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Steve Cichon

From the earliest days of the internet, Steve Cichon has been writing, digitizing, and sharing the stories and images of all the things that make Buffalo special and unique. 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.



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.


By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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Dr. Martin Luther King speaks in Buffalo, 1959

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Already a widely known leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Buffalo in December, 1959.

The Buffalo Criterion published this photo of Dr. King at Faith Baptist Church on Humboldt Pkwy on its front page during Dr. King’s visit to Buffalo in December, 1959. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In his role as Vice President of the National Baptist Sunday School and Training Union Congress, Dr. King came to Buffalo to help plan that organization’s annual national session, which was to be held in Memorial Auditorium and at UB in June, 1960.

Originally built as Temple Beth David in 1924, the worship space at 626 Humboldt Parkway has been Faith Baptist Church for more than sixty years– since 1955. Martin Luther King spoke to the congregation at First Baptist in 1959. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Dr. King spoke with The Buffalo Evening News as well as with the people of Faith Baptist Church on his visit. Some of his remarks were reported in the Thursday, December 17, 1959 edition of The Buffalo Evening News.

Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Wednesday evening told The Buffalo Evening News:

“Today in the deep South there is a collision between two strong institutions — segregation and the public schools. When and where people must make a choice between the two, it is palpably clear what the choice will be.

“The example being set in certain other states, where integration was chosen over closed schools, is influencing the thinking of white  leaders.”

The article went on to say, quoting Dr. King:

“There are dark areas and bright areas in the over-all segregation picture,” he said. “The dark portions are the concerted resistance of public officials and the bright portions are created by the rays of light coming from the outside, where we know we have the sympathy and moral support of many Americans.”

Addressing the congregation of Faith Baptist Church and expressing greetings from “behind the ‘cotton curtain’ of Alabama,” he said the bus boycott of December 1955 to December 1956 was successful and a long stride toward recognition of the Negroes’ rights. “We believed,” he said, “that it was better to walk in dignity than to ride in humiliation.”

In a spiritual message, Dr. King said:

“Man has forgotten God, though unconsciously, not intentionally. Right still is right and wrong still is wrong but we are faced with the dangerous thinking that the question of right or wrong is relative. “Everyone is trying to obey the ’11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Caught.’ We must re-discover that all reality hinges on moral foundations, every personality has dignity and worth, all men are created equal, all reality has spiritual control. “We must re-discover God and put Him at the center of our lives.'”

The people of Faith Baptist Church, 1958. Click to enlarge. (Buffalo Stories archives)

More on Martin Luther King in Buffalo:

Martin Luther King addressed a full house at at Kleinhans Music Hall on December 9, 1967

Buffalo’s leaders urge peace following King’s assassination

Buffalo in the 60s: Satchmo, Basie, Duke, Brubeck headline Buffalo Jazz festival

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The word unbelievable is thrown around — but the lineup at the 1960 Buffalo Jazz Festival at Offerman Stadium was pretty close to unbelievable.

Buffalo Stories archives

The old baseball park behind Freddie’s Doughnuts at Main and Michigan played host to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Krupa and a half-dozen others.

In 1951, Main & Michigan and the area around Offermann Stadium was much more densely filled in. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The run up to the event received plenty of coverage in the Buffalo Courier-Express, The Buffalo Evening News, and The Niagara Gazette.

Co-produced by Ed Sarkesian and George Wein, in association with WEBR disc jockey Joe Rico, the festival features a lineup of entertainers that reads like a “Who’s Who in Jazz.”

The idea for staging a Buffalo Jazz Festival represents the collective thinking of professional producers and interested local businessmen. Producers Sarkesian and Wein regard Buffalo as one of the top five jazz markets in the country, based on the  record of successful shows staged at Kleinhans Music Hall and local theaters.

