More than family history explains George Cleveland’s fondness for Buffalo.
“I’d love Buffalo even if I wasn’t Grover Cleveland’s grandson,” said Cleveland, who bears a striking resemblance to the man who became the 34th mayor of Buffalo and then the 28th governor of New York on his way to the White House as the 22nd and also 24th president of the United States.
“Buffalo’s like a big village,” said the 61-year-old resident of Tamworth, N.H. “You’ve got wicked good restaurants, plus I’m a history geek.”
Just before noon Friday, Cleveland spent time with Chris Gelsomino’s sixth-grade social studies class at International Preparatory School, formerly Grover Cleveland High School, on 14th Street.
“Did you know the Baby Ruth candy bar was named after my great aunt, Ruth Cleveland?” Cleveland asked the class. “She was his first child, born between his two terms. The candy bar existed before Babe Ruth became famous in baseball.”
Kshaun Jordan looked impressed. The 12-year-old with two pierced earrings thought the candy bar was named after the baseball player. So did Mashya Taylor, 11.
“Have you been on TV?” Mashya asked Cleveland.
“I’ve been on C-SPAN, which I’m sure you watch a lot,” Cleveland joked. “And I’ve been on Travel Channel’s ‘Mysteries at the Museum’.”
“What is C-SPAN?” Mashya asked.
Eleven-year-old Nolan Shephard sat near Mashya at the front of class.
“Were you born when black and white people didn’t get along?” Shephard asked.
“Some people might say that still is the case today to some extent,” Cleveland replied. “I was born in 1952, so I have no recollection of it. That did not really start to change until the 1960s, and it’s much better than it was.”
Cleveland arrived in Buffalo Wednesday to attend a meeting to plan the 150th birthday celebration to honor his grandmother Frances Folsom Cleveland, scheduled in Buffalo for July 2014. His grandmother became the youngest first lady at age 21 when she married the president in a ceremony at the White House in 1886. She was the daughter of Cleveland’s Buffalo law partner, Oscar Folsom.
“During the First World War, she ran a national campaign knitting socks for the troops,” Cleveland told the sixth-graders.
Cleveland has long had an interest in history.
“After my mother died, we gave a lot of memorabilia – particularly my grandfather’s fishing equipment – to the Smithsonian,” Cleveland said. “It was not the best plan because with the Smithsonian, it never appears. We should have given it to the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vt.”
Cleveland said he still has a silver penknife his grandfather carried, a cribbage scoring book and one notable Bible.
“So right now we have this quandary,” Cleveland explained. “We have the inaugural Bible. It’s the only inaugural Bible that was ever used twice. It’s kind of like a hot potato. Nobody wants the responsibility of hanging onto it.”
In 2010, the state Education Department closed Grover Cleveland High School to new students because of low test scores. The remaining seniors graduated in 2011, with Cleveland serving as their commencement speaker. From 2011 until June 2013, crews renovated the building. It reopened this fall as International Preparatory School and the new STAR Academy.
Cleveland spent Thursday night with Grover Cleveland High School alumni, who attended a reopening tour at the school – including 90-year-old Dewey Dobson, a member of the class of 1941.
“You couldn’t get them out of the building,” Cleveland said of the alumni.
You could almost say the same thing about Cleveland and Buffalo.
Cleveland and Richard Pyszczek, a social studies teacher at International Prep, planned to explore the Allentown Ghost Walk Tour Friday night and take in Old Fort Niagara’s Haunted Fortress Tour today.