The history of Buffalo, one story at a time.

The Buffalo Stories Archives is the result of decades’ worth of the passionate collection of Buffalo’s day-to-day Pop Culture history by Steve Cichon.

The online portion of the archive is representative of the thousands of local books, magazines and newspapers, thousands of images and photos, and thousands of tapes and digital files of audio and video recordings contained in just over a thousand square feet of storage space.

Far from the Library of Congress or The Buffalo History Museum, at the heart of our archive is the cast away, in many cases literally garbage-picked collections and items that have often been rejected by everyone else.

It’s Buffalo’s story in a microcosm. What others have cast away; we whip up into something special.

About Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo’s past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News.

He’s a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon’s been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special.

The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives– hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.

While wearing his signature bow tie, Cichon puts his wide range of professional experience—from college professor, to PBS documentary producer, to radio news director, to candidate for countywide elected office—to work in producing meaningful interpretations of the two centuries worth of everything that makes Buffalo the one-of-a-kind place that we love.

When you browse the blog here at Buffalo Stories LLC, you’re bound to not only relive a memory– but also find some context for our pop culture past– and see exciting ways how it might fit into our region’s boundless future.

Why? Western New York’s embedded in his DNA. Steve’s Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.

Categories:

Buffalo’s Pop Culture Heritage
The essence of Buffalo Stories is defining and
celebrating the people, places, and things that make Buffalo… Buffalo. That’s Buffalo’s pop culture heritage-– and that’s what you’ll find here.

Buffalo’s Radio & TV 
Irv. Danny. Van. Carol. The men and women who’ve watched and listened to have become family enough that we only need their first names. Buffalo has a deep and rich broadcasting history.  Here are some of the names, faces, sounds and stories which have been filling Buffalo’s airwaves since 1922.

 Buffalo’s Neighborhoods
North and South Buffalo. The East and West Sides.  But how many neighborhoods can you name that don’t fit any of those descriptions? From the biggest geographical sections, to the dozens of micro-neighborhoods and hundreds of great intersections.

Parkside
There is a category for Buffalo Neighborhoods, but as the historian of Buffalo’s Parkside Neighborhood, and having written two books on the neighborhood’s history, giving the Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Parkside Neighborhood it’s own category makes sense.

Family & Genealogy
My family history is Buffalo history. All eight of my great-grandparents lived in Buffalo, including my Great-Grandma Scurr, who is among the children in this Doyle family photo taken in Glasgow, Scotland. Aside from Scotland, my great-grandparents came from Pennsylvania, Poland, and England. One branch of my family tree stretches back to Buffalo in the 1820s, and a seventh-great aunt was among the first babies baptized at St. Louis Roman Catholic church back in 1829, when the church was still a log cabin.

&c, &c, &C: reflections from Steve’s desk
While my primary focus for this site is sharing about things that make Buffalo wonderful and unique, sometimes I have other thoughts, too. I share those here, along with some of the titles from other categories which I’ve written about in a more personal manner.

Buffalo Stories Bookstore
Buy Steve’s five books and other special offers from Buffalo Stories LLC.

BN Chronicles
Steve’s daily looks back at Buffalo’s past from the archives of The Buffalo News and Buffalo Stories LLC. Weekly features include “Torn Down Tuesday” and “What it looked like Wednesday,” along with decade by decade looks at what Buffalo used to be– and how we got here from there.


Thank you, WNY!

Buffalo Spree’s Best of WNY: Best Blogger

It’s an honor to have my work recognized, especially when it helps call to attention a very important topic.

READ: A brief memoir in depression and anxiety

As appeared in Buffalo Spree, August 2018


By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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Little Richard plays Buffalo at the Zanzibar, 1956

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Rest in Peace Little Richard. Buffalo’s loved him since 1956.

His influence is heard on every single pop song recorded since rock n’ roll was called rhythm and blues or “race music.”

He was George “Hound Dog” Lorenz’s favorite musician. He was The Beatles favorite musician.

Don’t believe the campy persona he lived because he had to because it was just about impossible to be a black gay man in America.