–Buffalo Courier-Express, July 24, 1960

The Niagara Gazette reported that a ‘”Living Stereo” sound system was to be installed in Offermann Stadium at a cost of $6000, “assuring that the audience will hear every chord struck by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, every run from Louis Armstrong’s golden trumpet and every note played and sung by Dinah Washington, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and the other stars who will appear.”

The Buffalo Evening News previews the show.

As far as the show itself:

Kenneth Gill’s review of the first day of the two-day festival from the Courier-Express. Dave Brubeck, Dinah Washington, Art Blakley, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie were among the performers. WEBR disc jockey Joe Rico was the emcee. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Gill also reviewed the last day of the show for the Courier.

The second part of Buffalo’s first Jazz Festival concluded last night at Offermann Stadium where again some of the top names in music produced an evening of fine entertainment for an enthusiastic audience.

The total attendance for the Saturday and Sunday night shows was 16,000.

On stage last night was an array of celebrities equal to the standards of the opening edition. Such personalities as Chico Hamilton, Duke Ellington,
Gene Krupa, Oscar Peterson and Louis Armstrong were on hand. It also marked the first Buffalo appearance of Jackie Cain, Roy Krai, and Cannonball Adderley.

Hamilton’s Quintet, which is built around his fine drum work; Ellington’s orchestra in the blue mood of the old master, Krupa’s torrid drums, and Peterson’s great piano playing highlighted the festivities.

Armstrong’s appearence brought the usual reception for the great “Satchmo,” whose trumpet and gravel voice are a must for any succesful jazz gathering.

Cannonball Is a Hit

Cannonball Adderley and his alto sax, backed up by his side men, brought about interesting improvisations on the jazz standards. The integration of vocal sounds with those of the instrumental, placed Jackie Cain and Roy Krai well up in their
chosen classification.

Local talent again received its opportunity. Patti Leeds, accompanied by the Sammy Noto Quintet, was as vocally pleasing as she was visually appealing.

She turned easily from sultry ballad to belting chorus, with all the accomplishments and polish of a top professional. All indications are that her future it very bright. (WEBR disc jockey) Carroll Hardy provided the program introductions.

Among the odd stories from weekend festival– it was the first major event where The Buffalo Police Department’s new K-9 squad was given a public appearance.

Working out of the Franklin Street station, “The dog, his handler and the van patrolman-driver form a team which check trouble spots anywhere in the city,” reported the Courier in a follow-up article. “No job is too small — roaming through pool parlors, mingling at crime scenes, even issuing traffic tags.

“Their finest hour was handling the crowd at the recent Jazz Festival in Offermann Stadium. Not one disturbance took place during the concert or on any streets afterwards. The promoter told Lt. Carr it was the only peaceful concert on his tour.”

Buffalo Stories archives

A few years earlier, Joe Rico, then with WWOL, brought another amazing show to Kleinhans Music Hall:

Buffalo in the ’50s: Basie, Gillespie, Billie Holiday headline Kleinhans show

Happy Birthday, Grandma Coyle

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandpa Coyle took this picture of his girl while they were dating some time in the late 40s. Today, they’re celebrating her birthday together in heaven. She’s no longer here, but the love she gave to us continues to grow and flourish every day. She was about as good as they come. Happy Birthday, Grandma!

June Marie Wargo, late 1940s.

People have told me my grandpa was the toughest guy in Seneca-Babcock.

Jimmy Coyle, the toughest guy in Seneca-Babcock, in front of a gin mill with an Iroquois Beer neon light.

He was a bouncer at the Southside Athletic Club and ran the Seneca-Babcock Boys Club.

Gramps met his match with this little 5’2″ lady.

“Sh*thole country” is 2018 speak for No Irish, No Colored, No Polish, No Italian…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Recently, the President of the United States referred to a handful of poor countries as “shithole countries,” which frankly is bad enough on its own– but the fact that it was in reference to not allowing the good people of those poor, desperate places access to the American dream makes me sick and makes me sad.

