Welcome to Steve Cichon’s Buffalo Stories LLC

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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 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.


The Buffalo Stories Blog
Not just Steve’s research and reflections on Buffalo’s pop culture history, but also acts as a repository for Steve as he finds pieces of his own past through genealogical research, and well as his memories and meditations on the people, places, and ideas which have shaped his perspective.


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.

staffannouncer.com
Steve’s been posting the sights, sounds, and stories of Buffalo’s pop culture history on staffannouncer.com since 2003. This longtime favorite site is being slowly migrated to the Buffalo Stories Blog, where he continues to write about the art of communicating, the great people and places of Buffalo, and his family history.


Let’s tell some stories together. 

~Steve Cichon, Buffalo Stories LLC

716-479-3173 | steve@buffalostories.com

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Old Tools from Old Guys

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Having old tools around helps connect you to the people who taught you to use them.

Grandpa Cichon would get you all the hammers, work gloves, flashlights, and blanket-lined denim work coats you could ever want from National Aniline. I wish I had saved more of that stuff. I remember donating the work coat he gave me to the Salvation Army when I was in high school. I hope someone is still using it!

hammer
As a tinsmith, Grandpa Cichon used a ball-peen hammer almost every day of his almost 40 years at National Aniline and Buffalo Color.

 

There were always flashlights and work gloves– and we had a bunch of Grandpa Cichon’s hammers at our house– but the only tool I every remember seeing at Grandpa Cichon’s house was an old pair of pliers that grandma kept in the drawer and used for just about everything.

Grandpa Coyle was a union glazier and glassworker who didn’t believe in measuring tapes.

rule

He had at least a dozen rules. I snagged one off the final pile heading to the Salvation Army.

I love the little poch marks made by molten something... I like to imagine it was from plumbing with lead. When I told Gramps that I replaced an old lead drain in the basement with PVC, there was real sadness in his eyes.

Gramps loved rusty tools– his basement was a tool and mismatched piles of junk wonderland. He’d be happy to know that I am happy with one of his rusty, obsolete tools.

What I mean by Thankful…

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Thankful to me means accepting without settling, filled with mercy but strong in resolve, happy but realistic.

Thankful to me means lacking in anger but not lacking in passion, lacking in spite but not lacking in a hope for justice, lacking in hate but not lacking in a drive to help good triumph every time.

Thankful is about finding the light up close and far away. It’s allowing the tiniest beautiful things to lighten your heart even when your first inclination might be to leave it all in darkness, but also looking to the horizon– maybe even squinting if you have to– to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Thankful can happen even in the most adverse climates and situations, but it takes a lot of work and fighting through pain and darkness. It’s not always cool or popular to be thankful, and sometimes it doesn’t even feel right to be the only one filled with thanks– but thanks is never wrong.

I pray the light of thankfulness touches us all today and everyday.

Buffalo’s 1520 WKBW Radio: WNY’s great contribution to 20th century pop culture

BUFFALO, NY – It’s funny the way memories begin to haze. Strictly from a Buffalo point of view, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, KB was one of many stations cranking out the music and antics that made for great rock n’ roll radio.

Stations like WBNY, WWOL, WXRA, and later WYSL and a host of others were capturing the imaginations of young people in Buffalo. Tommy Shannon first made girls swoon at WXRA Radio, from a location way out in the boonies. The studio was on rural Niagara Falls Boulevard, in a location which soon would be the home of Swiss Chalet for the next 50 years. WXRA later became WINE, where Hernando played host.

hernadowine
Hernando, on a WINE promo– with a microphone flag edited from WXRA to read WINE. Buffalo Stories archives

 

Tom Clay, one of many disc jockeys to use the name Guy King on WWOL, was arrested after his playing ‘Rock Around the Clock’ over and over again, while perched atop a billboard in Shelton Square. Traffic was snarled for hours in what was considered “Buffalo’s Times Square,” and is now just considered the MetroRail tracks in front of the Main Place Mall.

wwol-shelton-sq
Shelton Square, featuring The Palace Burlesk and WWOL Radio. The block where these buildings stood on Main Street is now a grass-covered park. The Ellicott Square Building, to the right, still stands and gives reference to the location. Buffalo Stories Archives

If you tuned to WBNY in the late 50s, you were likely to hear the voice of Daffy Dan Neaverth, Joey Reynolds (right), Fred Klestine and Henry Brach. At WBNY, Neaverth would pull a rooftop like event similar to Guy King’s, throwing candy out to passersby. Neaverth, perhaps with his boyish good looks and demeanor, evaded arrest for his stunt.

Joey Reynolds
Joey Reynolds

hounddoglorenzAs many of the smaller stations in Buffalo were churning out rhythm and blues music all day, at night, for Buffalo and the entire eastern seaboard, ‘the Hound Sound was around.’

George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, the Godfather of rock n’ roll radio (not just in Buffalo, but PERIOD) first plied his trade in Western New York at Niagara Falls’ WJJL, as early as 1951. By the mid 50’s, Lorenz’s hip daddy style, and the fact that he was spinning records from black artists, made him an institution.

The King and The Hound, Memorial Auditorium
The King and The Hound, Memorial Auditorium

Ironically, the man who brought Elvis to Memorial Auditorium was out at KB when the station went Rock n’ Roll full-time. Lorenz wanted nothing to do with a Top 40 style format. While inspiring many of the changes that came to KB and many other stations around the country, the Hound stayed true to his style, and founded WBLK Radio; where he continued to uncover and spotlight new artists, both in Buffalo, and to a syndicated audience around the country.

KB broadcast to the white area on the map.
KB broadcast to the white area on the map.

Despite a pioneering spirit and great imaginative programming, each of those true rock n’roll pioneer stations had unique problems. Either they weren’t well financed, or had daytime-only signals so weak that they couldn’t be heard throughout the city and all the nearby suburbs.

Enter WKBW Radio, soon with the corporate backing of owner Capital Cities (now THE DISNEY CORPORATION, by the way), and its monstrous 50,000 watt signal. With an eventual 50% of the marketshare, KB quickly blew all of the much smaller competitors out of the water. Half of the audience was listening to KB. Never before, and never since, has a radio station been so dominant in Buffalo.

Before Top 40 came to KB, Stan Barron hosted the Morning Clockwatcher show, live each morning outside the Main Street studios.
Before Top 40 came to KB, Stan Barron hosted the Morning Clockwatcher show, live each morning outside the Main Street studios.

On July 4, 1958, Futursonic Radio was alive on WKBW. The rock n’roll era had arrived on a respectable, long established Buffalo radio station. When station manager Al Anscombe first convinced the Reverend Clinton Churchill to make the switch to Top 40, initially, the station was stocked with out-of-towners at the direction of the man who’d established WBNY as the city’s Top 40 leader, program director Dick Lawrence.

But eventually, a base of homegrown talent sprinkled with some of the most talented people from around the country, KB built an unprecedented following in Buffalo and around the country. Most of the names already mentioned here made their way to KB, and many reading this might not know or remember they worked elsewhere.

As often happens, over the last 50 years, for better or for worse, people who remember Guy King or the earliest Tom Shannon or Daffy Dan Neaverth shows, will think they heard those things on KB, forgetting those early pioneering rock n’roll days. If you watched Elvis shake his hips on Ed Sullivan for the first time, and you then listened to Elvis on the radio– It wasn’t likely KB, even though your memory might tell you otherwise.

The Disc Jockeys of WKBW. Left: Fred Klestine, Dan Neaverth, Jay Nelson, Jack Kelly, Doug James, Bob Diamond, Tom Shannon
The Disc Jockeys of WKBW. Left: Fred Klestine, Dan Neaverth, Jay Nelson, Jack Kelly, Doug James, Bob Diamond, Tom Shannon

Many who played a part in making those smaller stations great feel slighted by the fact that KB has swallowed up the collective memory of the early rock n’roll era; but it’s no slight on those great stations and the folks who worked there: It’s more a testament to the incredible juggernaut that KB was. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he was just the first to make the same car available to everyone.

With its clear-channel 50,000 watt signal, KB was heard all over the eastern half of North America. Anyone who worked at KB in its heyday has stories. The Joey Reynolds Show was a resounding Number 1 in Buffalo. But 370 miles away in Baltimore, the show showed up in the ratings as number 4. The late newsman Ed Little would remember being in the room as packages containing female lingerie were opened; sent from Maryland by an obviously big fan. Don Yearke, known as Don Keller the Farm Feller back in the early 60s on KB, was recognized along with his KB Litter Box by a fan in Southern Pennsylvania.

