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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.


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.

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

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Van Miller on Cookie Gilchrist’s ear muffs

By Steve Cichon

Having worked with Van Miller on Bills broadcasts on the radio and then as his producer at Channel 4, I spent a lot of time listening to his stories.

Van Miller and John Murphy at Rich Stadium, 1985 (Buffalo Stories archives)

Van was a tremendous storyteller, and always delighted any crowd gathered around him with his ability to spin a tale about almost anything and make it interesting.

One of his favorites was “The Cookie Gilchrist earmuff story.” Ask people who’ve spent time around Van– Paul Peck, Brian Blessing, John Murphy… and they probably know the story as Van told it by heart as well as Van knew it himself.

The story goes, Cookie Gilchrist wasn’t really happy with the amount of money The Bills were paying him, so he was always looking for a way to make an extra buck. One time, he decided to buy a load of earmuffs and sell them as “Cookie Gilchrist earmuffs” at The Rockpile one Sunday.

Cookie Gilchrist at the Rockpile. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“Well,” Van would say with a smile, “It happened to be one of the hottest December days on record, and the sun blazing at kickoff– he only sold about three pairs of earmuffs!”

It’s a classic Van story, quick and neat, and leaves the listener smiling.

The problem is, while there’s probably some basis in truth— Van was always more about telling a good story than about getting all the facts straight.

In a quick internet search, I found three different reports of Van telling the story. The temperature at kickoff was either 69, 57, or 60 degrees depending on which version you read. The number of pairs of earmuffs he had changed too– 5,000 in one telling; 3,000 in another; 15,000 another time.

The point is, there were probably earmuffs. Beyond that, it’s tough to tell where the colorful imagination of Uncle Van took over.

There’s another version of the story told to writer Scott Pitoniak by longtime Bills trainer Ed Abramowski. Published in 2007, Abe’s version is Cookie was trying to sell the earmuffs for the 1964 AFL Championship Game at War Memorial, but the headgear wound up getting caught in customs when Gilchrist tried to bring them to Buffalo from his home in Toronto.

The only contemporary earmuff story I could find was in the Ottawa Journal a few days after the Bills won that 1964 AFL Championship Game.

A reporter asked Cookie about the autographed earmuffs he said would be sold at the game. “I ran into problems there, and didn’t sell them.”– Ottawa Journal, December 28, 1964

That game was played December 26, 1964. It was a mild day with some rain and a high around 45.

Van Miller’s story is the only reason I know that Cookie Gilchrist ever tried to sell earmuffs, and that really makes me smile. Knowing the real story about how and why makes me smile, too.

Uncle Patrick Norton, grain scooper, lived above The Swannie House

By Steve Cichon

I’m getting ready for St Patrick’s Day…

In 1900, my third great uncle, Patrick Norton, was a grain scooper (or as the 1900 census has it, Longshoreman, grain) who lived above the Swannie House, 170 Ohio Street, First Ward, Buffalo, USA.

This 1920s photo of the Swannie is from The Buffalo History Museum via The Public. 

His father, Miles Norton, came to the First Ward from Ireland to work in in the grain elevators and along the docks. He died in 1883 at the age of 45.

The Norton family lived a few blocks away in a tenement building at 64 Chicago Street.

Patrick’s sister, my great-great grandmother, Bridget Norton, married a seaman from Prescott, Ontario named Thomas Slattery. Slattery eventually became captain of the Juniata, one of William “Fingy” Conner’s Great Lakes passenger steam ships of the Great Lakes Transit line.

Slattery lived at 26 Indian Church Road, one house from Seneca Street behind Babe Boyce (now Hong Kong Kitchen.)

Remembering the silly and fun with Mom-in-law, three years later

By Steve Cichon

My mother-in-law died very suddenly and unexpectedly three years ago today. I’ve never lost anyone suddenly like that, and it makes the pain so much more intense and agonizing. The worst part is the deep shock that everyone feels dampens the celebration of life that usually takes place during a wake and a funeral, because we’re all still lost and trying to rectify what happened.

Pam used to say about people all the time, “She’s had a hard life.” She used to see that in people, because that’s the experience she had. Life just wasn’t easy for her. But when she experienced joy, it was about as full-blown, crazed, smiling, happy, joyful, laugh-til-it-hurts kind of joy.

That’s what I’m trying for today. It’s still hard to not bring some measure of sadness to thinking about her– just because of the way she left us… But she deserves to be remembered with the same kind of unbridled joy she had when she played one of her practical jokes or figured out ways to sneak in dances with Elvis.

