Forest Lawn’s new digitized history center is now open. The Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center is a vibrant and welcoming new additional to the historic landscape of Buffalo. Not only are all of Forest Lawn’s precious documents being preserved and restored (as much as possible), the data from some of this city’s most influential people, the people who built this city, are being digitized and shared with the public.
Yesterday I met up with Sandy Starks (Interpretive Program Director), Chana Ravell Kotzin, Ph.D. (Director of Archives Research and Scholarship), and Jessica Johnson (Curator and Director of Community Engagement) to discuss the center and poke around a bit. The Resource Center features an inspirational and informative movie by John Paget, as well as a number of interpretive displays that feature the “who’s who” of notables buried in the cemetery. The building features climate controlled rooms, and the design of the building mimics some of the lines of the historic structure that once stood at the same site. There is a gift shop too, but more importantly the center is staffed with historians and professional genealogy consultants who can help to guide you through the vast resources (there are 160,000 people buried at Forest Lawn).
A couple of interesting lessons that I learned during my visit were… A) I should know a lot more about my family members’ plots, and B) I was told that if it were not for the registers of the graves, many people who are buried there would be completely forgotten over time. That’s because many people were not even given grave markers or headstones! So the only way to know who they are, and where they are buried, is to look through the data in the books (and also in digitized format).
Even a couple of Buffalo’s most highly recognized names, Louise Bethune and Darwin Martin, at one point, were buried without any identifying markers – they were eventually identified because of the plot demarcations in the archives. Today both of the prominent Buffalonians have been given proper acknowledgment, but back in the day headstones cost money, and those types of expenses were sometimes skipped over (Martin died a broke soul), and the legacy of Bethune was not celebrated as it is today.
More than anything else, the center is a refreshing take on a subject matter that is often ignored due to its Americanized morbid outlook. Forest Lawn has always been in the business of celebrating our past, and will continue to do so, better and brighter, with the addition of this incredible asset. Be sure to pay a visit and learn about the families that made Buffalo what it is today. It’s a real eye opener for anyone interested in Buffalo’s history.
Forest Lawn’s Margaret L Wendt Archive and Research Center | 2062 Main Street | Buffalo NY 14208 | 716-332-6482