Program from the night Joey Reynolds and Fred Klestine wrestled the Gallagher Brothers at Memorial Auditorium.,
Program from the night Joey Reynolds and Fred Klestine wrestled the Gallagher Brothers at Memorial Auditorium.,

Starting in the mid 50s, and running through the mid 70s, its fair to say cumulatively, that nighttime KB disc jockeys like George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, Dick Biondi, Tommy Shannon, Jay Nelson, Joey Reynolds, Sandy Beach, and Jack Armstrong enjoyed more listeners on a single radio station during that clear-channel time in the evening, than any other station in the country.

For that reason, KB owns a special place not only in Buffalo’s pop cultural lexicon, but also for thousands and thousands of fans, who just like the ones in Buffalo, fell asleep with their transistor under their pillow, wondering where the hell Lackawanna was.

The proof is in a quick search of WKBW on your favorite search engine. People from all over the country, and not just Buffalo transplants, have built websites dedicated to keeping the memory of WKBW alive. It’s a part of Buffalo’s past of which we should all be proud.

Listen to WKBW!

WKBW 1958

Narrated by then-KB Radio newsman Irv Weinstein, this piece reflects the KB staff from it’s first year as a Top 40 station. It starts with The Perry Allen show, with an Irv Weinstein KB Pulsebeat Newscast… with some of the great writing and style Irv would become known for in Buffalo over the next 40 years. You’ll also hear from Russ Syracuse, Johnny Barrett, Art Roberts, and Dick Biondi.

WKBW 1963

Narrated by Irv Weinstein, Instant KB was actually released on a single-sided album sized record for distribution sponsors on the local and national level. You’ll hear snippets of disc jockeys Stan Roberts, Fred Klestine, Jay Nelson, Dan Neaverth, and Joey Reynolds at work, followed by a Henry Brach newscast, and a quick excerpt from Irv Weinstein’s documentary “Buffalo and La Cosa Nostra.” Many KB commercials and contests follow.


WKBW 1972

The famous Jeff Kaye produced and narrated look at KB in 1971, with jocks Danny Neaverth, Jack Sheridan, Don Berns, Sandy Beach, Jack Armstrong, Bob McCrea, and Casey Piotrowski, with Kaye’s thoughts and insights on each in between. First appeared on album form from the industry periodical “Programmer’s Digest.”


More photos from the Buffalo Stories archives

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

The Mound in the Meadow: Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns at Delaware Park

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – The village of Buffaloe was, in 1814 described by one visitor as “a nest of villians, rogues, rescals, pickpockets, knaves, and extortioners.”

When the British burned Buffalo, it was a small village of log cabins, with tree stumps strewn in the streets. It’s difficult to imagine the Buffalo of 200 years ago, but suffice it to say, the the area that is now Forest Lawn cemetery, the Parkside neighborhood, and Delaware Park, then known as Flint Hill, far outside the tiny village, served as a home base for American troops invading British Canada during the early part of the War of 1812.

Roughly half of those garrisoned here never made it home.

While the detail of the story follows, and is illustrated in the articles shown to the left, it’s enough to know that basically, after several failed attempts to invade Fort Erie by crossing the Niagara, a decision was made that troops would spend the winter of 1812 at their home base at Flint Hill.

These were volunteers, mostly from places like Maryland, Virginia, and Southern Pennsylvania. They came to Buffalo in the summer time, with their southern-styled thin linen uniforms. They had open ended tents in which to sleep, and very few blankets. No woollen winter uniforms.No boots. Food was scarce this far out on the frontier. When sickness spread through the camp, called a “dreadful contagion” by the newspapers of the day, soldiers began to succumb. Quickly.

Given the rocky soil of the area, the fact that is was frozen solid in the harsh winter, and the fact that so many were dying so quickly, men were buried in graves around a foot deep on the edge of the camp. In the spring, Dr. Daniel Chapin, upon who’s land they were camped, dug up and reburied all 300 men in a single trench, in an easy to dig meadow in the middle of his expansive backyard.

Chapin’s home was at what is now Main Street and Jewett Parkway; his backyard, Delaware Park. He buried the men in the middle of what is now the golf course, and planted willow trees to mark the spot.

When 80 years later, the willow trees began to die, a marker was placed on a boulder, in the middle of what was then the Park Meadow.

Since then, the hallowed spot, and the sacrifice made by those men to defend our nation have slowly been forgotten; especially as the nation’s first public golf course opened as that game began to sweep the nation just before the turn of the century.

In the 1920s, flappers used the cannons for playful photo backdrops (see left). By the 1940s, “The Cannons” were a well-known and well trodden night spot for teenagers looking to imbibe away from the watchful eyes of grown ups.

Ironically, by the late 60s, when the infamous Park Meadow Bar at Parkside and Russell was filled beyond capacity, the overflow crowd often went to the actual park meadow, with a 6 pack or a case to drink the night away.

At some point, the cannons disappeared. Sometime during the 1970s. Maybe something as simple as a parks worker sick of mowing around them, or the parent of one of those drunken youths making noise after he was “innocently” injured by one of those muzzleloaders. (If you know what happened to those cannon, let us know!!)

By the late 1990s, renewed efforts by area historians Michael Riester and Patrick Kanavagh began shedding new light on the War of 1812, and the Parkside area’s roll in it.

A Flint Hill marker was placed at the corner of Main and Humboldt through the hard work or Patrick and Michael. Now, along with fellow historian Steve Cichon, they are trying to call attention to Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns, as the bicentennial of the War looming.

I dedicate it to the memory of those who, during the War of 1812, died from wounds and disease, and whose remains find here repose; who left home and friends, to repel the invasion of a foreign foe; to defend our hill sides, valleys and plains, and who feared not death in defense of the flag. I dedicate this memorial, which will for ages mark their final resting place, to their honor and memory.

May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism, when called upon to defend their country’s honor, and if need be die in defence of the flag, the glorious stripes and stars, emblem of liberty, equal rights and National unity.

– Speech dedicating the Memorial, 1896

Below, you’ll find two different full accountings of what happened in the Parkside/Forest Lawn/Delaware Park area during the winter of 1812 which left about 300 American soldiers buried in a single trench mass grave, in the middle of what’s now Delaware Park golf course, without any real accounting of who was buried there.

cannon


On the penultimate Memorial Day before the celebration of the War of 1812’s centennial, an event was organized to remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who died at the mound in the meadow.

Coverage from The Buffalo News:

Better memorial sought for grave of War of 1812 dead  – Delaware Park site is largely unknown

The Buffalo News  |  May 29, 2011  |  Phil Fairbanks – NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Next time you’re playing the fourth hole at Delaware Park Golf Course, look down and say thanks to the 300 war dead buried there.

Better yet, stop and read the small plaque on a nearby boulder, the only physical reminder of the so-called Tomb of the Unknowns.

Unbeknown to most visitors, under the middle of the park’s sprawling green meadow lies a mass grave for American soldiers who died of disease and exposure during the War of 1812.

Because of the public’s lack of awareness of the grave, a small cadre of local historians is pushing for a better memorial of the “sacred site” and the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for a young country.

“It was like a punch in the face to find out about this,” said Steve Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian. “I just can’t imagine someone putting their life on the line for me and then being forgotten, even 200 years later.”

Monday, Cichon will join a group of volunteers in planting 300 American flags at the burial site as part of a Memorial Day ceremony.

The flags simply are a first step in a larger campaign by activists who think more needs to be done to recognize the grave site and the contributions of the men buried there, many of them volunteers from as far away as Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“We’re trying to educate people,” said Patrick Kavanagh, a local historian. “No death is nice, but these men, and maybe women too, died a terrible death.”

The efforts to improve the memorial coincide with next year’s bicentennial of the war’s beginning and are rooted in a patriotic story of courage and sacrifice by young men ill- prepared for the winter of 1812.

“This is immensely important historically and one of the park’s hidden treasures,” Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, said of the burial site.

These were American soldiers, who after failing in their attempts to cross the Niagara River and invade Fort Erie, fell back to what was then known as Flint Hill.

Their camp stretched from what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery to Jewett Parkway and Main Street, and included much of what became Delaware Park.

Equipped with warm-weather uniforms and inadequate tents and facing a shortage of food, the American soldiers soon found themselves falling victim to illness and eventually death.

“Some of them didn’t even have footwear, and they had summer clothing at best,” said Kavanagh. “It was just an incredible loss of life.”

One by one, they were buried in shallow graves because of the frozen ground and naturally hard soil. That spring that Dr. Daniel Chapin, who owed the land and lived nearby, dug up the bodies and reburied them in a single mass grave.

To mark the burial ground, Chapin planted willow trees. And when the willows died decades later, park officials replaced them with the boulder and plaque that remain there today.

“May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism,” Parks Commissioner David F. Day said in a 1896 speech dedicating the monument.