From a song writing, music, and showmanship perspective– he invented rock ‘n’ roll.

A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom!

Great-Grandma Wargo’s potato pancakes

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

My German ancestors arrived in Buffalo in 1827, and probably brought some version of this potato pancake recipe with them.

I know the recipe I use goes back at least to my German great-grandmother, Jeannette Greiner-Wargo.

Potato pancakes are a messy pain to make, but well worth it, especially when none of the local restaurants that make them don;t taste anything close to this.

GREAT GRANDMA WARGO’S POTATO PANCAKES

5 or 6 medium potatoes
one medium onion
one egg
flour
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for cooking

Peel 5 or 6 medium potatoes, and peel and trim onion.

Using the larger of the two shred sizes of a hand grater, shred the potatoes and the onion in a big bowl.

Add the egg and salt & pepper and mix.

Add enough flour to soak up any liquid in the bowl, stir well. (You will likely have to do this again as more liquid shows up in the bowl while you’re frying.)

Heat a heavy frying pan (I use cast iron) to medium-high, and coat the bottom of the pan with oil.

When the oil is hot, make 3-4 inch pancakes. Let the edges brown, flip once.

Put pancakes on paper towel covered plate to allow grease to drain.

Coat bottom of pan with oil again, repeat. Add flour and mix well if there is liquid in the bowl.

Grandma Coyle always served them with homemade applesauce… which was deliciously easy— apples cut into inch cubes into a sauce pan, covered with sugar, and then covered with water, turned on low and let it simmer.

Cigarettes and mustaches

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Other kids wanted the coolest toys, the latest sneakers, and the newest video game consoles.

There was only one thing I wanted as a kid. And that was to be an adult.

I wanted it so bad I could taste it, and within my little-kid view of what it meant to be a grown-up, I was ready to do whatever it took to get there.

I insisted on wearing a suit to my first day of Kindergarten. My only request for my 9th birthday was a brief case. It was about that time I got by first job in a used book store.

But man, the two trappings of adulthood that were just out of my reach left me twitchy with anxious anticipation.

As far as I could tell, the final and temporarily unattainable steps to full maturity were growing a mustache and smoking cigarettes. That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try.

From 1978-1989, I singlehandedly kept the stick-on mustache industry in operation.

I probably wore hundreds of costume mustaches through the years. One time, Grandma took us on the bus to George & Company on Main Street next to Shea’s. There was a real Hollywood fake mustache in the plexiglass case behind the counter, $29. It became a minor obsession.

On TV, Mr. Dressup was always making and then wearing fake mustaches. As soon as the show was over, I would be running around the house looking for black pipe cleaners or black yarn or for a big black marker that would make the same kind of squeaking sounds that Mr. Dressup’s made on tagboard as it squeaked out the outline of a “big moos-taache,” as he’d say with flair.

Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan make mustaches

Once in passing my dad suggested that burnt cork was good for drawing on beards and mustaches. From that point forward, when I wasn’t thinking about the Cadillac of mustaches from George & Co., I was looking everywhere for a cork to set on fire and smear on my face.

Speaking of fire, the only way to make a mustache even more amazing, I thought, is to put some kind of lit tobacco product underneath it. I learned my colors studying the different logos and packages of cigarettes in the vending machine at my ol’man’s bar.

It wasn’t just colors. There was a lot about smoking I studied. The ways different people held their smokes. The different brands people smoked. The different ways they carried around packs. Aunt Peggy had what looked like a coin purse, but it was just the right size for a pack of smokes and a lighter. I was always excited when she’d ask me to go get her cigarettes.

Just like with the mustaches– bubble gum cigars, bubble pipes, and candy cigarettes were all favorites. Candy cigarettes were a frequent treat—they were really cheap, and lasted quite a while. I was always excited to see mom unpack the groceries and to see her draw a “carton” of candy cigarettes out of the brown paper bag.

Back then, the candy cigarette packs were exact replicas of real cigarette brands, except the boxes were cardboard instead of the soft packs that most people I knew smoked.

