2007_09_george_pendle.jpg"I have an inborn hatred of injustice and tyranny that I cannot express." It is ironic that the speaker of these words, former President Millard Fillmore, was himself the victim of great injustice at the hands of tyranny. But this tyranny stemmed from the most unexpected of places: academia. For too long truth and liberty have stood idly by as one of their greatest crusaders had his name maligned by historians and layman alike. It took one brave man, George Pendle, to stand up and shout, "No!" into the face of historic dogma. He assembled his words of protest into George Pendle Remarkable Millard Fillmore, an engrossing and greatly entertaining account of not just Fillmore's presidency, but also his life, travels, and observations of 19th century politics and social moirés. Alone, Pendle's work amounts to only small bites out of this great injustice; the real change comes when you devour this book.

What attracted you to Millard Fillmore?
Aside from his statesmanship, his heroism and his good manners, Fillmore had the best head of hair of any president. Thick, wavy, lustrous, it was important hair.

How were you treated by other historians after it was revealed he was to be the subject of your book?
Professional jealousy at my discovery of Millard Fillmore’s lost journals was unbridled. David McCullough (author of 1776) set fire to a bag of dog feces on my front doorstep, I received a wedgie of considerable force from the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (author of The Age of Jackson), and to this day Ron Chernow (author of Alexander Hamilton) insists on tying my shoelaces together whenever the opportunity presents itself to him.

What are some lessons to be learned from the life of Millard Fillmore?
Always treat animals with respect. Don’t eat brightly colored mushrooms. Vote Whig.

What is it about him that you found most remarkable?
It’s hard to name just one thing. Was it his duel with Andrew Jackson? His friendship with Edgar Allen Poe? His escape, in skirts, from the Battle of the Alamo? His wrestling the Mikado of Japan? His adoption by a Native American tribe? His invention of the telegraph, the T-shirt and the ball-point pen?

There are times in the book where the life of Fillmore is so outrageously remarkable, that it causes one to laugh, almost forgetting that one is reading the biography of a president. Do you think there's room for humor in history?
Absolutely not. As one can clearly see from the history books on the bestseller lists, America’s past is sacrosanct. This country’s forefathers were hewn out of the bedrock of virtue, buffed by the divine hand of righteousness, and fluffed by the patriotic love of a nation. The idea that the Founding Fathers, or any former statesman, might have been as self-absorbed, fraudulent and silly as politicians today is, of course, absurd.

What are some other names or events in history that beg for the attention of a historian?
The facial hair of Rutherford Hayes has hitherto gone unappreciated by scholars. Similarly Custer’s Penultimate Stand, the least famous action of the Indian Wars, is often overshadowed by its more illustrious sequel. Perhaps, most shockingly of all the unstudied topic of Circus Prohibition, and the resultant exodus of unemployed clowns into the West, is also due for reassessment (for a short documentary on ‘Clowns of the Wild West’, please visit GeorgePendle.com and click on ‘Trailer’.)

For most of his life, Fillmore pursued a Masonic Conspiracy. Did you find yourself becoming entangled in his search?
I have been informed by a number of police officers that flaming pentagrams burning on one’s lawn in the middle of night are a common atmospheric occurrence. Similarly I have been assured that the back-alley beatings and IRS audits I have suffered these past few months, not to mention the grisly deaths of a number of beloved family pets, have nothing to do with any Masonic Conspiracy I may have uncovered. Needless to say I believe the Freemasons of America to be law-abiding citizens who have no interest in taking over the world and ruling it with an iron fist, crushing dissent and enforcing worship of the Goat of Mendes.

You make a passing reference to a "fake history cartel", which you explained to be a collection of "unscrupulous individuals" who take advantage of some of the less well documented parts of our past and weave their own versions of events. What is to be gained by such behavior and how can we discern fact from fiction?
“History,” wrote Voltaire, “is a trick the living play on the dead.” In other words, the present constantly misuses the past for its own purposes. This is particularly true of the genre of presidential biography. The first biography of George Washington was written in 1800 by the Rev. Mason L. Weens and features the famous story of the young Washington cutting down a cherry tree. However this story, and many others in Weems’ biography, are complete fabrications. Weems was simply trying to create the picture of an infallible leader with unerring good instincts in order to inspire patriotic sentiment in the newborn USA (Weems wasn’t even a real Reverend). Despite the utterly spurious nature of this biography it ran through eighty editions and its comforting lies have mingled with the truth so that today they are blithely reported as common knowledge.

Separating the wheat from the chaff can be nigh on impossible so completely has the past been populated with propaganda by the present. Even today’s renowned historians bend history to their subjective philosophies (David McCullough, for example, asserts the somewhat artificial existence of ‘great men’ who single-handedly shaped past events to their desires). Ultimately, history is a fabrication we agree to believe. As such it’s best to wear a wry smile while studying it.

You say that scaremongering, the practice of, "Supplying frights, shocks, and alarms to the populace," went into "irreversible decline after the industry was nationalized by Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950." What would you say of the status of scaremongering today?
A booming industry once more and one fully incorporated into the political structure by both Republicans and Democrats, who obviously believe that you can never underestimate the electorate’s ability to think ill of others.

How do you think Fillmore would fair in today's political and social climate? What sort of stances would he take on issues such as health care, foreign policy, and immigration?
Fillmore had a gifted way of surviving the most politically charged issues of his time. As anti-Catholic riots raged in New York City in the 1850s, Fillmore confused the anti-popery message with an anti-potpourri one, and began to stress the importance of fresh, not dried, flowers to the bewilderment of his racist colleagues. As for immigration today, Fillmore would undoubtedly support it, having been a lifelong supporter of the artificial application of water to the soil for the assistance of growing crops.

If Fillmore were alive today, and you were to give him a tour of the city, where would you bring him?
I would avoid taking him to the New York Stock Exchange, where Fillmore inadvertently sparked the financial panics of 1819, 1837, 1857 and 1873. Similarly I might shy away from showing him around the Lower East Side, lest it encourage memories of his bare-knuckle boxing days. Instead I think Fillmore would delight in the monkeys at Central Park Zoo, gorge himself on cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery, and sit transfixed as he watched The Lion King.

What would Fillmore think of modern New York?
Lacking in britches.

Do you have a strangest "Only In New York" Moment?
Before I wrote The Remarkable Millard Fillmore I was a writer of historical signs for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. These signs were meant to explain why a park was named after a certain individual. I remember discovering that a park in the Bronx – which shall remain nameless – was named after one of the first Bronx soldiers to die in the First World War. Further research discovered that he had not died from bullets or bombs, but from trying to cure himself of syphilis through the folk remedy of inserting a shard of whale-bone up his urethra. The bone broke, the wound became infected and the soldier died horribly. Only in New York, I figure, could a park be named after someone who died with a shard of whalebone stuck up his penis.

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
It would be tempting to transform the city into an agrarian community dedicated to the teachings of French Utopian socialist Charles Fourier. Other than that I wouldn’t change a thing.

Which New Yorker do you most admire?
Aside from Millard Fillmore, I have a great respect for the late Bobby Short, the epitome of New York sophistication.

Under what circumstances would you leave New York?
Extreme duress.

What do you consider a perfect day of recreation in the city?
Attempting to identify foodstuffs in Chinatown.

What are some projects that you are currently involved in or contemplating?
I am currently writing the authorized biography of Death. Should I survive the research, the book – entitled Death: A Life - is scheduled to be published by Three Rivers Press in 2008.