But future generations did exactly what Day said they shouldn’t do — they forgot.

Cichon says he has no problem with the golf course covering the grave site but thinks the monument to the men buried there should be more prominent. Not long ago, two old cannons and a flagpole also sat there.

“Can we get the canons back? I don’t know,” said Herrera-Mishler, “but we’re very open and welcoming to ideas.”

Herrera-Mishler is quick to note that the Conservancy’s master plan for the park calls for adding interpretive signs that document the park’s history and expanding foot trails so they reach the boulder and plaque.

For Cichon, Kavanagh and fellow historian Mike Riester, the boulder and plaque fail to adequately memorialize the tremendous loss of life that occurred that winter nearly 200 years ago.

“They died at a clip of seven or eight a day,” said Cichon, the author of a book on Parkside’s history. “People need to know that and pay reverence to it.”

A new memorial would mean everything to Riester, who has been working on this effort for 15 years.

“These men are still unknown and forgotten,” he said. “It’s like it didn’t even happen.

“I would like to leave this earth knowing this has been fixed, and that these men will always been remembered,” he said.

2011 event at The Mound in the Meadow

Money was raised over the following year, and a memorial was placed on Ring Road at once of the entrances to the Buffalo Zoo.

The story was covered in newspapers all over the world, including The New York Times and USA Today. Coverage in The Buffalo News:

Monument will honor 300 soldiers who gave their lives in War of 1812

Buffalo News, The (NY) |  May 6, 2012 | Phil Fairbanks – NEWS STAFF REPORTER

When Steve Cichon learned about the 300 war dead buried in the middle of Delaware Park, he said, it was like a punch in the face.

It also struck him that the small plaque on the fourth hole of the golf course, the only evidence of the mass burial site, was a grossly insufficient way of honoring the War of 1812 soldiers who died defending their country.

On Memorial Day, with the bicentennial anniversary of the war looming, Cichon will unveil the results of a campaign to right that wrong — a new monument to the American war dead once hailed for their “unselfish loyalty and patriotism.”

“It’s just great that it will finally get done,” said Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian. “And something would have been lost if we had waited until the 201st anniversary of the war.”

The new monument to the “Tomb of the Unknowns” will be located on Buffalo Zoo property near Ring Road and the zoo’s bison exhibit.

“One quick email and Donna Fernandes said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ ” Cichon said. With the site locked up, Cichon turned his attention to fundraising, and he quickly raised enough to buy a discounted stone monument.

The discount came courtesy of Stone Art Memorial, a Lackawanna monument company that, like the zoo, wanted to help. Cichon also persuaded Paul Broad, a local concrete contractor, to help build a base for the monument.

“It’s been a real grass-roots effort,” said Cichon. “I raised money by haranguing all my Facebook friends.”

More than $1,500 later, he is ready to unveil what he and a small group of advocates have spent years lobbying for — a more suitable reminder of the sacrifice made by the 300 men who were ill-prepared for the winter of 1812.

They were American soldiers who, after failing in their attempts to cross the Niagara River and invade Fort Erie, Ont., fell back to what later became known as the Flint Hill Encampment. It covered an area from what is now Forest Lawn to Jewett Parkway and Main Street, and it included much of what is now Delaware Park.

Equipped with warm-weather uniforms and inadequate tents and facing a shortage of food, the American soldiers soon fell victim to illness, disease and eventually death.

They were buried in shallow graves because of the frozen ground and naturally hard soil, but that spring, Dr. Daniel Chapin, who owned the land and lived nearby, dug up the bodies and reburied them in a mass grave.

To mark the burial ground, Chapin planted willow trees. When the willows died decades later, park officials replaced them with the boulder and plaque that remain in place today.

“May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism,” Parks Commissioner David F. Day said in an 1896 speech dedicating the monument.

Unlike the old monument, a plaque on a boulder in the middle of the golf course, this memorial will be highly visible to anyone walking the park’s Ring Road.

It also provides visitors with an easy view of the original plaque and boulder, at the site where the soldiers are actually buried.

“It’s an ideal location,” Cichon said of the new site outside the zoo. “It’s also the right thing to do.”

Photos: 2012 Dedication of new memorial on Ring Road

Buffalo News editorial, from Memorial Day 2012:

Remember the sacrifices – Take time to honor the men and women who have made our freedoms possible

Chances are, if you spent any time planning for this weekend, it was to make a tee time, get the pool ready for the summer or buy provisions for a cookout of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.

We’ve long treated Memorial Day as the unofficial kickoff to summer ? a last-Monday-in-May, guaranteed three-day weekend ? while forgetting why we observe the holiday.

But it’s not too late, even if you just take a moment today to recognize the sacrifices made by those who died at far too early an age in the service of their country.

For more than two centuries, families from this area have sent off to war teenagers and young adults, some not old enough to legally drink, only to see too many of them return in a coffin.

This year marks the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812, which saw bitter fighting here, including the burning of Buffalo and other Niagara Frontier villages.

Some 300 soldiers in that war died while camped in what is now Delaware Park. They are buried there in a mass grave.

So it is fitting that a memorial to the “Tomb of the Unknowns” will be unveiled today, near the Buffalo Zoo, by Steve Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian who led the effort to better recognize the 300.

For the past year, Buffalo Niagara has joined the rest of the nation in marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, our nation’s bloodiest war.

It’s only fitting that our attention turns back to Fort Sumter, Antietam, Gettysburg and Appomattox, because Memorial Day traces its origins to Decoration Day, a holiday established in 1868 to honor the dead from that war.

But we don’t have to look to the history books, or stoop to peer at the fading words on a long-dead soldier’s crumbling tombstone to recognize the sacrifices made in the name of the United States of America.

This is the first Memorial Day observed since the withdrawal, in December, of the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq, where 4,486 American servicemen and women died since that war began in 2003.

We continue to wage war in Afghanistan, where Americans have served since October 2001, making it by far the lengthiest war in U.S. history.

The American death count for that conflict is nearing 2,000, and coalition forces will continue to press the fight against the Taliban there through the end of 2014, President Obama and his NATO allies said last week.

We will leave Afghanistan as we left Iraq, without declaring victory, mourning the dead and, while hopeful, worrying what will happen after we’ve departed.

Unlike in previous conflicts, the general public hasn’t been asked to make much of a sacrifice during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the burden has fallen disproportionately on the servicemen and women and their families.

But we can take this one day to make a gesture to honor those who paid for our freedom with their lives. Display the flag, attend a Memorial Day ceremony, tend the grave of a fallen veteran or take your children to a parade ? but spend a few minutes explaining why we’re having a parade today.


parksidecover

From: The Complete History of Parkside by Steve Cichon (2009)
Chapter 2: Parkside Goes to War

Erastus Granger had been at Flint Hill less than a decade; the Plains Rangers less than five years when the War of 1812 broke out. The Parkside/Flint Hill area played several prominent roles in that conflict. Flint Hill was an encampment and training ground for soldiers preparing to invade Canada. It was also a sanctuary when the village of Buffalo was burned to the ground. Given the nature of war and brutal Buffalo winters, the area also served as a burial ground for hundreds who never made it home.

Throughout much of the documentation about the War of 1812, the Flint Hill Camp was described as “Camp near Buffalo.” This was explained in Peace Episodes on the Niagara (Buffalo Historical Society, 1914).

“In 1812, the Army of the Frontier went into winter quarters at Flint Hill, with Scajaquada creek as a convenient water supply.” Barton Atkins, the great chronicler of history of this period, wrote about the encampment in Modern Antiquities: The camp extended on Main Street from the present Humboldt Parkway northerly to the lands of Dr. Daniel Chapin… and westerly to the head of the Park Lake, on lands belonging to Erastus Granger. On the Main-street front of this old camp-ground stand several venerable oaks, relics of the old camp. The one directly opposite the Deaf and Dumb Asylum is distinguished as the one under which a row of soliders kneeled when shot for desertion in the spring of 1813.

The camp spread from what is now Forest Lawn to near Jewett Parkway along Main Street, and stretched as far back as the Delaware Park Lake. The shooting mentioned was Buffalo’s first execution. As of 1914, one of the old trees that bore witness to the capital punishment still remained in the backyard of 24 Florence Avenue (corner of Crescent.)

Flint Hill, along with the rest of the Niagara Frontier, was a hotbed of activity early in the war as a planned launching point for the invasion of British Canada, and as it was Indian Agent Granger’s job to keep the Native Americans neutral. The Buffalo Gazette of June 2nd, 1812, reports Granger met with the chiefs of the Six Nations, at which time they acknowledged no desire to enter conflict between the US and Canada.