There were fights about choosing who got which packs. Marlboro was always the first pack gone. Everyone loved Lucky Strikes. We all liked Pall Mall, because it looked like a trick when Uncle Mike “Hooker” Doyle would open his Pall Malls using the only hand he had on the end of his only arm.

I liked Chesterfield, because my dad said his grandpa used to smoke them, so they must have been OK. No one really wanted Lark, but Lark was still better than Viceroy.

There was always hope that I’d come across a pack of Parliament candy cigarettes—that was Dad’s brand. Never did, though.

So not only did candy cigarettes teach us how to smoke, they built multigenerational brand loyalty.

Some kids would suck the little white sticks into a point, just like a candy cane. I’d suck on it a little while, hold in in my fingers, flicking imaginary ash with my thumb. Then I’d loudly crunch down the whole thing with the same satisfaction as mashing a butt into an ashtray. Then I’d grab another one right away. When I had a pack, you know I “chain-smoked” those sons of bitches, just like a real nicotine fiend.

Smoking was so wholly ingrained as some inevitable and desirable part of adulthood, my yearning to pick up the habit hasn’t completely gone away.

In fact, if tomorrow, the Surgeon General said Just kidding about those cigarettes! Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em!, I’d probably start a two-pack-a-day habit.

Maybe then I’d finally feel like a grown up.

Grandpa’s wall of 8-packs… and other warmly remembered childhood oddities

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Doing ’80s research is dangerous for me. Any time frame earlier is “history,” and I love it… but it’s hard to be clinical when every turned page of a 70s or 80s Courier-Express or Buffalo Evening News is dripping with images and ideas that leave me drowning in nostalgia.

I could write a short book about when the bottom shelf of the pop aisle at every Buffalo grocery store was filled with Coke, Pepsi, and RC Cola in tall, thin glass bottles.

Pop tasted so much better in those 16oz glass bottles. Those eight packs were always on sale, and even when they weren’t, it was the cheapest way to buy the name brand.

That’s why Gramps loved ’em.

Grandma Cichon lived a few doors from Seneca Street in a worn out, but grand old house. When you walked in the front door and looked straight ahead, you looked through the front hall, then a more narrow hallway, and then right into the kitchen.

If Grandma wasn’t at the stove cooking, she was the first thing you’d see when that door swung open, sitting at the head of the table, with a cup of coffee in a gold butterfly mug and Kool 100 burning in the over-full ashtray.

When you creaked open that big door and looked slightly to the right, if Gramps wasn’t working (which was a lot– he still had three jobs when I was little), he was sitting in that comfy chair right just on the other side of the beautiful leaded glass doors which lead into the parlor.

Grandma generally would see us first, and start to say hello, before Gramps– who was much closer– would take his eyes off of Lawrence Welk or Bugs Bunny to intercept us for a minute.

“Ha’oh dere, son,” Gramps would say in a pretty thick standard Buffalo Polish accent. I had no idea there was anything to notice about that. Isn’t that how everyone’s Grandpa talked?

“Can I get you a glass of pop or a sandwich?” Gramps would ask, and immediately piss off my ol’man.

Royal Crown: the definitive “big name” cola of Polonia.

“Jesus Christ, Dad, it’s ten o’clock in the mornin’,” Dad would say, walking toward Grandma in the kitchen.

Ignoring my ol’man completely, Gramps would give an inventory.

“Well help yourself. In the ice box we got two kinds of baloney… Polish loaf… olive loaf… pimento loaf… ham…”

The sound of his voice would trail off as we walked through the narrow hallway on the way to the kitchen.

Now I wouldn’t think anything of this hallway until twenty years later, when the girlfriend-who-became-my-wife asked me about it after visiting Gramps.

In the same way I never thought anything about my grandpa’s Polish accent, I never thought anything about his hallway filled with pop.

When I say filled, I mean the entire length of the ten-foot long walkway had pop pushed up against the wall, stacked two or three deep and two, three, or four high in some places.

