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  • Writer's pictureMatt Gordon

Fillmore or Less

Well, I’ve decided. It is time to really apply myself and soar into fame and prestige. Since I’m not great looking and remarkably untalented, I’ve decided to take the path of least resistance; namely, by becoming an expert for someone else not great looking and remarkably untalented.

Take Lincoln, for instance. My guess is that old Honest Abe wasn’t the George Clooney of his day. There is a reason he isn’t called Handsome Abe. But he had some mixture of talent (in the form of brilliance and looking funny in a top hat) and luck (the historical fuse running out on slavery and its economic/moral implications). Hence, he was “clothed in immense power” and top hat. In subsequent generations, those clothed more modestly have flocked to the carcass of Lincoln’s legacy like vultures. There are statues, tourism centers, scholarships, and thousands of articles and books dedicated to Sexy Abe. The foremost Lincoln scholars get asked stuff, consult on movie projects, and wear suits with elbow patches. I want that. I want to get asked stuff, consult on movie projects, and wear suits with elbow patches. All of it. I want an office of rich mahogany and to blow the pipe-smoke of an expert.

But Lincoln, come on? I might as well be the linebacker for the Bears while I’m at it. Thousands are competing to be the imminent Lincoln authority. I’ve watched like half a movie on him. Fell asleep in the middle, during all those boring speeches and government shenanigans. It is like the director—some hack name Spielberg—has never seen a National Treasure movie. Now that’s history I can handle. A freakin’ treasure map under the President’s desk! Plus, at the end, no one shoots Nic Cage in the back of the head when he’s watching, in essence, a movie. A bit too meta for me—what was the director thinking? Hopefully he found a better lane for himself. Poor sap.

I had considered adopting a town to learn. Like I live in a place called Columbia, MO. Recently I was out to dinner when a waitress told us that the restaurant was something like 150 years old. She then shared that women and African Americans weren’t allowed inside until, like, the 1960s. So, in a way, if I learned a whole bunch about some small old town, I could go around and tell people its age and how misogynist and racist it had been. This seems doable; however, it also seems like a pretty hard way to get famous or popular. In fact, this encounter at the restaurant likely would have affected what I left said waitress as a tip if I hadn’t already decided, before going into the restaurant, not to tip.

No, the town route will only get me on the news if a tragedy, like a tornado, hits the town. If my house is all blown apart, who knows if I’ll even feel like blowing hot air that day? Becoming the authority on a person is better, I think. And it is less to learn. Rather than have to learn about every restaurant’s founding and checkered past, I’d only have to learn about one individual’s birth, death, and racism. And, for whatever reason, we like our historical figures. We mythologize them. Look at what Hamilton did at the box office! What if I give Lin-Manuel Miranda his next hit?

"Harrison: It’s Damn Cold Out Here"– Leave hip hop behind, and instead join for this polka rendition of a president, a leader, a man . . . who wouldn’t wear a coat. From the people who brought you "Hamilton" (and probably some less popular stuff too) comes the story of an ill-fated Washington day, a day that will live in infamy, a very cold day. . . the day the music didn’t die, but the President sort of did. . . it is the day William Henry Harrison contracted fatal pneumonia. Available on the Disney App.

I mean, that could be me providing the source material! Chew on that Chernow.

Harrison would be good because we could get in bed with merch—align with The North Face or even tap into some healthcare industry dollars. But I fear the story is too well known. Scholars love tragedy, and so they may have sucked all the blood from the Harrison corpse already.

Tyler succeeded Harrison, but that’s about all he succeeded at. I think he was probably pretty racist, too. Not sure how I can really market an unsuccessful racist who wanted to form his own America—just seems overdone at this point.

In order to avoid the cliché, I could just hunt the funny names. Three, in particular, enter the running.

First is Chester Arthur. I believe his middle initial is A. which, when added, gives it an even funnier ring. I don’t really know much about old Chester except that I think he had a big mustache. If that is so, another point for him.

Second would be Rutherford B. Hayes. My fear with Hayes is that he might have been decent enough and elected so controversially that the line to be the forerunning expert on his life and presidency might be pretty long. But still, that name. Pretty slick.

Finally, Millard Filmore. What even is a milard fillmore? I imagine if you trot that question out to folks on the street, most modern Americans would think it is an industrial fan or an engine part or a hoity-toity bourbon of some sort. Lyrically—if we go the musical route—it seems to play. If he was a philanderer, we could go with a title like Filmore Girls and really approach his story from all angles.

Imagine walking into a room, any room—banquet, briefing, bath—and being introduced as the preeminent scholar of Millard Filmore. I mean, it seems so easy. In this post alone I’ve spelled his name three different ways but none of you noticed. Boy, I fiddle with George Washinton or Ronald McDonald Ragan and you’ll let me have it. But with old Fillmore? Goodness! Does he even have a Wikipedia page yet?

And that’s the other opportunity with becoming the pre—and post—eminent expert in Chester or Millard. Not only would you not have to know much or compete with many, it would be really easy to make a bunch of stuff up. Like, did you know that Millard Filmore invented kettle corn? That he could juggle six balls? That he had a photographic memory for Latin but that he didn’t even know Latin so he had no way of sharing all that he remembered ex post facto? I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you, a mere layperson.

In fact, now that I’ve officially begun down this road, I’m realizing that I won’t really have to do all that much at all. I’ll need to get a suit and decide if a monocle is over-the-top. Probably start a website so folks can book me to speak and be on the news and buy Fillmore Mugs (trademark pending) and dice and other paraphernalia I’ll sell at a high margin. Even as I think through this, the expertise is filling me. I guess that is a whole lot of what being an expert is—conviction and monetization. Coincidentally, those were also two basic pillars of Fillmore’s inner thought life regarding governmental structure, etc. To learn more about that and so much (fill) more, follow, rate, and subscribe @fillmoreorless or find me at a conference or university near you. I’ll be the smug one with the elbow patches.

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1 Comment

Jeff Clouse
Jeff Clouse
Aug 07, 2023

Nice post! I did notice.

I know a thing or two about MF, but I'm no expert. He signed off on the Compromise of 1850, allowing slavery in any new territory and thereby undoing the Missouri Compromise, which forbade it above MO's southern border. He was also a Whig, a party that has not done well in recent elections, and had nothing to do with the powdered wigs of our earlier statesmen.

Sorry if I stole some of your expertise or compromised any made-up stuff with actual facts.

For funny names, I'm surprised you bypassed Stephen Grover, Hiram Ulysses, and Leslie Lynch, to birthname a few.

Looking forward to your 800-page biography of our lucky-13th president!

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