By early August however, after the rumor spread of the British and their Indian Allies gaining control of Seneca-owned Grand Island, Seneca chief Red Jacket told Granger that the Seneca Warriors wished to join the conflict against the British and “drive off those bad people from our land.” As his correspondence from the time shows, Granger spent much of the ensuing year walking a tightrope, trying to make both the Indians and the powers in Washington happy.

The most complete meetings of chiefs in many years was held again on Main Street at the Granger farm in September, and this time the Senecas, the Onondagas, and the Cayugas voted to “take up the hatchet on behalf of the United States.” Those who volunteered their services at the council agreed that they “would go home as soon as the council fire was extinguished, arm and equip themselves for battle, and return to Buffalo.”

Though it was the continued hope to keep the young men of the Six Nations neutral, given the fact that “within a fortnight, between two and four hundred savages” would be in Buffalo ready to fight, President James Madison was forced to allow Granger to accept the services and organize the warriors of the Six Nations.

Still, there were many stops and starts in the Iroquois joining the war effort. Several times, after being asked to assemble, native warriors weren’t used. After nearly a year of “dancing” between native chiefs and Washington bureaucrats, the two sides kept in alliance by the constant work of Granger, it was Granger’s safety that ultimately had the Indians take to arms in combat.

They finally entered the conflict when their friend, Erastus Granger, was in peril. The Canadian British put a price on his head, and had Flint Hill… yes, modern day Parkside… marked for destruction. Judge Granger received word of this on July 10, 1813, and sent word to the greatest Seneca warrior of his time, the old chief Farmer’s Brother. Granger’s longtime compatriot, who fought in both the French and Indian War of the 1760s, and the American War of Independence, had received a medal from George Washington for his service. It was also “from Washington’s lips” that came the name “Farmer’s Brother,” by which the chief would be known for the rest of his days.

A man of at least 80 years old in 1813, Farmer’s Brother traveled from his hut in the Indian village in today’s South Buffalo, to what’s now the Parkside neighborhood, with warriors in tow, ready to fight. The Indians readied for war at the Granger home on Main Street. James Granger wrote an account of the night in his 1893 book Granger Genealogy. The chief and his followers arrived at 11 o’clock, and the night was spent preparing for the coming fray. Bullets were molded by the great fire in the kitchen (of the Granger Homestead), messengers hurried into the neighboring village for arms and ammunition, and the Indians were banqueted on unlimited salt pork prepared by Mrs. Granger’s own hands.

After over a year of waiting to join the conflict, the Senecas would finally join the war. Granger, led by Farmer’s Brother and the Senecas followed Guide Board Road (North Street today) to Black Rock. There, they met with General Porter, who decided to initiate an offensive against the British along the shores of the Niagara River.

The Senecas prepared for battle in a ritual never seen by the American troops assembled at the spot. They took of all of their clothes; stripped down to their breechcloths. Granger and the Senecas were on the right side of the line, regulars in the middle, white volunteers to the left, ready to take on the British. At the order of General Porter, the Indians leapt forward with a yell that startled both their enemy… and their allies. Within minutes, the enemy had retreated. The Indians had even rushed into the water to pull soldiers from their boats as they paddled in retreat for the safety of the Canadian shore. The victory was complete. Buffalo, Black Rock, and Granger’s Flint Hill Estate were safe, for now, due mostly to the tenacity of Farmer’s Brother’s men.

Because of its location, both high in elevation, and a relatively safe-yet-close-enough distance to Black Rock, Flint Hill had become an important meeting place for the military leaders both the United States and of the Six Nations (now Five Nations, with the Mohawks fighting along side the British.) Captain George Howard of the 25th Infantry spent some time at the Granger place recovering his strength and health. He wrote home to Connecticut on June 6, 1813, that he had met many of the famous chiefs of the Six Nations, including Red Jacket, Parrot Nose, Bill Johnson, Young King, Farmer’s Brother, and Silver Heels.

The Burning of Buffalo

Five months after that first battle, in December, 1813, by now Col. Granger and 83 Seneca Warriors under his command again responded to a British attack on Black Rock, but this time, they were forced to retreat when so many other soldiers fled from the line. Granger returned to his home, several miles away, to relative safety. As hoards of men retreated, and the lines of protection broke apart, the British marched up Niagara Street from Black Rock to Buffalo, and over the course of the coming days, laid torch to all but a handful of buildings in the village of Buffalo.

As the British and their Indian allies made their way towards Buffalo, the women and children of the village moved north up Main Street in an obviously harried fashion. Though many fled as far as Clarence Hollow and Williamsville, many dozens sought refuge and stayed safe in the home of Judge Granger on Flint Hill, and in the homes of the Buffalo Plains. As mentioned in the previous chapter, it is noted in several histories, including Studies of the Niagara Frontier, that homes on the Buffalo Plains, like that of Zachary Griffin, were not burned because, “the Indians in their course of destruction with musket and firebrand were too much overcome with liquor before they reached this house to do any further damage.”

In fact, none of the buildings as far north as current day Parkside were burned as the British and their Indian allies left Buffalo a pile of smoldering timber. It made the area, especially Granger’s place, a location where many women and children took up semi-permanent residence, while the men who weren’t taking to arms took to rebuilding the village. Encampment at Buffalo

Picture Delaware Park, all along the Scajaquada Expressway, over the Park Meadow and golf course, all the way up to Main Street filled with tents, bonfires, and soldiers milling about. As early as September 1812, over a year before the burning of Buffalo, General Alexander Smythe had planned to use Buffalo and Black Rock as a staging ground for an invasion of Canada; many of his troops, particularly Pennsylvania volunteers under the command of General Adamson Tannehill, were camped and drilling at Flint Hill.

Smythe was an interesting character, if not an effective General, or even a buffoon. His actions (and inactions) make it apparent that he felt that inspirational writing and speeches could surmount instilling discipline and training his men, many of whom were not professional soldiers, but volunteers; signing up only as the Union was in peril. Smythe was written of by Frank Severance in Episodes of Peace on the Niagara (1914): He was… often ridiculous, and has been remembered… chiefly because of certain bombastic proclamations which he issued during his short career in Buffalo and vicinity. Historians… have written of him only in a vein of amused contempt…. calling him “supercilious, dictatorial, impertinent.” (and) “indecisive, puerile and cowardly.”

The folly and incompetence of General Smythe made his troops rambunctious. During the fall and winter of 1812, many citizens of the Buffalo area were alarmed to find their fields and barns being plundered by Smythe’s hungry or simply bored soldiers. William Hodge, Jr. wrote about one series of incidents in Recalling Pioneer Days: Once several fat sheep were put into a horse stable, among the horses, just at night to be dressed the next morning; but when morning came they were gone. They had been taken a short distance into the orchard, and dressed, or butchered and carried off to camp. At last some of the soldiers were caught at this work. They were taken to their camp, and delivered up to the officers for punishment; but to this the officers were not disposed. This rather exasperated some of the inhabitants, who asked the commanding officer what they should do to the soldiers if they were caught at any more of these depredations. He said, “Shoot them, shoot them down the rascals.”

After this a number of the young men of the town kept watch at night. Of this group Velorus Hodge was one and they kept watch one night at the bridge of Granger’s creek, Main street. (This is roughly the intersection of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue.) After a while the one on guard outside discovered eight soldiers crossing the bridge, and hailed them. They answered, “What businesses have you to stop soldiers on the march?” and then a pistol was fired by one of them. The guard returned the fire. This started out those in the house; they sallied forth and all fired at the soldiers giving them an effectual peppering with shot.

Five of the soldiers fell to the ground and three making their escape. Of the five four were wounded by the shot; the fifth fell to save himself from being shot. These five were marched into camp the next morning and delivered over to the commanding officer, who approved of the course taken by the citizens. This put a check upon the stealing and plundering for quite a while.

Granger’s Creek is today Scajaquada Creek. The bridge talked about, though well hidden, still goes over Main Street near Jefferson. Plans to Invade Canada Hatched in Parkside

Plainly, his troops hated him. General Smythe wrote many verbose and bombastic proclamations to his troops, and verbally delivered several more, most of which won him “the derision of friend and foe.” He was known as “Alexander the Great” and “Napoleon the Second.” Plenty of his hot air was blown in preparation for his plans to invade Canada.

Those plans were set into motion on November 28, 1812. Smythe had as many as 8,000 men champing at the bit. He had been building, collecting, and fixing boats by the dozen for crossing the Niagara River at Black Rock. At this point, Smythe’s rhetoric had worked, whipping his men into a frenzy, ready to spill across the river at Black Rock for the glory of the union. Trumpets played Yankee Doodle Dandy, further lighting the fires under the men on a cold winter day, with wind and snow blowing off the Niagara River. An early morning crossing of 420 men in 21 boats were met with musket fire as they approached the shore to the south of Fort Erie. What happened next was the final straw for Smythe’s men. What happened… was nothing.