It was mystical and mystifying. Gramps’ pop display was far more impressive than what you’d have seen at Quality Food Mart, half a block away at Seneca and Duerstein.

There were 2-liter and 3-liter bottles; flat, mixed-flavored cases of grocery-store brand cans; some times a wooden case or two from Visniak, but more than anything else, 8-pack after 8-pack of glass bottles.

Now Gramps had ten kids, but there weren’t ten kids living there at the time. And even for ten kids– hundreds of servings of soda pop lined up waist high, the first thing you see when you walk into the house… well, it was one of many things that made Gramps a true Buffalo original.

I’m sure there was something about taking advantage of a good sale… or getting one over on a cashier with an expired coupon… or (put a star next to this one) getting under my grandmother’s skin by buying things she’d say they didn’t need…

But Gramps really didn’t drink. He wouldn’t want a beer, but would relax with a coffee or a pop.

He also really wanted to share his pop, and make sure you knew it was OK to take it. He wasn’t just being polite in offering it. That wall was there to prove, “I got plenty! Go ahead and take one!”

You could expect to refuse a pop at least three or four times while visiting with Gramps, and then one more on the way out.

“Sure you don’t want a pop, son? Why don’t you take some home? I’ll get you a bag.”

Cheap little donuts bring priceless warm memories

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

What a smile this brings.

Ran into this image in a 1980 Tops ad this morning.

Once every great while there was a peanut stick around, but if you were to say “donut” the me as a kid, this box of Tops brand donuts is what would have come to mind.

These were a highly anticipated, special treat in our house growing up.

When this ad ran, you can see they came sugar, plain, or a mix. While (obviously) the powdered sugar was my favorite, a plain one was just fine too.

The high-riding good times came to a screeching halt when, a few years later, they started adding cinnamon powered donuts into the mix.

That row always sat there as the last in the box, even growing a little stale sometimes before I could bring myself to wolf down a few– so they wouldn’t have to be thrown out.

Even a disappointing donut deserves a fate better than the trash.

Reflections from the Cichon Archives during Pandemic organizing

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Among the 5 or 6 big projects I’m working on to keep myself from going (any more) crazy during this lockdown, is organizing and straightening up the Cichon Archives, which fills the third floor of the Cichon Estate.

I’ll share some of the interesting things I find as I find them.

The Iconic Memorex Cassette

Though I have far fewer now, through the years, I’ve had hundreds of these 90-minute Memorex cassette tapes.

For much of the early 90s, a ten-pack was $9.99 at Media Play, and I invested most of those Media Play Gift Certificates I’d get for birthdays and Christmas into these tapes.

Many of those cassettes I bought went right back out the door– creating mix tapes and recording “radio shows” for my friends in my bedroom radio station.

Hundreds of others went to recording the actual radio shows, hundreds of hours of which I’ve digitized through the years, first to CD and then to mp3.

The digitized wing of the Cichon Audio Archive is more than 600GB with more than 120,000 audio files. There are still hundreds of hours of cassettes, reels, transcription discs, DATs, and mini discs left to be digitized– it always comes in spurts.

Sorting through a pile of these cassettes today, it was like I saw them for the first time– even though thousands of them have slipped through my hands since this design was introduced in 1987.

As a child of the 80s, I love 80s design—but mostly the retro-look meant to inspire the 50s or 60s.

This design, however, is purely pop 80s.

If Max Headroom or that MTV astronaut was going to use a cassette tape, it would be the 90-minute Memorex cassette, with angular shapes in bright blues, pinks, and yellows.

Hey Mister! You’re losing your pants!

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Since finding a pair of suspenders in the attic the other day, I’ve been walking around singing the parts of a song that Grandpa Coyle used to sing all the time– only I couldn’t remember all the words.

Here’s Gramps drinking Red Dog wearing suspenders, c.2008

la la la la la la suspenders…
la la la la la la la dance…
.la la la la la la la la la…..
Hey Mister, you’re losing your pants!

After spending an hour or so with Google and a couple of online archive sites, I finally came up with the song.