If you are reading this, chances are you have some connection to Buffalo. If you have some connection to Buffalo, chances are pretty good that you some part of your family migrated here from a nation that was considered poor and unsavory by most “real Americans,” ie, the people who’d already been here.

If you are one of those folks, can you read through this list of want ads I’ve compiled from Buffalo newspapers and feel the treatment your Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Catholic, and African-American ancestors felt. (and in some cases you still feel.)

No Polish or Colored. Buffalo Courier, 1918. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No colored. Buffalo Evening News, 1925. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Colored woman need apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1916. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Catholics. Buffalo Evening News, 1883 (Buffalo Stories archives)

 

No Polish. Buffalo Courier, 1907. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Polish. Buffalo Evening News, 1913. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Irish wanted. Buffalo Evening News 1895. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Polish girl need apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1898. (Buffalo Stories archives)
“Work and Opportunity for all,” but No Italian. Buffalo Courier, 1907. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Jewish people. Buffalo Evening News, 1925 (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Polish Need Apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1913. (Buffalo Stories archives)
First class man needed– no Italian. Buffalo Courier, 1908 (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Irish need apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1892. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Italians need apply. Buffalo evening News, 1892. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Jews or foreigners need apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1926 (Buffalo Stories archives)

The rhetoric has quickly evolved from “we don’t want ‘those people’ here because they broke the law to get here,” to “even if ‘they’ came legally, we’re sending them back…” to “we must stop people from ‘shithole countries’ from emigrating to the US, period.”

When my ancestors came from Ireland, Poland, Hungary, and Bas-Rhin/Germany… those places were all considered shithole countries by the landed classes of this country. Since 1620, this country has been the shining city on the hill people have clawed their way toward for a new start… allowing more people access to our opportunity doesn’t diminish it– it enhances it.

America’s greatness lies in our heart and our ambition. Stopping people from coming here to make a new life for themselves and their families shows a lack of heart and cut down on our overall total ambition, too.

 

History at Main & Jewett: The Chapins, The Jewetts, and the Willow Lawn Subdivision

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Willow Lawn is a short street with a long history.

Elam Jewett, Buffalo publisher. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Like the rest of the southern two-thirds of Parkside, the properties on Willow Lawn were once a part of newspaper publisher Elam Jewett’s Willow Lawn farm and estate, most of which was sold in part to the city for Delaware Park and in part to the Parkside Improvement Company (and others) for development into the Parkside neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Elam Jewett died in 1887, but until his widow’s death in 1901, Mrs. Caroline Jewett retained the family home at the corner of Main and Jewett Parkway and parcel between School 54 and the parkway which bore the family name.

This ad appeared in the Buffalo Evening News in 1901.

Shortly after the death of Mrs. Elam Jewett, her home at the corner of Main Street and Jewett Parkway was put up for sale. It was rented out as a temporary residence during the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. William P. Northrup was Jewett’s nephew, and lived in another grand Parkside residence which is no longer standing– on the southwest corner of Jewett and Crescent, where Hillside Children’s Center now stands. (Buffalo Stories archives)

To take a step back, the history of Willow Lawn goes back another century or so to the earliest days of Buffalo, when the Parkside area– far outside the village and then city limits– was known as the Buffalo Plains.

The Willow Lawn Estate, as the house stood at Main & Jewett around 1905. Home to The Jewetts and The Chapins, it was celebrated as one of Buffalo’s most beautiful and palatial homes in the second half of the 19th Century. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Dr. Daniel Chapin was among the area’s most sought-after medical professionals when he moved to the rugged frontier that was Buffalo in 1807. He built a rustic log cabin on his 175-acre farm on the Buffalo Plains stretched from what is now Main Street west back through Delaware Park, The Buff State campus, and the Richardson Complex property.

Chapin traveled on foot between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, with little more than his dog, his gun, and the tools of his medical trade. He was a naturalist and insisted on keeping the natural plant life on his farm in as natural a state as possible. We have him to thank for the native beauty of the area of his land that is today Delaware Park.