Wrote Frank Severance in Episodes of Peace on the Niagara (1914):

From sunrise to late afternoon, his army was embarking- the enemy on the other side of the river, in constantly-increasing numbers, looking on at the show. General Smythe did not appear at all, leaving the details to his subordinates. For hours the troops shivered in the boats, some of which, stranded on shore, filled with snow and ice. Late in the day, when at length everything seemed ready for a grand movement across the stream, General Smythe issued an amazing order: “Disembark and dine!” Disgusted and angered, the whole force was at the point of rebellion.

Two more days of similar commands to climb aboard boats… spend the day in the tiny wooden craft, freezing along the Niagara River shore in late November Buffalo weather, and then never leaving that snow and ice- filled shore.

After having been “whipped into a frenzy” days before, some men smashed their muskets against trees in disgust, and many of those who didn’t ruin their guns made mutinous use of them, firing in the direction of Smythe himself. Legend has it that musket ball holes filled General Smythe’s Flint Hill tent by the end of that third night. Of the 1700 Pennsylvania volunteers camped at Flint Hill, 600 deserted in a 24 hour period. General Peter Porter wrote an article in the Buffalo Gazette calling Smythe a coward for refusing to move forward with the planned invasion. The two fought a duel with pistols, but both shots were errant, neither hitting the other.

Between his officer colleague and the angry soldiers under his command, Smythe had survived perhaps dozens attempts on his life over a two week period, and had had enough. On December 17, 1812, within days of his three failed attempts at invading Canada, and, fresh on the heels of gun fire pointed in his direction from both a fellow general and his own men, Smythe would leave Buffalo and Flint Hill for his native Virginia. The Army Register states that he was “disbanded.” But the soldiers who lived through the rest of the winter of 1813 on Flint Hill had not yet seen the worst of it all. A horrific lasting monument to the war, still in Parkside, but little known, had yet to be created. Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns

Enlist your imagination once again. Picture living in Buffalo, in November and December, in open-ended tents, wearing linen uniforms, and having only very few, if any, blankets, coats, socks and boots. It was these conditions in Parkside in 1813 that yielded the mass, virtually unmarked grave that thousands of Western New Yorkers unknowingly drive by each day as they commute by Delaware Park on Route 198.

Up until the time of Smythe’s abortive campaign to invade, the mostly Southern soldiers all lived in mere pup tents. In Buffalo. In the winter. Once the offensive proved a failure, they were ordered to build huts for the winter, but most were slow to comply. The troops stationed on Flint Hill were mostly from Pennsylvania, and even further south, and showed up to Buffalo, in autumn, in their linen uniforms. Now winter had arrived, but more appropriate uniforms had not. Many Buffalo, Flint Hill, and Buffalo Plains families took in soldiers, but the village was just too small to accommodate the great number of troops wintering here.

Food supplies were unreliable to the front in Buffalo, and food that arrived was often rancid. Colonel Widner, Smythe’s second in command, stationed at Fort Niagara, had been experiencing the same conditions to the north. He reported in a letter to his commander in at Flint Hill, “We’re starving at this end of the line for bread.” The conditions were same at the camp that ran through what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery, along Main Street to the north, and into Delaware Park.

It is among these demoralized, starving, freezing troops that a “Camp Distemper,” described as a “dreadful contagion” broke out. The following account comes from an American prisoner of the British, and pays eyewitness account to what the winter of 1812-13 was like in Parkside:

That the enemy have about 3,000 troops one mile and a half in rear of Black Rock, under camp at a place called Judge Granger’s, where the General (Smythe), his aide-de-camp and several officers of rank live.. their camp is unhealthy… they die from eight to nine daily… the dead.. are put into holes two or three of which are made every day, and into each put two to four dead men. The doctors say the disease is as bad as the plague. The patients are first taken with a pain in the head, and in an hour-and-a-half or two hours they invariably die. Besides this disease he mentions their being afflicted with pleurisy, dysentery, and measles.

The Buffalo newspapers of the day daily listed the names of the dead, until the numbers became too great; eventually the Army stopped releasing the names. The home towns, listed next to the names, show, once again, that these men, from places like Baltimore, southern Pennsylvania, and Virginia, would have likely had a difficult time acclimating to Buffalo’s winter climate, even without the starvation and disease that was present. From the Buffalo Gazette, on December 22, 1812: The FEVER, which has made such dreadful havoc among our soldiers and citizens, continues to rage. The Physicians are taking unwearied pains to ascertain the character of the disease and to prescribe an effective remedy for it. Bloodletting is generally fatal in violent cases.

It wasn’t just soldiers who contracted this illness. While the causes of many of their deaths are lost to history, it’s a fact that many residents of the Buffalo Plains and Flint Hill died during this time. Among those who passed that winter were Samuel Atkins, the first Plains Ranger, and Parthenia Chapin, the wife of Dr. Daniel Chapin.

Whether Mrs. Chapin died from one of the many illnesses sweeping through the camp or not, it is certain that she knew of the suffering first hand. It was on the outskirts of the Chapin property that the several daily shallow graves mentioned above were dug. As any gardener in Parkside knows, Flint Hill derives its name from the rocky soil abundant in the area. This is also apparent to anyone who drives the Kensington Expressway; and sees the solid rock that was blasted through near the Scajaquada Expressway interchange.

While digging graves by hand would be a challenge in good weather, these graves, again two or three per day, were being dug in the difficult frozen ground of winter. Often times, they were no more than a foot deep. Dr. Chapin offered his land for the burial, and tavern owner William Hodge was pressed into service to make coffins for the dead. Records say he crafted 300 pine coffins to be used for burying the soldiers who died while encamped on Flint Hill. Written in Buffalo Cemeteries (1879):

The troops of General Smythe remained at Flint Hill until the following spring. During this time there prevailed among them a typhoid epidemic. Deprived as they were of comfortable hospitals, and a sufficient supply of medical agents, it carried off about three hundred of them. They were put into plain pine board coffins, furnished by William Hodge Sr., and temporarily buried near the south line of the Chapin place; but the rock came so near to the surface that their graves could not be more than about a foot in depth.

The ensuing spring they were removed some distance, to the north side of the farm, where the ground was a sandy loam and easily dug. Leave to bury them there being given by the respective owners of the farms, Capt. Rowland Cotton and Doctor Daniel Chapin, they were deposited directly on the dividing line between these farms, in one common grave. Doctor Chapin planted two yellow willows, one at each end of the grave, which have become large trees, and are yet growing. The grave itself remaining undisturbed to this day.

The grave was to be known in coming years as “The Mound in the Meadow,” with those willows coming from clippings of a yellow willow taken from Daniel Chapin’s yard. The willows lasted on the site until at least 1896, when on July 4th; a boulder was placed on the site of the grave, with a marker attached. It’s worthy to note that among those dead might not only be US soldiers, but perhaps servants who died while attending to the sick, and perhaps even prisoners of war- Canadian and British being held captive who met the same horrible fate as the Americans.

Aside from the boulder in the middle of the golf course, the mass grave of 300 American Soldiers, fallen in wartime service, goes unmarked, and unremembered, having been largely ignored for the last 100 years. Plans to properly mark the spot and honor the dead have come and gone over the last two centuries; you’ll read of those plans as the story continues.

As the spring of 1813 broke, and Chapin and Cotton were giving proper burial to the dead, some of those soldiers who had survived the horrible winter began to think pacifist thoughts, and wanted to leave while the getting was good. The commanding officers made an example of several soldiers who tried to desert. As a previously included account spells out, these deserters were knelt in a row and shot in front of several oak trees along Main Street near, generally near what is today Florence Avenue. Their bodies were then hanged from the trees to dissuade any further desertion from the ranks at Flint Hill.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

More than just a nice day in November

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

To try to define Buffalo and what it’s like to be a Buffalonian isn’t quite a one sentence or one draft beer notion.

Even exquisite paragraphs and emptied pitchers can leave so much unsaid.

Today, November 18, my wife and I cruised through our city with our convertible top down. It wasn’t just a tolerable drive, it was warm– on the skin of our cheeks and the depths of our souls.

Driving our city streets and watching the outdoor smiles and nice weather rolled up sleeves of our Western New York neighbors only helped radiate more warmth.

Down Hertel to Delaware, under the 190 and through the Marina. It wasn’t just about enjoying the day, it was about enjoying Buffalo enjoy the day.

Backup through Canalside and heading for the Outer Harbor, we turned onto Michigan Avenue, back into the low hanging dark orange sun.

It’s a different warmth that comes from the November sun, and as its gentle-yet-thorough toasting rays began their magic dancing on the skin of my face again, the most glorious surprise struck.

