As a native Western New Yorker, I always enjoy heading to the Queen City of Buffalo. Sure, it’s been the butt of jokes for pretty much my entire life – a seemingly never-ending winter of snow and bitter cold, empty grain silos reminding everyone of the prominence the city once held, “no goal,” and a string of four very painful Super Bowl losses (I speak from experience).
Buffalo has rebounded, though, in the last five years or so. It’s become a hub of activity in emerging technologies and forgotten areas like the Outer Harbor and Canalside are once again destinations for residents and tourists alike.
One thing the city has always done a pretty good job with is preserving its history and that was good news for us. Though it contributed nothing to the eventual downfall later in the 20th Century, the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 soured the city’s name and reputation across the country. Though tragic, historians were smart enough to know despite this painful fact it was a story the city would have to tell for the rest of time.
There were two must-stops for us in the city. Our first trip was actually the last one we’ll tell in our story; the Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration Site on Delaware Avenue. As the name details, this is where TR became POTUS. A lovely mansion on the highest point in the city, it’s been meticulously restored to the very day Roosevelt took the oath of office in September of 1901. It’s also recently made some upgrades to make the destination more interactive-friendly and it correctly draws parallels to some of the same issues that Presidents Roosevelt and Obama tackled some 100 years apart. With a name that sounds like he belonged in Roosevelt’s cabinet, Executive Director Stanton Hudson gave us the tour and was generous with his time and vast knowledge of the house and more importantly the critical stories from that frantic week in Buffalo.
Our next stop was at the Buffalo History Museum located in the plush areas of the northern part of the city. The structure was actually the only building intended to be permanent during the Pan-American Exposition and is one of the most striking in town. It holds a treasure trove of information and artifacts that were helpful to us in telling the story. A separate building just a few blocks away holds all of the material related to the Pan-Am and is a frequent stop for visitors, especially local children on field trips. Among the highlights is the gun murderer Leon Czolgosz used, including the handkerchief he concealed it with. Amazingly enough, this was kept under lock and key for 100 years until the museum’s board of directors finally thought it would be appropriate to display.
Okay, every historian has to gripe a little when working on a project as large as this, so here are mine. The house where President McKinley stayed from September 6th to his death on the 14th belonged to John Milburn. Acting presidents dying in someone else’s house is kind of a big deal but incredibly the house no longer stands. A local school expanding its campus ended up tearing it down (what?!?!) in the 1950’s. A historical marker stands just off the road, but come on now! One other small complaint – there is a nice stone with a marker that notes the spot where the president was shot at the Temple of Music. However, it’s in the middle of what is now a neighborhood located on a narrow island separating traffic. In other words, a dog could easily come along and….oh, you get the point.
All in all, though, the city has done a terrific job in preserving a very dark moment in their history and we look forward to telling you the compelling story on September 15th.