ceremony marking Fillmore’s birth conducted at Forest Lawn Cemetery by the University of Buffalo.

Fillmore, who was president from 1850 to 1853, was one of the founders of the University of Buffalo. He was also the school’s first Chancellor and instrumental in founding Buffalo’s General Hospital and local libraries and museums.

The University of Buffalo has hosted a graveside ceremony for Fillmore for the past 50 years. The ceremony also encompasses another tradition: the presentation of wreaths form the current president at the gravesites of past presidents on their Birthday.

The 107th Airlift Wing, based at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, traditionally places a wreath on Fillmore’s Grave. The New York National Guard also places wreaths on the graves of President Martin Van Buren in Kinderhook and President Chester Arthur in Albany.

Fillmore was born in 1800 in Moravia New York. He was a lawyer and served in the New York State Assembly. He served in the United States Congress from 1833 to 1835 and again from 1837 to 1845.

Fillmore ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York in 1844 but was defeated. He ran successfully for the position of State Comptroller in 1847 and was the first person to serve in that office as the state’s financial watchdog.

In 1848 Fillmore was nominated to run as vice president with the popular General Zachery Taylor, a hero of the Mexican War. Taylor died suddenly and Fillmore became president. He approved the bills that put in place the Compromise of 1850 designed to allow Texas to enter the Union as a Slave State in exchange for California entering it as a Free State. The measure also banned the sale of slaves in the District of Columbia.

Fillmore, the last member of the Whig Party to serve as president, returned home to Buffalo after losing the election of 1852. During the Civil War Fillmore, a former Major in the New York Militia, commanded a Buffalo home guard regiment called the Union Corps. He died in 1874.

The New York Air National Guard’s 107th Airlift Wing shares Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station with the Air Force Reserve’s 914th Airlift Wing. The unit is currently in the process of transitioning to a mission flying remotely piloted MQ-9 aircraft after previously flying the C-130 transport aircraft and the KC-135 refueling plane.

Members of the 107th Airlift Wing also respond to New York state emergencies and were heavily involved in responding to the lake effect snowstorm which hit Erie County in November.


Graveside commemoration for Millard Fillmore’s birthday in Buffalo, January 7

January 6, 2015

Are you going to the graveside event in Buffalo, New York, for Millard Fillmore’s birthday?

Press release from the University of Buffalo:

Millard Fillmore’s Buffalo legacy to be recognized at commemoration

A plaque commemorating Millard Fillmore hangs on a gate in front of the grave site in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

By Sue Ann Wuetcher

December 30, 2014

“Millard Fillmore’s imprint on Buffalo’s development into a leading U.S. city of the 19th century is unparalleled and his legacy today remains truly vibrant.”
– William J. Regan, director of special events,University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – If Millard Fillmore, the much-maligned 13th president of the United States, were alive today, he might tell you he has a lot to be proud of.

Fillmore helped establish UB — serving as the university’s first chancellor from 1847 until his death in 1874 —and he played a major role in founding numerous cultural, civic and community organizations in Buffalo and Erie County, among them the Buffalo History Museum, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and Buffalo General Medical Center.

He also was instrumental in framing the charter that transformed the village of Buffalo into the city of Buffalo, and as a four-term congressman, secured funding to enlarge the Buffalo Harbor and expand the Erie Canal.

Fillmore’s “legacy organizations” will be well represented at the annual commemoration of Fillmore’s birthday, the 50th year UB has organized the annual program.

The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Jan. 7 — the 215th anniversary of Fillmore’s birth — at Fillmore’s gravesite in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

“In celebrating 50 years of planning this event, we thought it would be fitting to include all the organizations that can trace their roots back to Millard Fillmore,” says William J. Regan, director of special events. “Millard Fillmore’s imprint on Buffalo’s development into a leading U.S. city of the 19th century is unparalleled and his legacy today remains truly vibrant as these organizations continue to define and lead Buffalo in so many ways.”

The roster of organizations Fillmore touched is impressive, Regan says, and includes the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Buffalo Club, the Buffalo Public Schools, Buffalo Science Museum, the law firm Hodgson Russ LLP and the SPCA serving Erie County, as well as the history museum, public library, Buffalo General and, of course, UB.

Representatives of these organizations — Provost Charles F. Zukoski will represent UB — will give short tributes to Fillmore and present a community wreath to be placed on Fillmore’s grave. Wreaths also will be presented by the White House and Forest Lawn. Col. Kevin Rogers, inspector general of the 107th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard based at the Niagara Falls Air Base, will place the White House wreath on behalf of President Obama.

Robert Goller, Town of Aurora historian, will deliver the memorial address and provide an account of Fillmore’s early days. Although he was born in Moravia, Cayuga County, Fillmore started his law practice in East Aurora and built a house there for himself and his wife, Abigail.

Following the gravesite ceremony, a reception sponsored by Forest Lawn and the Buffalo Club will be held in the new Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center in Forest Lawn.

The tradition to honor Fillmore dates back to 1937. From 1937 until 1965, the commemoration was staged by the city of Buffalo and the Buffalo Board of Education. The annual ceremonies were administered by Irving R. Templeton, a 1909 graduate of UB, who scheduled two programs annually on or near Jan. 7 — one in City Hall and one in Forest Lawn.

