Western New Yorkers commemorated the birth of the prominent Buffalonian and U.S. President Millard Fillmore Tuesday during an annual ceremony held at Fillmore’s gravesite in Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Fillmore was born on a farm in New York’s Finger Lakes region on Jan. 7, 1800, but the future president made a home and name for himself in East Aurora, and later, in Buffalo.
“We are here to kick off ‘Mill Fill 2020,’ the 220th birthday of our 13th President, Millard Fillmore,” said Mark Evans, a trustee of the Buffalo Presidential Center, which organized Tuesday’s event.
“There will be a year-long series of programming exhibits and events throughout Western New York to salute, celebrate and explore his legacy, both from his presidency and his tremendous impact on cultural and civic organizations in Western New York.”
Fillmore helped found and served as the first chancellor of the University at Buffalo. Other area institutions he played a role in establishing include the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Buffalo Club, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo Public Schools, Buffalo General Medical Center, the SPCA of Erie County, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, and the city’s history and science museums.
Rev. Michelle Buhite of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst gave the invocation before several dozen community members and representatives of Fillmore legacy organizations gathered at the president’s graveside. She also read a reflection written at the time of Fillmore’s death by the Rev. George Hosmer, who had a close personal relationship with Fillmore.
“’He dreaded war. By any and every means, he would save his country from such calamity as war would bring. Mr. Fillmore was honest, unspotted by corruption, integrity and economy kept him safe,’” Buhite read. “Clearly, Millard Fillmore was an honorable man and a force for good in the world.”
Despite Fillmore’s local contributions, his controversial approval as president of the Compromise of 1850—a package of five legislative bills that contained a strengthened version of the Fugitive Slave Act—ruined his reputation in the eyes of many Buffalonians.
Evans said it’s important to learn about the “negatives and positives of his [Fillmore’s] career.”
The University at Buffalo Police Color Guard stood at Fillmore’s grave for the duration of Tuesday’s ceremony. Lt. Col. Shawn Reynolds of the New York Air National Guard at Niagara Falls’ Air Reserve Station also laid a wreath sent by the White House.