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'Dead Presidents' author to speak Wednesday at (where else) Forest Lawn

Brady Carlson visits dead presidents. He goes to graves, travels to tombs and is moved by memorials.

"Presidents keep on living long after they're gone,"  Carlson wrote in his book "Dead Presidents."

Carlson will visit Forest Lawn Cemetery from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday to talk about the strange deaths and surprising afterlives of America's commanders in chief.

Carlson started his book here, spending days researching the city's presidential past.

He spent an inspiring moment by the tall pink obelisk that marks Millard Fillmore's final resting place – across the creek from super freaky Rick James.

Brady Carlson

"Aside from Fillmore, Buffalo can boast direct connections to Grover Cleveland (a former mayor), William McKinley (who died here) and Teddy Roosevelt (who became president here)," Carlson wrote. "Buffalo is full of inspiration, probably because it has – next to Washington – the richest presidential history of any city I've visited."

Carlson believed he found heaven at Founding Fathers, the Edward Street pub specializing in presidential memorabilia and spontaneous trivia challenges from owner Mike Driscoll.

But he remained underwhelmed by the historical plaque on Fordham Drive that marks the spot where President William McKinley was assassinated. Located in the median on Fordham, the small plaque on the small rock marks the site that in 1901 was occupied by the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition, where McKinley was shot.

"I expected to get the Ford Theater treatment, where everything is frozen in time," Carlson said, describing where Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed.

The free event Wednesday is open to the public and sponsored by the Association for a Buffalo Presidential Center and Forest Lawn. It takes place at the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Research Center, and includes a reception and book signing. Copies of the book published by W.W. Norton & Company will be available for purchase. Seating is limited.

Linda Czuba Brigance, professor emeritus in communications studies at Fredonia State College, is a trustee for Buffalo Presidential Center, a group dedicated to raising public awareness of Buffalo's contributions to the presidency.

Brigance recalled her reaction after reading one of several passages about Buffalo in Carlson's book.

"That made me gasp," she said. "We have this rich history beyond McKinley being assassinated or Grover Cleveland being sheriff. When I saw he had so much to say about Buffalo, I thought we should bring him here."

Some of the best stories told by Carlson involve the deaths of some of this country's lesser-known presidents "like James Garfield, killed not by his assassin's bullet but by his quack doctor sticking his fingers in the gunshot wound, or Zachary Taylor, disinterred almost 150 years after his death to find out if it was, in fact, cherries and milk that did him in, or poor Franklin Pierce, who, in the final months of his single, unsuccessful term as president decided "there's nothing left to do but get drunk."

Carlson lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife and three children. He works as afternoon host of  "All Things Considered" on Wisconsin Public Radio.


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