Here are the lyrics from as printed as “an oldie” in a 1940 newspaper.

"One night I forgot my suspenders,
and took my girl out to a dance.
While dancing I heard someone holler,
Hey Mister! you're losing your pants!"

LB Smith Plaza/Abbott Rd. Plaza, 1976

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

An emailer asked what the name of the deli in the Abbott Rd. Plaza was back in the day….

That was Columbia Foods.

While looking that up, I also came across the list of Abbott Road Plaza merchants in 1976.

Good times at Abbott & Ridge!

My ol’man peeled off into the sunset ten years ago today

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

My ol’man died ten years ago today.

On that day I wrote… “You might remember the gruff exterior, but no one had a bigger, more pure heart than this guy.”

Image may contain: 3 people

He always lead with the heart, and as the sadness of life wears down my edges and the joys of life open my eyes to new light, I better understand and feel a brotherhood and bond with my ol’man that I wish I could share with him as we share a coffee (even though his response would probably be something like, “Ok, enough bullshit. You didn’t bring me a donut?”)

As we all sit stir crazy and an inch from losing our minds during this pandemic lockdown, that’s pretty much how Dad lived the last decade of his life. 

Diabetes, heart disease, lost leg, lost mobility, unable to live with basic human freedom, stuck inside a failing body.

Even as he could barely get down the hall some days, my ol’man would needle my mother, telling her that he was going to buy a big convertible, run off with a pretty honey, and not tell anyone his new address.

I think he’d like that’s how I think of him dying. In fact, I know he’d love it.
There were white leather seats and a big steering wheel on a steamy summer night. 

He peeled off in a big custom Cadillac convertible with the top down, driving toward the low-slung orangey sun, glowing in the orangey-pink sky, with the heat pouring off the blacktop, making the last view of the giant boat of a car all wavy as it heads for the horizon, with a blinker on to head into the donut shop and then off into forever. 

I felt a great weight in telling my dad’s story at his funeral. The notes I took in preparing that eulogy became the groundwork for a memoir, which I’ve posted here. 

http://blog.buffalostories.com/the-real-steve-cichon-a-tribute-to-my-relationship-with-my-olman/

Where did the name “The Valley” come from?

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The Valley is a traditionally working class, industrial neighborhood between the First Ward and South Buffalo, bounded by the Buffalo River, Van Rensselaer Street, and the I-190.

Leaving the Valley on Van Rensselaer Street heading toward the Hydraulics neighborhood, during thr Larkin Warehouse fire in 1954.

My dad always referred to the neighborhood where he grew up as “The Valley,” always talking about having to cross a bridge to get in or out of The Valley. That was definitely true in the 60s, and is still pretty much true now—but the delineation was even greater before they ripped out all of the old steel truss bridges and eliminated the ones on Smith and Van Rensselaer in the early 1990s.

My guess, in talking with folks from the neighborhood, that the name “The Valley” was coined sometime in the 50s, that seems to be the generation that started referring to that name.

The city didn’t use the name in any of its planning or urban renewal programs in the 50s and 60s, and I haven’t been able to find a reference to the name in print in the Courier-Express or the Evening News until the time when the Community Association was organized in the late 60s.

One would have to assume, however, that the name was in some kind of familiar use leading up to naming a community association after it. My grandfather, who was born in what is now considered “The Valley” in 1926, and lived there for 40 years, didn’t refer to “The Valley,” but usually “the neighborhood.”

My great-grandparents came to Poland to “The Valley” in 1913.

After living on Elk, Fulton, and Perry, they bought 608 Fulton St. in 1922. My great grandfather worked at Schoellkopf Chemical/National Aniline for more than 40 years.

His son, my grandfather– who worked more than 40 years at National Aniline/Buffalo Color– lived in his parents’ house and then bought one across the street (from his brother-in-law’s family) at 617 Fulton, where my dad grew up.

My dad’s family moved to Seneca Street in 1966. Dad later owned the bar at Elk and Smith in the late 70s/early 80s.