Presidents in Our Backyard

Sat, 10/18/2008 - 4:00pm
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13th President Millard Fillmore, taken around 1850.

Matthew Brady

Eight U.S. presidents had close ties to New York State. Presidents in Our Backyard, airing Saturday, October 18 at 4 p.m on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11), will reveal many little known facts about these presidents, including Chester Arthur, who graduated from Union College in Schenectady; Martin Van Buren, whose home in Kinderhook is open to the public; and Grover Cleveland, who went from being the Mayor of Buffalo to a U.S. President in only 3 years. The “voices” of these presidents will be portrayed by several prominent members of the State Legislature and Executive Chamber. 

New York has given our nation some of its most glorious presidents like Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. It has also given us some of the most obscure, like Chester Arthur and Millard Fillmore. Filling out the list of presidents with New York ties that are featured in the program are Martin Van Buren, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley. 

Matt Ryan, a Victor, NY graduate and producer and host of Presidents in Our Backyard was delighted to have some of the state’s leading officeholders read from letters or speeches written by these former presidents as part of the program.  “It was just a natural tie in,” said Ryan. “It is incredible the passion that Assemblymen Tim Gordon, Jim Tedisco, Jack McEneny, and Ron Canestrari brought to the words they spoke. The voices of Senator Joseph Bruno, Senator Hugh Farley, and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also helped to bring the words and thoughts of these former presidents into the modern day.”

To put the program together, Ryan, who won two Telly Awards for his Insight on the War production, traveled the state from Buffalo to Hyde Park and from Kinderhook to North Creek with several stops in between.  In the process, he obtained footage of the only house left standing that was actually built by a U.S. president as well as many historic locations and memorabilia related to each of the presidents.

One of the stories of local interest involves President Van Buren, the first American-born president. Van Buren was so widely associated with his hometown in Columbia County that it helped coin a popular phrase that we use almost every day. Van Buren, the nation’s eighth president was nicknamed “Old Kinderhook.” When he ran for president, his supporters’ cry of “O.K.” meant everything was going to be just fine! The program includes similar stories on each of the eight presidents.