With deep breaths, my lungs filled with intoxicating sweet cocoa smells of General Mills baking cereal.

nice-day-in-november

For a few fleeting moments, there aren’t words. Just Perfection. Right here in Buffalo, the kind of which you can’t find on the most beautiful Caribbean beach or the most tranquil Himalayan mountain top.

It’s the kind of perfection it takes a lifetime to acquire the taste for— but I can’t imagine there’s anything sweeter.

On a day that somehow feels stolen yet still very much right, Buffalo brings it all perfectly.

Already buoyed by friendly smiles and the waning-yet-perfect comfort of the sun drenching all that it touches in just enough warmth, the addition of lungs-full of baked goodness was about enough to leave me momentarily delirious.

And in the midst of all this on a glorious warm sunny day, I stopped to buy gas for the snow blower. The weather man says within 48 hours, we’ll certainly be 40 degrees colder– and maybe under a six-inch blanket of the white stuff for which Buffalo is so well known.

And I’m not only ok with that, I’m giddy about it— because this is Buffalo, and I’m a Buffalonian. And I couldn’t have had today without what might come tomorrow.

Buy another pitcher and I’d be happy to explain further.

An appreciation of the sacrifice of veterans

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Buffalo, NY – This is my ol’man celebrating his birthday at the VA Hospital in 2007.

The Ol'man.
The Ol’man.
It’s very rare to have served our country and not have left some piece of your mind, spirit, sanity, or body behind to ensure the freedom and tranquility of Americans and good people all over the world.
 
The sacrifice of those who have served is the cornerstone of America’s greatness. Having never worn a uniform, I can’t fully understand all the complexities of that sacrifice, but I do spend everyday– and today, especially– in awe of what men and women in uniform have done and continue to do for me personally and for every other American, personally.
 
Thank You.

Irv, Rick & Tom and the sights and sounds of Eyewitness News

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – When Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar, and Tom Jolls teamed up in 1965, The Irv, Rick, and Tom Pageit’s probably fair to say that more people would have been watching Channel 4’s test pattern than the news on Channel 7. But by the time Rick Azar retired in 1989, the three had not only become the longest running anchor team in history, but also gained an iconic status unparalleled for any other triumvirate in television news history.

For me personally, Irv, Rick, and Tom have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My dad and I watched the news together every day. My mom tells anyone who’ll listen that “IRV TINE-TINE” was among my first words, and I would run around the house singing my own version of the Eyewitness News Theme (ba-ba-BA, BA-BA, Badabadaba, ba-ba-ba-BA-BA, BADABADABA!).

When they went into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2000, I snuck behind the stage to get a photo with the greatest triumvirate in the history of Buffalo. They had no idea who I was. Ten years later, I wrote a book about them.
When they went into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2000, I snuck behind the stage to get a photo with the greatest triumvirate in the history of Buffalo. They had no idea who I was. Ten years later, I wrote a book about them.

stevegrandmaCommander Tom and his pals Davey and Goliath kept me quiet and entertained, and left me having a great desire to have a red jacket with yellow epaulets. And then there was the time my Grandmother nearly passed out when we all met Rick Azar AND Mike Randall at the Broadway Market one Easter… “He’s so handsome, He’s so handsome,” Grandma repeated over and over.

Eyewitness News Audio

Click this cover to buy a copy of Steve's book on Irv, Rick, and Tom!
Click this cover to buy a copy of Steve’s book on Irv, Rick, and Tom!






Some of the people, places, and stories of Channel 7 through the years…

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Whether you voted for him or not: Don’t let it be about President Trump

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

It would have happened no matter who won The White House… Half of America woke up sad, angry, and feeling like the country they love is somehow slipping away.

Last night’s election results should underline one key notion for the anti-Trump crowd.

The President-Elect’s reality television personality has been a red herring all along.

I don’t accept that the 47% of Americans who voted for Donald Trump condone or embrace the vile things that he’s said and tweeted. What it says to me is that for as offensive and vulgar and insulting as the notion of “pussy grabbing” is, the idea of our nation continuing on the same path that we’ve been on is more offensive.

Anti-Trumpers, please let that set in. With a small margin of error, 100% of Americans think pussy grabbing is offensive. But enough people found not only Hillary Clinton, but the establishment she stands for as more offensive than pussy grabbing.

It’s not about Trump. Maybe for some it was, but it was about taking a chance on someone who might start doing things differently around here.

It was the message on the hat, not necessarily the guy wearing it.
It was the message on the hat, not necessarily the guy wearing it.

The hats didn’t say “Trump 2016” on them. Trump’s name wasn’t on the hat. The hat said “Make America Great Again,” and it’s that notion that resonated more than the flawed candidate.

We live in a great nation made up of great people.

My hope for our country it that every last citizen takes the advice of Donald Trump and works to make America great again. Or still great. Or continue to be great. Or whatever.

The way for each of us to make sure our vision of America stays alive is to forget about the politics of personality and to instead fight for the ideas that must be at the core of the America we envision.

The more often we can make a point from our hearts—and not through the prism of making our political leaders either demigods or assholes–  the more likely we are to attract like-minded people from all political persuasions to our personal vision of what a Great America will look like for the next generation.

It’s time for every American to stop with foolish websites and political hatred and nonsense. We have to look inside ourselves to see where our hearts say this country needs to be, and work to bring it there.

The best kind of change doesn’t come from hatred and anger. It comes from love and understanding. It’s not easy—I’ve spent the entire morning deleting paragraphs and rearranging ideas. But it’s worth it. I want my ulcers to come from coffee, red meat, and liquor… not my president.

RELATED: Vote for stopping hate

Vote for stopping hate

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

This election cycle has changed our nation forever– for the worse.

no-hate

Our public discourse has gone into the gutter. Common decency and respect for people with different opinions or ideas has been rejected at the very highest levels of American political leadership.

For too many of us on both sides, our idea of debating the issues has turned into juvenile personal attacks and regurgitating half-true or completely made up nonsense from extremist websites. For the rest of us, who still hold onto the desire to grow as individuals and as a society through debate and the exchange ideas, we’re left doing so quietly in the shadows for fear of some single-minded, hate-filled partisan crashing a free-flow of a thoughtful exchange with boorishness and hate.

The blow torch of burning hate flaming out of both sides has left most Americans huddled in the middle. Too many are watching their ways of life melted and singed by the conflagration of loathing growing in from each side, afraid to talk about the foolishness that is encroaching around them because acknowledging what is happening and trying to talk it through, is like dousing yourself with gasoline amidst the inferno.

This ridiculousness has been 24 years in the making. Mainstream, intense personal hatred for Bill Clinton begat mainstream, intense personal hatred for George W. Bush begat mainstream, intense personal hatred for Barack Obama.

Both candidates are tremendously flawed, even if his or her only flaw might be that at least 40% of the people in the country doesn’t trust, doesn’t like, can’t stand or maybe even hates one or the other.

Hate is never the answer. Stop the personal attacks. Just. Effing. Stop. It’s hate that is putting America on a ruinous course, not any one person or idea. We as individuals have to stop fueling this hate. We have to do it alone, each one of us, and hope that others will follow.

Christ never addressed the 2016 Presidential election, but he told his followers that the two most important things that people can do is love. And love is the opposite of hate.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Hate ain’t cool. I’ll be voting accordingly, and I hope you do, too.

Jim Fagan & Hubert Humphrey: two good guys

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Buffalo, NY – When Jim Fagan was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame, I sat with him and we went through dozens of his photos and mementos from his decades in radio– from his days as a disc jockey at Buffalo’s old WINE Radio in the 50s, to his decades as a newsman at WKBW.

When he showed me this photo as a clipping from the Tonawanda News, he beamed with pride at being photographed with Hubert Humphrey.

Congressman Thaddeus Dulski, Jim Fagan, Viced President Hubert Humphrey,  and EC Dem Chair Joe Crangle. 1968.
Congressman Thaddeus Dulski, Jim Fagan, Viced President Hubert Humphrey, and EC Dem Chair Joe Crangle. 1968.

“A good guy, a really good guy,” Jim said, his unmistakable voice trailing off.

Jim died this week, and everyone who knew him, felt about him the same way he felt about Hubert Humphrey. He was just a really good guy. Let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

Gramps: Junk Food Connoisseur

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Buffalo, NY – I miss visits with Gramps… I’d call him ahead of time to make sure he didn’t have an appointment at the VA, and to ask if he wanted a hot dog (with sweet relish and slivered onions) or a couple of TimBits.

“A lil’bit of both would be good,” he’d say, cracking himself up with that laugh that makes me cry to think about.

