For the past week or two, TikTok has been buzzing about men and their inability to stop thinking about the Roman Empire. People have asked, “Do all men think about the Roman Empire that often?” and “Who made this nonsense up?”
I’ll admit that I have pestered every man in my life about how often they think about the Roman Empire.
They usually say, “Only when you ask me about it.”
But this got me thinking: “What is my Roman Empire? What can’t I stop thinking about?”
I have several because I’m a history major — it would be easier to ask me what isn’t my equivalent of the Roman Empire. But I’ve learned a lot about Buffalo since I moved here three years ago, and, in a way, Buffalo has become my Roman Empire.
Let me share some of my favorite historical hits so you can stop thinking about Caesar Augustus, the Colosseum and self-healing concrete.
The death of William McKinley and the swearing in of Theodore Roosevelt
William McKinley was one of four presidents to be successfully assassinated, and one of the two that everyone but Stephen Sondheim and myself seems to forget (this assassination is covered in Sondheim’s 1990 musical “Assassins,” which I highly recommend).
McKinley was shot on Sept. 6, 1901 by anarchist Leon Czologsz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on what is now Fordham Drive on the West Side. This site no longer exists, but the exposition was set up in Delaware Park.
McKinley died on Sept. 14, 1901, and Theodore Roosevelt was summoned to Buffalo where he was sworn in. The inaugural site still stands on Delaware Avenue today as a museum. Without this event, the “American Empire,” as historians like Daniel Immerwahr dub it, wouldn’t be the same.
Death by 1,000 cherries: Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore
This is the biggest stretch on this list. Zachary Taylor — the 12th U.S. President — was not from Buffalo, nor did he actually die by eating 1,000 cherries, but it is a historical event I think about way too often.
Plus, without his death, UB founder, forgotten asshole and my nemesis, Millard Fillmore, would never have been president.
Zachary Taylor spent the Fourth of July eating large amounts of cherries and drinking milk in the D.C. heat in an attempt to stay cool while he went about his busy schedule. A weird thing to do, but it was 1850, so go with it.
Taylor soon fell ill with “cholera morbus,” an outdated term for a stomach illness. Some say it was the cherries, some say it was the unpasteurized milk combined with summer heat, and others chalk it up to the poor water treatment at the time. Regardless, he was doomed to join the line of early presidents who died in the White House.
Taylor died July 9, 1850, leaving the mantle of the presidency to the hesitant Millard Fillmore, an East Aurora native.
Fillmore’s greatest success was confining himself to one term by alienating a lot of his supporters through signing the Fugitive Slave Act into law, among other terrible decisions.
You can visit the final resting place of one of my least favorite presidents (Millard Fillmore) at Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery, where he and his wife are both buried.
Red Jacket, or Sa-Go-Ye-Wat-Ha, was a member of and orator for the Seneca Nation here in Western New York. In the 1790s, he used his sway to establish strong relations between the Six Nations and the United States and played a crucial part in the drafting and signing of the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794.
He also defended Seneca religious beliefs from Christian conversion efforts in the early 1800s. By the end of his life, his religious arguments were what he was most known for, including his rebuttal to Reverend Cram in 1805.
He died on Jan. 20, 1830. Red Jacket was reburied in Forest Lawn in 1884. That ceremony was attended by Civil War veteran Ely S. Parker, Long Island poet Walt Whitman and Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson.
Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives after being elected in 1968. She was also the first Black woman to run for president in the 1972 election, where she garnered 10% of the votes across 12 primaries, despite being blocked from appearing in televised debates. That alone makes her amazing.
While she served for a district in Brooklyn, her husband, Arthur Hardwick Jr., was a Buffalo native. She spent her post-congressional career here in the Nickel City until her husband’s death. Her final resting place is in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn cemetery.
Chisholm is a Buffalo legend through and through. If you don’t think about her at least once a week, I implore you to. And if UB is looking to name (or re-name) a building, I think Shirley Chisholm should be at the top of the list of candidates.
Of course, this is not a complete list of interesting historical events and figures with ties to Buffalo. There’s a myriad of battles, influential figures and cultural touchstones that line this city’s streets and museums. Go out, explore, and find a little bit of history to obsess over.
Maybe Buffalo can be your Roman Empire, too.
Darcy Winter is a fact checker and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org