Monica’s mom paid one of North America’s premier Elvis tribute artists to crash our wedding. I thought of it this morning and it made me laugh out loud. Seventeen years later, and it makes me smile every time. “It’s not so much I’m losing a daughter, but gaining a dance with Elvis :)”

Honestly, I think she’s the only one who ever understood her practical jokes– but she’d laugh so hard she couldn’t breathe, and whether we were laughing with her, or at her, or both, we’d all be having one of those great family moments that live on forever with just three words… like “two eye patches.”

When she was silly and fun, there was no one more fun or more silly. Of course there’s some sadness today, but I’m making sure it’s more smiles than tears.

All the news you need without dwelling on it… and then music to make you smile

By Steve Cichon

It’s really been a great first week on WECK.

I’m honored to be working with such an amazing array of talent, especially Tom and Gail on the WECK Coffee Club.

This year marks my 25th year in radio news– but tomorrow’s big snow storm marks the first time I’m going to be able to be a part of a team putting together the kind of news, information, and entertainment package that best gets us through events like a morning drive snow storm.

I’ll put together the latest, complete up-to-the moment information about the storm, any traffic situations, any problems with power, and anything else that pops up– get that information on the air for you immediately as we get it, and then– instead of dwelling on it, we play a great song.

We don’t need 12 minutes worth of interviews to say that there was a foot of snow and traffic is slow on the 33.

We’d rather spend 20 seconds giving you the basic information without embellishment or dramatics, and then we play a timeless favorite.

Being stuck on the 33 isn’t half as bad when you’re able to find out why you’re stuck– but then sing along with some of the greatest music of all time.

We’re proud to do it that way on Timeless Favorites, Buffalo’s Very Own, WECK… 102.9 FM, 1230 AM, and streaming at

Be thankful you can’t hear me singing along… I was jamming with Starbuck this morning.

Julius Wargo and Elizabeth Kotis, 1906

By Steve Cichon

Doing some crazy 1000+ result wide cast searches on one of the ancestry websites came back with a great hit, and gave me the info to order my great-grandfather’s parents’ marriage certificate from the New York City archives. His name was misspelled when transcribed, and her name is actually Kotis… but somehow it popped up.
Gyula Varga and Erszebet Kotis came to the US from Hungary in 1906 and settled in Pennsylvania for a decade before moving to Buffalo around 1917. They obviously stopped long enough in New York City to get married upon their initial arrival.

It’s the first time I’ve been able to find anything on either of them from before the 1910 census, when they lived in Pennsylvania coal country– and told the census worker that they came from Hungary in 1906.

From Marion Heights, Pennsylvania, they moved to Abby Street in South Buffalo around 1917, and Julius got a job a few blocks away at Donner-Republic Steel along the Buffalo River.

He died in January, 1919, leaving his widow with six kids and a very limited knowledge of English.

I wish I had a photo of him– especially since his first name is my middle name (I was named after his son, my mom’s grandfather, Stephen Julius Wargo.)

Elizabeth Wargo lived until 1962– and is fondly remembered by many of her great-grandchildren (including my mom.)
My great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Kotis Wargo, holding my grandmother, June Wargo Coyle, 1931.


Presidents’ Day and Presidents Books with love

By Steve Cichon

This is the first book I ever wanted.

We didn’t have a lot of money, but mom let me get it from the bookstore at the Main Place Mall when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old.

That must have been a heck of a trip on the Seneca bus downtown with me, my little brother, and little sister– 5,3, and 2– mom by herself.

I’m sure there was a reason we were downtown, but I don’t remember. I do remember that Main Street was all torn up— we watched the jackhammers out the window of McDonald’s, where we had lunch.

We walked a few blocks down Main as they were doing construction to make way for the MetroRail, crossed back over Main and went into Main Place, and there, in front of the Walden Books, right by the stairs, was this Presidents book.

I can still see the display table and feel that deep want– which I don’t recall much from childhood. I was obsessed with the Presidents, but the book we had at home only went up to Nixon.

This one went to the current President, Reagan, and had a huge page of facts about every President— facts I still have more or less memorized.

So thanks, Mom.

Whatever sacrifice we made as a family to buy that book helped fan my love of history and my love of books and my love of finding great things downtown. It’s served me well… and I’ve tried to put it to use to serve others, too.

Happy Presidents Day.

It’s not the 2nd Amendment– it’s the 9th Amendment

By Steve Cichon

Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The brilliant James Madison wrote right into the Bill of Rights that all the rights protected under the Constitution are protected equally… and by extension, that it’s up to us to figure out how to work it out if the people start to believe that certain rights are blocking the pursuit of other rights.

None of our constitutional rights stand alone— they are all together in a big Jenga tower whose strength lies in maintaining the tower.

Pulling out one block and throwing it away weakens the tower. Pulling one out and pretending that one single block is the foundation of the whole tower is just as silly.

I’m talking about guns. Trying to anyway. We’ll see what happens.