The responsibility of planning the commemoration shifted to UB when Templeton died in 1965. Although UB participated in the Fillmore birthday commemoration during Templeton’s stewardship, the university took over the ceremony and made it a community event starting in 1966.

The ceremony is open to all members of the UB and broader Western New York communities. Registration is encouraged at www.ubevents.org/event/mf2015

– See more at: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2014/12/043.html#sthash.dqcO3WTO.dpuf

No bathtub races this year, that I have found.

Do you know of any other commemorations of Fillmore’s birthday?


December 2: Millard Fillmore’s Guano Day!

December 1, 2014

Why December 2?

(You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were Monty Python.)

English: Millard Fillmore White House portrait

Millard Fillmore’s White House portrait, via Wikipedia

President Millard Fillmore, in the State of the Union Address, December 2, 1850

Peruvian guano has become so desirable an article to the agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the Government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end. I am persuaded that in removing any restraints on this traffic the Peruvian Government will promote its own best interests, while it will afford a proof of a friendly disposition toward this country, which will be duly appreciated.

Did any other U.S. President spend so much time thinking about guano?  Did any president ever mention it in a State of the Union Address?  The curious case of Millard Fillmore, Seer, just grows.

Guano, or bird poop (and its relative, bat poop), contains phosphorus, which is an essential element for life.  Consequently, it turns out to be a key ingredient in effective agricultural fertilizers.  In international competition for supremacy in farming and farm exports, guano became a key resource to fight over, in the 19th century.

It’s almost safe to say the fights were economic; but guano did play a key role in wars in South America (see Andrew Leonard’s article, noted below).

Fillmore figured out that the substance had great importance, coupled that with the rather esoteric knowledge that sea birds tended to deposit guano in great abundance on certain islands, often unoccupied, and ordered the U.S. Navy to claim islands found to contain guano deposits that were not claimed by other nations.

By the American Civil War, the importance of phosphorus to the production of gun powder became an issue for the armies of the North and South.  Millard Fillmore had set the stage for the North to win an important advantage in gun powder production, just one of many that led to the defeat of the South.

It’s one more thing we should thank Millard Fillmore for doing. Our study of history should inform us that it is, indeed, important for politicians to understand the importance of guano.

Fillmore knew his guano.

Take a moment on December 2 to toast Millard Fillmore’s prescience, on Guano Day!

More:  


Millard Fillmore and middle school: Enough for a sit-com set in Buffalo?

October 28, 2014

Buzz in Buffalo, New York, is that there may be a sit-com coming, set in Buffalo, about education — the kids and teachers at Millard Fillmore Middle School.

Potential cast for a potential sitcom situated in Millard Fillmore's hometown, Buffalo, New York

Potential cast for a potential sitcom situated in Millard Fillmore’s hometown, Buffalo, New York

Seriously?   A reporter for Buffalo Rising, Newell Nussbaumer, wrote:

Do you remember the last time that Buffalo had a sitcom “based” here? Do you recall what the name of the show was? It was Jesse – a show that ran for a couple of years (1998-1999). Since that time there has not been a show “set in” the city of Buffalo. But Jordan Imiola wants to change that. Jordan is currently a screenwriter in LA, who lives and breathes Buffalo, as does his girlfriend. They are huge Sabres and Bills backers, and do their part to expound Buffalo’s virtues whenever they are able. Sometimes they do that by frequenting Buffalo backers bars, and sometimes they simply wear it on their sleeves (both of them sport Buffalo tattoos).

Now Jordan wants to put Buffalo back on the map via a new sitcom that takes place in this city. “The new TV comedy is called “Get Educated.” It’s a Feel Good Comedy similar to “Modern Family” and “The Office,” but it takes place in Millard Fillmore Middle School. It focuses on teachers and students. Growing up, my Grandpa took me to Millard Fillmore’s Birthday Party every year at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora so that’s what inspired the school name. Also, my mom, Uncle Dave, and Aunt Laurie taught in Western NY schools for years. My mom and Aunt were faculty members of the Cheektowaga-Sloan district where I went to school K – 10. And my Uncle Dave taught at the Stanley G. Falk School and now teaches in the city of Buffalo.”

This is the age of the internet:  You may contribute to the production of the series, at IndiGoGo.

At Buffalo Rising, one commenter paid homage to a teacher at the real Millard Fillmore Junior High School in Buffalo, years ago:

buffalorr10 hours ago
“Millard Fillmore Middle School”–It was named Millard Fillmore Jr. High when it opened in the early sixties. Located on Appenheimer St. off Fillmore Ave. next to the now demolished Kensington Heights projects. My Alma Mater class of ’66. There was an amazing teacher there, Mrs. Stallings, a black woman who for many of the white kids that lived in our all white neighborhood at the time, was the first contact we’d ever had with a person of color. She was so strict that no one dared not turn in their homework or disrupt the classroom. We all ended up with a 90 point or higher grade upon leaving her class along with the feeling that she was one of the best educators we’d ever had. I think that could be material for an interesting TV show.

Okay, I’d watch that.

(Hey, is there a photo of the old Millard Fillmore Jr. High on the internet?)


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