During the War of 1812, part of the Chapin farm also acted as an encampment for soldiers who had come from the south to defend the nation’s border at Buffalo. Many of those men died of exposure and disease, and at least 300 of them remain interred in the part of Daniel Chapin’s backyard where he helped bury them– in the Mound in the Meadow underneath the Delaware Park golf course.

Chapin’s son was commander in the militia of Erie County during the War of 1812, and around 1820, Col. William W. Chapin built the family a larger log cabin much closer to what is today the corner of Main and Jewett.

Barton Atkins drew the Chapin log cabin from memory many years later. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Barton Atkins, a prolific writer who grew up in the Buffalo Plains, had great memories of playing with Col. Chapin’s son Harold on the property he remembered well during the 1820s and 1830s.

A primitive home of a pioneer farmer, a log dwelling, the yard dotted with trees indigenous to the soil, and enclosed with a rail fence. The barns, corn-cribs, sheds stored with farm implements all in plain view. Multitudes of domestic fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens. peacocks, and guinea hens, rambling about, the pastures alive with horses, cattle, swine, sheep, and goats; the whole presenting a scene decidedly rural.

-Barton Atkins, describing the scene at what is now Main & Jewett in the 1820s

Col. Chapin’s 1820 log cabin was expanded and encompassed by a home that was larger and more aesthetically pleasing as the years went by. the place became known as Willow Lawn, named after the many willows planted by Dr. Chapin on the property.

By the time Elam Jewett purchased the Willow Lawn estate in 1864, he was one of Buffalo’s leading citizens. The lifelong Republican and publisher of the Commercial Advertiser newspaper was close friends with Millard Fillmore.

Fillmore and Jewett traveled through Europe together in 1856, and it was likely in Europe that Jewett was introduced to “the love apple,” today known as tomatoes. The tomatoes Jewett grew at Willow Lawn were thought to be the first tomatoes grown in Buffalo.

In the run up to the Civil War, Jewett and the Commercial Advertiser took a hard line against slavery. This sentiment may have been overplayed in a grand-niece’s retelling of the Jewett story in the Courier-Express in 1941. Along side several other over-statements of fact, “a concealed subterranean room” at Jewett homestead is mentioned as a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad.

The first and only appearance of this story of Elam Jewett’s home being a stop on the Underground Railroad comes in the 1940s, making it seem that it’s likely apocryphal. (Buffalo Stories archives)

It’s mentioned here primarily to debunk it– in hundreds of pages read on Jewett and Willow Lawn, and tens of thousands of pages read on the history of the Parkside area, I’ve never seen another reference to the Underground Railroad outside this one article, again, with a descendant speaking 80 years after the Civil War as a source.

Before his death in 1887, Jewett gave the Episcopal Church the land for the Church of the Good Shepherd, and donated most of the cost of it’s construction.

Elam Jewett donated the land to build what was originally a chapel to the memory of his friend and priest, Edward Ingersoll. This is the preliminary drawing of The Church of the Good Shepherd by Marley and Burnett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1892, Mrs. Jewett donated land to the City of Buffalo for Public School 54– known for many years as “The Parkside School.” That school was built on the land currently occupied by the present School 54’s parking lot.

The original School 54 stood on land donated by the Jewett family on what is now the current School 54’s parking lot. The current School 54 stands on the site of what was the Peter Hagner Dairy from 1909-1964. (Buffalo Stories archives)
The Peter Hagner Dairy stood on the site of the current School 54 from 1909-64. 1910 ad. Bill Blake, a long time Parkside resident, collector of stories, and great storyteller himself, remembers that there were cows at the dairy up until the late 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In the following years, the Willow Lawn Estate would be opened to the public in raising money for the church and the school. The Beltline trains and Cold Spring horse-cars were listed as convenient modes of transportation for folks visiting Willow Lawn for one such fundraiser in 1889.