NRA safety programs– I’ve taken a few– always start with the responsibility of someone owning or even just handling a gun.

Responsibility, and respecting the power you hold in your hand when you are holding a gun. We have to respect guns. We have to be responsible with them.

I think part of respect and responsibility is to admit what guns are, in clear language, without judgement.

Guns are for killing. Guns exist to kill. Period. If you say your gun is for protection, you are saying your gun is there so you can kill people trying to harm you. If you are a hunter, your gun is to kill animals.

Even if you just enjoy target practice, chances are you are shooting at human shaped targets or animal facsimile targets. You are practicing to kill.

Every single gun owner reading this hopes never to kill, but part of the respect and responsibility of owning a gun is knowing that when there’s a bullet in the chamber, it becomes a possibility.

It’s cut and dried, and it’s like nothing else. There are no analogies for guns. It’s not like a car or a knife or sugar or fat or whatever else might kill people, too.

It’s such a special case that’s it’s enshrined in the constitution– guns are so special that a firearm is the only actual, tangible thing James Madison thought needed to be protected in the Bill of Rights.

In the 2nd amendment, he wrote Americans have the right to have a gun in case they might have to kill someone trying to take their freedom or security.

The problem is, the number of people who have guns but don’t have the proper respect for guns or are responsible in using them is clearly growing. It’s growing to the point where I fear for young people going to school. I fear for old people walking at the mall. I won’t go to the movies– mostly because movies are terrible these days, but also– mass shootings.

My version of “securing the blessings of liberty” doesn’t involve my having to pack heat to go to buy a gallon of milk. Maybe yours does, but that’s not a second amendment issue– it’s a ninth amendment issue.

This is a uniquely American problem and needs a uniquely American approach to solving it. The American way says, “no right trumps any other,” but it also says, “I respect your position and I hope you can respect mine.”

We need to find common ground to find a solution here. Aren’t you sick of watching people die while you scream F@#$ YOU at people over the fence?

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Buffalo in the 80’s: Remembering the taste of Visniak pop

By Steve Cichon

Visniak was the unofficial soft drink of VFW Posts, corner gin mills, and East Side homes where the Visniak van would make weekly drop-offs of cases filled with a rainbow of pop flavors.

Buffalo Stories photo

Hattie Pijanowski, along with her husband, Edward, started the Visniak-Saturn Beverage Corp. on Detroit Street on Buffalo’s East Side in 1931. In 1939, the plant moved to Reiman Street in Sloan.

Edward Pijanowski became active in Sloan politics and ran for mayor of the village in 1951.

The company, which employed ten in 1968, brought colorful and tasty pop to generations of Buffalonians two different ways– in 7.5-ounce glass bottles and from barroom “pop guns” all over the city.

Chances are pretty good– if you ever ordered a Coke in an East Side tavern sometime between the ’50s and the ’90s, you were likely drinking a “VEESH-nyak” (from the Polish for “cherry”) and didn’t even realize it.

Visniak seeks Polish-speaking distributor, 1955. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Hattie Pijanowski died in July, 1985, at age 82. Her son, Ray, was 70 when he closed up the business in 2004, “because nobody returned the bottles,” and a new bottle cost more than what that bottle filled with pop would sell for.

Buffalo Stories archives

Charles A. Doyle: Buffalonian whose only crime was being a Communist

By Steve Cichon

His only crime was being a member of the Communist Party.

Charlie Doyle’s story is one that I learned not from McCarthy-era newspaper articles, but from sitting in kitchens and on front porches on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

The Buffalo Evening News reports on February 20. 1948, “Charles A. Doyle… has been arrested.. for prosecution and for deportation as a Communist. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“He was a commie, but he was always trying to help people,” I’d hear. “A good guy.”

You’d expect that kind of talk from his family — from my family. Charlie Doyle was my grandmother’s uncle. Aunt Agnes’ brother.

Charlie Doyle had dozens of close relations living on or just off Seneca Street in South Buffalo in the late 1940s when the move began to deport him. (Buffalo Stories archives)

I grew up in the ’80s, not the ’50s, but Communists still weren’t good.  They were the bad guys, but there was still Doyle, the Communist who caused people to smile when they talked about him.

The Doyle family, 1912, in Coatbridge, Scotland. The Irish Catholic family family had moved from Down, Northern Ireland to near Glasgow, Scotland in the 1880s. When father William died. his widow Mary and many of their children moved to South Buffalo, including my great-grandmother Peggy (third from left), Agnes (standing in front of Peggy), and Charlie– the baby– standing to the right of his father. (Buffalo Stories archives)

I didn’t realize until later that the story of Doyle was a bigger deal than just family lore. Though he continually denied it publicly for his safety and the safety of his family, he was a member of the Communist party. He was also a talented labor organizer and helped workers force safer working conditions and better pay at places such as Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel and Carborundum.