As posted on Facebook, October 14, 2013: A nice hour and a half with Gramps today. He says hi to everyone. Facebook would accuse me of spam if I tagged everyone he said hi to... So "ha'lo, dere" from 87 year old gramps.
As posted on Facebook, October 14, 2013: “A nice hour and a half with Gramps today. He says hi to everyone. Facebook would accuse me of spam if I tagged everyone he said hi to… So “ha’lo, dere” from 87 year old Gramps.”

Like so many people of his generation, he grew up during The Depression without much to eat. He loved eating food and talking about food and sharing food.

In his years at the nursing home, our conversations usually involved what he had for lunch, breakfast, and maybe dinner the night before. He was always offering you the bag of chips that were on his nightstand or a piece of candy.

Visiting his house, you could barely get in the door before he’d read you the whole menu.

“Hallo dere son!” he’d yell out as you walked in, without pause adding, “Can I get you a sandwich? How bout a cold pop? You could make us a cup of coffee?”

I’d usually put on the kettle for a two cups of instant coffee for us, which he always seemed to enjoy– if not the drink, then the drinking it together.

There was always coffee, and there was always pop. Lots of pop. Too much pop. The first time she went to Grandpa Cichon’s house, Monica asked why there was so much pop. It’s funny the things you grow up with and don’t notice until someone points them out. The hall leading to the kitchen always had dozens of cans or bottles of pop stacked high. Like a store display. As one of ten with ten kids, Gramps always bought everything in bulk when it was on sale—whether it was needed or not.

While there was no greater connoisseur of junk food than Gramps, his junk food muscles were wearing out at the end of his life. He couldn’t eat more than 2 or 3 Timbits after lunch, and while he’d finish a hot dog, you could tell he was struggling to finish.

“My eyes are bigger that my stomach,” he said one time, “even though I’m blind.” Again with the laugh. All the junk food lead to diabetes which robbed Gramps of his sight for his last few years.

The loneliness he felt at the end of his life was painful to all of us. He was the last of ten kids still alive, nearly all his friends had died. Even a couple of his kids, my dad included, had passed away.  But Gramps kept plugging. His goal was to live longer than anyone else in his family. His mom lived to 87, his sister Mary to 89. He wanted to be 90.

Gramps finished in second place. He died peacefully a couple weeks after his 88th birthday. While he might have been disappointed to learn he didn’t make 90, I know he would have been satisfied with his final moments.

Because he was blind, an aide would help him eat lunch. Halfway through, she noticed he hadn’t moved in a while—and he was gone. Gramps died eating lunch, which makes me smile every time I think of it.

What also makes me smile is that first conversation in heaven with my dad.

“I just had a delicious lunch, son. I wish I could have finished it.”

 

October Surprise Storm 10 years later…

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY –  Ten years ago today. My wife shovels, I watch and take pictures. Hahaha.

The night before… we listened to what sounded like explosions– the limbs popping off trees in the park.

The storm was bad, the aftermath was far worse.

For the next two weeks, I was reporting during the day, and then was on the air doing live talk overnights on WBEN, keeping people company and being a voice in the dark to the cold and lonely.

People still mention to me that they listened on those nights. I remember the anguish and fear in some of the voices on the other end of the phone. I consider it my finest hour as a broadcaster and a Buffalonian to have helped a few people through a rather prolonged scary time.

Mr. & Mrs. James Scurr of Seneca Street, South Buffalo

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Buffalo, NY- I was three years old when Great-Grandpa Scurr died– But I have two distinct memories of him.

My aunt set me this great photo of my great grandparents... Mr. & Mrs. James Scurr of Seneca Street. He was born in North Shields, Tynemouth, England, and she was born Margaret Doyle in Coatbridge, Scotland... shortly after her family moved from Banbridge, Down, Ireland.
My aunt set me this great photo of my great grandparents… Mr. & Mrs. James Scurr of Seneca Street. He was born in North Shields, Tynemouth, England, and she was born Margaret Doyle in Coatbridge, Scotland… shortly after her family moved from Banbridge, Down, Ireland.

One, I was afraid walking up a dark staircase to his apartment at the corner of Seneca & Fairview, and however that fear manifest itself… (screaming or crying or whatever) made Grandpa Scurr laugh, as he was backlit and spooky, standing in the doorway at the top of the staircase. It was the same laugh that his daughter, my Grandma Cichon, had. It’s probably because of him that I laugh when little babies cry. Their liveliness brings me joy, just like it did him.

My only other memory of him, is visiting him in the hospital. I can even remember the shirt I was wearing… It was purplish-blue with a giant grasshopper on it. He had a tube in his nose, which kind of scared me, but his smile made me feel safe. He reached over and patted my hand. My dad was great about sneaking us kids into the hospital… Knowing that seeing little twerps is usually as good as any medicine they can feed you.

I was 11 or 12 when Grandma Scurr died… But I have no memories of her. She suffered from dementia for many years, and I know my dad had a hard time dealing with that– this woman who he loved so deeply was gone in mind as her body feebly lived on. I don’t think I ever went to visit her. I wish dad had taken us, and I wish I had the memory of making her smile.

An “Anti-Debate” on our future

 
If you are sick of the garbage on Facebook these days, don’t blame your friends and neighbors and cranky uncles and strange nephews.
 
Is it really our fault for buying into the horse$— that our leaders are trying to feed us? Especially when they do their best to put whipped cream, sprinkles, and cherries on it to make it look like something we’d want?
 
Most political debate right now doesn’t involve debate at all. Rather than having a discussion on common ground (ie, debate) both sides throw out carefully crafted facts meant to speak to their supporters… while ignoring most of the rest of what the other side says. Our country is having the opposite of debate, an anti-debate on our future.
 
Candidate A: The sky is blue and anything else is a lie!
Candidate B: The grass is green and anything else is a lie!
This election cycle has also resoundingly set aside the wonderfully American cornerstone that “we’re all Americans, exchanging ideas to the betterment of our country” and put into the mainstream the long-festering notion that “if you don’t vote with my side, you are a bad person.”
 
Candidate A: Blue sky and B has done horrible things!
Candidate B: Green grass and A has done horrible things!
Candidate A: B IS A TERRIBLE PERSON and so are B’s fans
Candidate B: A IS A TERRIBLE PERSON and so are A’s fans
Candidate A: YELLLLLL!!!
Candidate B: YELLLLLL!!!
 
This ginned up hatred makes it difficult for many of us to see the truth. When you hate something, you’re willing to believe anything about it, even outrageous nonsense.
 
After the debate, I wrote we get the leaders we deserve. This is true to the extent that if most of us thought a little more, with a little less hatred, we wouldn’t be in this nightmare.
 
But overall, I think the truth is more scary– our leaders are a reflection of us. Maybe a fun house mirror reflection sometimes, but a reflection none the less.
 
I do think that this will be the most important vote I have ever cast, and I do, very calmly, believe there is a better candidate among the two. I also think that anyone who sees this status as an opportunity to say “That’s why my candidate is better!” is part of the problem.

As he starts the “Run Jimmy Run” on Sunday, it’s more than just a celebrity appearance for Rene Robert

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY- It was nearly a decade ago that Jimmy Griffin lost his devastating battle with an aggressive rare form of dementia. It wasn’t Alzheimer’s– but the Alzheimer’s Association, WNY Chapter, provided information, help and comfort for the mayor’s family as they very quickly began dealing with a new reality.

The race begins at the Mayor Griffin Statue outside Coca-Cola Field and ends inside the ball park with a party in the Centerfield Pavillion, and tickets to the Bisons vs Syracuse Chiefs for race participants.
The race begins at the Mayor Griffin Statue outside Coca-Cola Field and ends inside the ball park with a party in the Centerfield Pavillion, and tickets to the Bisons vs Syracuse Chiefs for race participants.

Since then, the Griffin family has leveraged the mayor’s memory and legacy to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s and related dementias with the annual Run Jimmy Run Charity 5k.

Over the last three years, the race and party have raised more than $48,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association, WNY Chapter. It’s also become a beacon of hope in the fight against the disease.

That’s why Sabres great and French Connection winger Rene Robert agreed to join the Run Jimmy Run team this year as honorary starter.

Rene-Robert
Rene Robert

“Alzheimer’s is a sad disease, and it’s effecting more and more people. I think we should be paying more attention to it than we have in the past,” said Robert, who like Griffin has a bronze statue at the waterfront and a family history with dementia. He watched his mother slowly succumb to the disease.

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is putting my mother in a home,” said Robert.

“I was visiting her in Montreal and sleeping on the couch in her apartment one day when she woke up in the middle of the night hysterical. She had no idea who I was and wanted me out of there. It took a couple of hours for me to calm her down and go back to bed.”