The Jewett Era on Jewett Parkway came to a close with the death of Elam’s widow in 1901. Buffalo Courier obituary. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The life of Mrs. Caroline Wheeler Jewett , filled with years and graced with all womanly virtues, came to an end at 8 o’clock last evening, when she passed away at the family home, Willow Lawn.

In 1905, Jewett’s heirs split off the southern most part of the remaining Willow Lawn parcel for new development.

“The magnificent homestead lands of the Jewetts, at Main Street and Jewett Avenue, have been subdivided and are now offered for sale to parties
desiring home-sites in an exclusive, scenic section,” read one ad.

Another touted the “euphoniously titled” Willow Lawn’s “semi-private park style” in “the most beautiful section of the city.”

Willow Lawn, 1906. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Beautiful Willow Lawn Homestead, corner of Main Street and Jewett Avenue, has been subdivided and placed with us for sale. A new street, 70 feet wide, has been opened from Main Street to Crescent Avenue. Sewer and water pipes laid on each side are already in, and the pavement nearly finished. The lots are being sold under restrictions for residential purposes only, making some of the most desirable home sites in the Parkside District. Nearly one-half of these lots have been sold, so it is up to you to hurry if you want a lot in this desirable subdivision, the highest and healthiest section in the city where attractive surroundings are assured at a very low price.

“As a setting for a fine piece of domestic architecture,” the Buffalo Courier reported, “the site is ideal.” All but two of the lots on the street had homes built on them by 1911, and the last home was built on Willow Lawn in 1917.

As homes were being built in the “Willow Lawn subdivision,” the buildings of the original Willow Lawn estate– including the home of the Chapins and Jewetts– still stood at the corner of Main & Jewett.

Willow Lawn’s final hurrah would be as the home of a newly formed school based on learning from nature while in nature.

In 1913, after a year on Bird Avenue on the West Side, The Park School and it’s open-air approach to learning took over the last vestige of Daniel Chapin’s estate 106 years after he first built a log cabin there.

Outdoor classes for the Park School at Main & Jewett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Park School became a nationally renown beacon of progressive education.

Central Presbyterian Church, now the Aloma B. Johnson Charter School, can be seen in the background as children repair an animal house as part of their school day at The Park School. (Buffalo Stories archives)

For nearly a decade, children walked the same grounds Barton Atkins talked about 100 years earlier. Not confined to desks, children often weren’t even confined to indoors– with classrooms built in tree houses and screened bungalows. Days were often spent outside, even in the dead of winter, with the pupils warmly cocooned in woolen sleeping bags for lectures.

Outdoor fun for Park School students at Main & Jewett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Willow Lawn home was torn in 1922 after The Park School left for the school’s current home in Snyder. The current apartment buildings on the lot were built shortly thereafter, and available for rent by 1927, as shown in the ad below.

The Jewett Apartments, Jewett Parkway at Main Street. 1927 ad. (Buffalo Stories archives)

 

Bennett’s snack time hangouts of the 50s & 60s

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s a bit of Happy Days in North Buffalo.

A defining feature of any high school experience is what you ate and how you ate it. But during the post-war and baby boomer years, the students at Bennett High School, Main & Hertel in Buffalo, not only enjoyed eating– but also seemed to do a pretty decent job of chronicling lunch time and snack time.

Boys drink milk from Kart’s Dairy, across Main Street from Bennett High School, in the Bennett cafeteria in the 1956-57 school year. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Looking through newspapers and yearbooks and a pile of other resources, here are some great photos showing what teenage-life was like for the students of North Buffalo, University Heights, Central Park, Parkside and other neighborhoods in the north-central part of the city.

Some of the locations are obvious, but some of the them aren’t labelled. If you have any idea which soda fountains, coffee shops, or pizza places are represented in these photos– from Hertel, to University Heights, to The Central Park Plaza– please drop me an email at steve@buffalostories.com.