A pamphlet entered into evidence in the House Un-American Activities hearings in the 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Despite having been a legal U.S. resident for 25 years with an American wife and family, because he was born in Scotland, he wasn’t allowed to re-enter the U.S. after a trip to Canada in 1949.

Doyle guilty of illegal entry, jury decides after quick trial: “The trial was one of the fastest in Western New York Federal Court history. A jury headed by foreman Nelson Barlett, a Forestville mechanic, which had been selected in 25 minutes, returned the verdict in an hour and five minutes.” (Buffalo Stories archives)

He spent the next several years in and out of prison based on illegal entry charges before– at the height of the McCarthy era– he was deported in 1953.

Communists Gerhard Eisler, John Williamson, Ferdinand C. Smith and Charles A. Doyle wave to crowd as they step on ferry on Ellis Island– where they’d spent months imprisoned.

Being deported from the US wasn’t the end of Charles Doyle’s trouble.

Upon landing on the shores of Britain, Doyle spoke of “insidious forces and McCarthyite scoundrels” back in the US. He attacked those “who in the name of patriuotism would destroy the Bill of Rights and bring our country to the brink of disaster.” This Reuters storyt was carried in newspapers around the world. (Buffalo Stories acrhives)

In London, Doyle picked up where he left off in Western New York– leading  labor organization efforts at a nearby power plant.

The resulting nationwide labor slowdowns caused massive power outages, including at London’s famously lit Piccadilly Circus. Those outages came during one of the coldest snaps of weather on record in London, and nearly two dozen people died from the cold. Doyle was tried in their deaths but exonerated.

In 1963, London’s Daily Mirror tabloid front page was filled with his photo and the bold-faced underlined words, “The most hated man in Britain.”

London tabloid “The Daily Mirror” called South Buffalo’s Charlie Doyle “the most hated man in Britain.” (Buffalo Stories archives)

And it wasn’t just America that didn’t want him. Despite having being deported from the US to his native UK, the House of Lords discussed trying to send him back.

Discussion from Britain’s House of Lords on whether the UK might be able to deport Charles Doyle. (Buffalo Stories archives)


Buffalo’s most famous Communist– labor leader and playwright Manny Fried– wrote about Doyle in a piece which was rejected for publication by The Buffalo News called “Democratic Leaders Are at a Fork in the Road.”

When (John L.) Lewis broke with the American Federation of Labor and sponsored the Congress of Industrial Organizations to organize production workers, he said that he hired the communists to organize the workers because communists were the best organizers, idealists sacrificing everything to get workers organized — and when they got the workers organized, he fired them.

Charlie Doyle, the leading open Communist Party activist in Western New York, was hired by Lewis to work for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. Charlie played a major role in organizing workers into the union at the Lackawanna Bethlehem Steel plant. Then Lewis fired Charlie, and others were credited with
what Charlie had done.

When Lewis subsequently split with CIO leaders and formed District 50 of his Mine Workers Union to organize chemical workers in Niagara Falls, he again hired Charlie Doyle. When Charlie finished organizing those chemical workers into the union, Lewis again fired Charlie.

The CIO Chemical Workers Union then hired Charlie — and the unions Charlie had organized switched from District 50 to CIO. Then CIO fired Charlie. And then Lewis rehired Charlie – and those unions switched back to District 50 with Charlie. AFL and CIO merged into one organization and their AFL-CIO Chemical
Workers Union hired Charlie — and all those same unions of chemical plant workers switched over to the AFL-CIO with Charlie.

Carborundum workers went out on strike in connection with contract negotiations and leaders of the union in Washington held a meeting about the strike across the river in Fort Erie, Canada. U.S. Customs and Immigration wouldn’t let Charlie back across the bridge into U.S. But Canadian authorities looked the other way while Charlie crossed the river back into U.S. in a boat.

FBI and U.S. Immigration then picked up Charlie for deportation on grounds that years earlier when he came here from Scotland he was a communist. Charlie had his first papers to become a citizen, but hadn’t been granted his second papers to complete the process. Jailed for deportation, Charlie staged a hunger strike, but
finally agreed to be deported to England in return for U.S. government authorities persuading his Catholic wife to agree to end their marriage so he could marry the woman he loved.

(Several decades later the Buffalo AFL-CIO Central Labor Council passed the resolution offered by University of Buffalo Chapter of United University Professions recognizing Charlie’s contribution to organized labor in Western New York.)

Democratic Leaders Are at a Fork in the Road, Emanuel Fried

Doyle died in London in 1983. His obituary appeared in the Chicago Tribune.


Dr. Martin Luther King speaks in Buffalo, 1959

By Steve Cichon

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