The Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, NY, has many acres and an unwieldy name, but the heart of the complex is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum. It’s filled with genuine artifacts from the lives of President and Eleanor Roosevelt, souvenirs from the turbulent times in which they lived and effected change, and — in a display of candor rarely expressed in single-subject museums — acknowledgments of their flaws, examples of contrasting viewpoints, and mementos of their opponents. FDR was by no means perfect. Some lobbed deep criticisms in his direction, not all of them baseless. But like all the better American Presidents, signposts can be found along his timeline expressing his hopes and ideas of at least trying to improve our nation for the sake of all citizens, not for himself.
I know what some of you are thinking: of the nine American Presidents whose graves we visited on our week-long scenic tour, isn’t it about time we got to a President who had more than twelve fans? First of all, the city of Buffalo thinks people like you should stop being so mean to Millard Fillmore. Second of all, yes. Yes, it is.
It’s not easy to drum up excitement for a President who had to follow a memorable showboat like Andrew Jackson, who inherited a major recession without any tools to deal with it, who got clobbered four years later by William Henry Harrison, and whose Presidential campaign popularized a hand signal that became an acceptable part of American casual communication from two full centuries ago until about fifteen minutes ago last month.
But by dint of the dignity and respect that older generations perceive as inherent in the Office of the President, Martin Van Buren netted himself a place in American history anyway.
For those a bit mystified that this vacation was supposed to be all about dead Presidents and are getting impatient because our last Presidential burial site was nine chapters ago: fear not! We’re getting there. They weren’t exactly next door to each other, and upstate New York has so many excuses for detours, we couldn’t possibly pass them all by. The nine-President plan was a goal, not a vendetta.
Longtime MCC readers are well aware we sometimes fall short of our goals. Sometimes we don’t have time to fit in every possibility we brainstormed for our to-do list. Other times, circumstances block a seemingly simple objective. We’ve had our moments of overcoming obstacles and persevering anyway. We’ve also had those times when we cut our losses and decided the hassle outweighed the potential heroism.
We missed two key items while we were in Buffalo. One could’ve been accommodated if we’d been willing to dawdle more in Buffalo and sacrifice later parts of our itinerary. The other, which according to our research should’ve been an easy click-‘n’-run, threw us a disadvantage with a kind of barrier we hadn’t expected: a surprise street party.
As we ended Day One with a drive through a scenic locale from a previous road trip, so did the following morning commence with another encore of sorts. Last time we were in the city of Buffalo, it was 2004 and we were too enamored of nearby Niagara Falls to bother researching or looking at anything else in the vicinity. We’d barely figured out where any Buffalo restaurants were, let alone their history or highlights.
The locals are especially proud of one famous resident in particular — the gentleman and philanthropist who co-founded Buffalo General Hospital and the Buffalo Historical Society, a self-made man borne of tenant farmers who crawled his way up the class ladder to become a lawyer, U.S. Congressman, and Comptroller of the state of New York.
Also, once upon a time he served as President of the United States. Some folks regard his performance in that workplace a bit differently.