Van Slyke Pharmacy and Luncheonette, Hertel Avenue corner of Parkside Avenue. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Bennett students Judy Silverstein, Lynda Sturner, Bonnie Sandler and Sunny Weinstein at an unnamed soda fountain, 1957. Possibly Bargar and Wright’s pharmacy at Hertel and Colvin?  What do you think? Any idea where this photo was taken? Email steve@buffalostories.com (Buffalo Stories archives)
Bennett boys eating pizza, 1957. Do you know where? Drop me an email, steve@buffalostories.com (Buffalo Stories archives)
Larry Nadel, Judy Rovall, Susie Silverman, Alan Carrel, Jane Stiller and Irwin Falk eating hamburgers and sodas,at The Salad Bowl Restaurant– in what was then The Delaware Shopping Plaza, later the Great Arrow Shopping Plaza, and today, Marshall’s Plaza.  (Buffalo Stories archives)
Bennett girls doing homework, talking on the phone, and drinking Queen-O, 1959. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Girls eating pizza in front of the jukebox, 1959. Any idea which pizza joint? Drop me an email, steve@buffalostories.com (Buffalo Stories archives)
Coffee, water, and a jukebox remote. 1957. We’ve had two votes for Clarence’s Diner on this one. Clarence would give the kids food for helping keep the place clean, and would even let kids fry their own french fries. Clarence’s Diner was in a typical storefront building at Hertel and Starin, where Deep South Taco now stands. Sound right to you? Drop me an email, steve@buffalostories.com (Buffalo Stories archives)
Mister S Hamburgers. Now the site of the LaSalle Metro Station, just north of Hertel, before the viaduct was removed. 1967. (Buffalo Stories archives)

From Hamburg WKBW flips the switch on rock ‘n’ roll history

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hamburg’s biggest contribution to the early history of rock ‘n’ roll might be more technical than musical, but it was from the 50,000 watts worth of radio waves flying out of Big Tree Rd. that Western New York and much of the east coast and Canada were introduced to the format.

The WKBW-WGR Transmitter facility on Big Tree Rd. as it looked when opened in July, 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation opened its transmitter and tower facilities on Big Tree Rd. in July, 1941. The facility cost $350,000– $5.7 million in 2017 dollars—and was described as “truly a showplace of electric marvels.”


A technician adjusts the audio driver tubes of WKBW’s transmitter. 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

When the building first opened, a series of telephone lines carried programs from the Rand Building studios of WGR and WKBW to Hamburg for broadcast.

Live from the WGR/WKBW studios inside the Rand Building. (Buffalo Stories archives)

WKBW’s mainstays were the network programs of CBS with stars like Orson Welles, Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. DeMille, and Kate Smith. WGR carried Mutual Network shows like “The Lone Ranger” and talent like Milton Berle.

WGR/WKBW Sports reporter Ralph Hubbell at the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation microphone, and RCA 74-B. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The local talent included Billy Keaton, Ralph Hubbell, and WGR Orchestra leader David Cheskin. Before Howdy Doody came along, Bob Smith hosted “The Cheer Up Gang” every morning, and before spending 35 years on WBEN, Clinton Buehlman hosted “WGR Musical Clock.”

Clint Buehlman behind the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation microphone of WGR. (Buffalo Stories archives)

After spending time at a few smaller stations, in the mid-1950s, George “Hound Dog” Lorenz took his rhythm and blues program featuring the music which would soon be known as rock ‘n’ roll to 50,000 watt WKBW Radio. The powerful signal allowed “The Hound” to introduce the evolving music genre to the entire northeastern United States.

Live from the streets of downtown Buffalo on WKBW, 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

WKBW would eventually be known as “one of America’s two great radio stations.” The voices of Stan Roberts, Tom Shannon, Irv Weinstein, Danny Neaverth, Joey Reynolds, Jack Armstrong, and so many others were sent out over the four and later six towers in our backyard.

The Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation newsroom of WGR & WKBW inside the Rand Building. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Today, WWKB Radio and WGR Radio still transmit from Big Tree Rd. Both stations are owned by Entercom Communiucations, which is in the middle of a $1.7 billion merger with CBS Radio.

 

The Gramps Files: Babcia the Rum Runner

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

During The Prohibition, my great-grandmother made moonshine in the family basement and sold it from my grandpa’s baby buggy. Here’s Gramps telling the story….

During a visit on June 18, 2012, Gramps tells the story of his mother using a copper kettle to make whiskey in the basement of their Fulton Street home during The Depression and Prohibition days as a way to keep food on the table for their family with ten children Babcia would put the bottles in with Gramps in his baby buggy for distribution around The Valley.

John & Mary Cichon outside their Fulton Street, Buffalo home, 1941.

The Cichons lived on Fulton Street in The Valley, between Van Rensselaer Street and Smith Street. My great-grandparents owned the home where the booze was made from 1922-1978. Jan Cichon and Maryanna Pochec both came to Buffalo from Poland in 1913. They met here and were married at Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Smith and Clinton in 1914.

John Cichon died in 1967. Mary Cichon died in 1980. Gramps died in 2014 just after his 88th birthday.

Gramps always told a lot of great stories, but this was one I’d never heard before. I was bursting with questions to ask, but I always considered my visits with Gramps to be his time. Nearly all of his friends, nine brothers and sisters, my grandmother, and four of his ten children died before he did. He needed a friend to talk and listen and bring Tim Bits—not someone to ask uncomfortable questions.

Gramps and Steve

Then and now, I wish I could have done more. I tried to be equal parts buddy and grandson, and I listened to whatever he had to share and never judged…. And I paid back those secret candy bars and ice cream cones from my youth with a box of Tim Bits or a “real burnt-up hot dog with sweet relish and slivered onions” with each visit.

 

The beauty of light and serendipity on a cold winter day

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

If there’s anything I love about this time of year, it’s the days when I happen I to walk down the stairs and look out the window just as the sun starts to disappear towards the other side of the park.

view out of the window on the landing. Steve Cichon photo

And on the days when the air is crisp and the clouds are high, the last gasp of sun splashes honey and orange hued final breaths of light against the houses just outside that window.

My soul is warmed in a way that the sun can’t just by itself on a brutish frigid day– the way nature projects light and life on this pedestrian everyday scene literally just out my window.

I’m moved to wonder, if these were some of the observations that moved a favorite artist to create a favorite painting.

Even before I knew who Charles Burchfield was and that this painting is a composite of a couple of different places around Buffalo, I’ve always loved “Six O’Clock,” and something about it speaks to me– the same something I hear calling from outside my stairway window on late winter afternoons.

I usually resist the urge to take a photo of my special scene. Creating a digital image with the same swipe and click I make dozens of times a day can’t possibly capture the serendipity of it. Taking the photo even actually defeats the fleeting nature of the glowing lights bringing at least visual warmth to the cold.

But today seemed like the right day.

Remembering Michael LoCurto, 1971-2017

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My heart aches with the loss of one of the good ones, Michael LoCurto.

Delaware District Council Member Michael LoCurto. (from his Facebook page)

Mike was a great public servant– a man of few words, but much integrity, intellect, and common sense. I learned a lot from his friendship and his quiet yet firm stewardship of the Delaware District. A good guy. A honest guy. A funny guy. We need more like him in the world (and especially in politics), and his passing leaves a sad void.

Steve Cichon and Mike LoCurto, cutting the ribbon on Parkside’s Little Libraries, 2013.

This is Mike and me cutting the ribbon on Parkside’s Little Library project a few years ago… It’s a rare photo because he was more about taking action than taking credit. He ALWAYS had what was best for the people of his district and our city at heart… never himself or some outside influence. Thank you to a true public servant and a great friend.

May perpetual light shine upon him, and may God descend upon the hearts of his family and all all those who loved him, bringing peace, love, and warmth.