The former Sabres, Maple Leafs, Penguins, and Colorado Rockies right winger is sad over the past and scared for the future for himself and his family.

“I have two kids. I have three grandkids. It frightens me.”

His family history, plus 744 games played in the NHL, leave him at greater risk for memory related disease. Robert says he’s been tested and shows no sign of disease, ”but the doctors say it could develop at any point down the line after 14 years of pounding as an NHL level hockey player. Practices. Games. It doesn’t have to be a hard collision, but your brain shifts with every hit.”

As someone who read voraciously about Alzheimer’s as his mother got worse, and continues to keep up on the latest on sports-related brain injury and links to dementia, Robert has valued the research and strides made so far, and pleased to join up with such a great cause.

“The city has revamped itself”

RJR runners tackle a downtown and waterfront course where the scenery has changed considerably during the four years since the first race was run. A lively and still blossoming waterfront was the dream of Mayor Griffin and hundreds of others through the years, including Robert, who credits Terry & Kim Pegula for caring about Buffalo in the same way Mayor Griffin did.

French_connection_statue-WE
The French Connection statue, one of the new additions to Buffalo’s waterfront since The Pegulas came to toen.

“Terry saw Buffalo had potential, and saw something no one else did, because he invested a lot of his own money, and has made a huge impact on the city and the community. He’s done everything he said he’d do and more,” said Robert. “Ever since Terry and Kim Pegula bought the Sabres, this city has revamped itself. You can see it downtown– the hotels built, development, the atmosphere. The Pegulas really instigated the whole thing.”

If that’s true, we have Rene Robert to thank for our resurging Buffalo as much as anyone.

Pegula has often told the story of falling in love with hockey and the Sabres by driving around Western Pennsylvania in the mid-70’s, trying to find the best spot for WGR to come in on his car radio so he could listen to Ted Darling and Rick Jeanneret call the action of Robert, Martin, Perreault, and all the Sabres greats of that era.

“It has to make you feel good in some way. Maybe we helped Terry love hockey, but he’s the one who’s really moved the city in the direction that it’s going right now.”

Sign up for the Run Jimmy Run and support Alzheimer’s Assn WNY: http://runjimmyruncharity5k.com/

For more on Alzheimer’s and related dementias: http://www.alz.org/WNY

A generational satisfaction in the new Buffalo 

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Just driving where the roads took me, I wound up in the First Ward today, driving down the stunning new Ohio Street and looking across the dirt and weeds to the Chicago Street lot which was home to long gone ancestors.

map

My 3rd great grandfather, Miles Norton, was an Irish immigrant grain worker who died in the family flat over 64 Chicago Street when he was 45 years old in 1883.

1882 City Directory
1882 City Directory

The address is a shaggy looking vacant lot right now, but over looks all that is new and exciting in Buffalo.

As Miles and his big Irish family lived a pretty impoverished Old First Ward existence, it’s easy to imagine them looking out their back window at the stinking and dirty Buffalo River… And thinking of it as their lifeline and livelihood, as the means for a life better than the one left behind on the old sod of Eire.

In 1883, living above 64 Chicago Street was pretty much the end of the line. It was likely better than what was left in the old country, but the worst of Buffalo. Filth and poverty and hunger.

An 1893 Buffalo Courier story calls 64 Chicago a tenement.
An 1893 Buffalo Courier story calls 64 Chicago a tenement.

For the last half century, the view from that spot has showcased rotting industry and wasted waterfront… And was a view many could point to as ground zero for hopelessness and the slow death of Buffalo.

I wish ol’Miles could see that view now… And understand the newness and feeling of hearts-overflowing in the rebirth of the grounds which are forever stained with the sweat and blood of him and so many hundreds of thousands like him through the decades.

Looking at empty Chicago Street lot where Miles Norton's home once stood, and the view from the water just across Ohio Street.
Looking at empty Chicago Street lot where Miles Norton’s home once stood, and the view from the water just across Ohio Street.

As I stood in those weeds today at the corner of Chicago and Mackinaw, my soul glowed with happiness for my ancestors– that their toil won’t be forgotten and my descendants– that they will be able to live in and enjoy a rejuvenated and wonderful Buffalo.

Our future is built on our past. Our future honors our past.

Preserving Buffalo’s Medina sandstone street curbs

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

As with most things in life, the smallest details can make a great difference.

As our region’s rebirth and renaissance continues, more and more of us in Western New York are coming to better appreciate many of wonderful little oddities which combine to make Buffalo poised to use our uniqueness as a standout city for generations to come.

The things that “make Buffalo, Buffalo” should never be more important than they are now.

On Buffalo's Parkside Avenue, a road construction project shows the intersection of historic and unique with commonplace and less complicated.
On Buffalo’s Parkside Avenue, a road construction project shows the intersection of historic and unique with commonplace and less complicated.
I’m hoping to call attention to one small element in Buffalo’s unique character, which is easily overlooked until it’s gone.

For generations, when Buffalo’s Common Council ordered roads built, the call for Medina Sandstone curbs was written right into the legislation. Many of the red curbs of Buffalo have been in place since the time when it was horses, and not cars navigating between those curbs.

A decades-old piece of Medina Sandstone curb. The ridges on the flat surfaces show the old world stonecutting methods used in building Buffalo. This section will be replaced with white granite as a part of a road construction project.
A decades-old piece of Medina Sandstone curb. The ridges on the flat surfaces show the old world stonecutting methods used in building Buffalo. This section will be replaced with white granite as a part of a road construction project.

 

The oldest and most prevalent of these streetside chunks of stone still show the striations of old world craftsmanship, and serve as a citywide network of direct physical links to a time when Buffalo was one of the nation’s largest, wealthiest, and most modern cities.

Considered rare and beautiful and used sparing around the world in buildings like Buckingham Palace, Buffalo was lucky to be so close to the Orleans County quarry where the red rock came from that entire churches and buildings, and yes, even curbs were made from the stuff.

With great limits on new Medina Sandstone, especially for something as pedestrian as curbing, Buffalo has turned with greater frequency to the less exciting granite for curbs.

The gleaming white granite does the job of creating a barrier between the road and the sidewalk, but can we agree that it’s lacking in the spectacular and rich history and beauty of our uniquely Buffalo Medina Sandstone?

As roads are reconstructed with additional curbing for safety, and street/sidewalk intersections are being rebuilt to make them more accessible for those using strollers and wheelchairs, it’s understandable that our decades and centuries old red curbs might have to be replaced.

However, it’s my hope that now and in the future, a greater emphasis might be given in the consideration of reusing these materials whenever possible. Further, that if the nature of construction prohibits the reuse of the curbing at a particular site, that the removed curbing be saved for use at a future site where some additional curbing might be necessary to maintain the Medina Sandstone.

I love the look of the Medina sandstone curbs which have been in front of my house for more than 100 years, but if they have to be replaced, I'd love for the stone to be used in some other project so that the red curbs might be able to be saved there.
I love the look of the Medina sandstone curbs which have been in front of my house for more than 100 years, but if they have to be replaced, I’d love for the stone to be used in some other project so that the red curbs might be able to be saved there.

 

I would ask that the City Engineering and Public Works Departments move to create rules to this effect, and that the Common Council move to create law to make sure that it happens.

Too much of our city’s heritage had been lost to indifference and mismanagement.

Here’s a case where that doesn’t have to happen, and we can stop putting one of Buffalo’s unique features to the curb.

Fire, fireworks, and questioning how we survived childhood

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – The sounds of percussive fireworks on an Independence Day weekend inevitably leads me to wonder how exactly we survived childhood.

With the errant booms I’m reminded of being 12 or 13, when we’d duct tape 3 or 4 Matchbox cars to an M-80 and blow them to smithereens. Fun-wow! We basically built Al-Quieda style shrapnel bombs and lit them right in front of us. How did we survive?

And we weren’t even “the bad kids…”

We did most of our pyrotechnics “under the bridge,” in Smokes Creek, just a few hundred feet away from our back yard.

My ol’man used to drink Gallo wine in the big green gallon glass jugs, and we’d get excited when he’d finish one. Kids just don’t know what they are missing with cheap wine coming in boxes nowadays.

Heading down to our pyrotechnics lab underneath North Buffalo Street, we’d first take a beer bottle and make a Molotov cocktail. We’d light that sucker and toss it against the abutment underneath the bridge creating a wall of fire.

With the concrete blazing, we’d take the gallon glass jug– by now with just a little bit of gasoline in it– close up the top, shake it up to create some fumes and throw it against the flaming concrete wall.

It made a wonderful concussive, reverberating boom– but also sent glass shrapnel everywhere. No need to read between the lines here, I’ll spell it out– we were total effing idiots.

While we never ruined or broke anything or wanted to do so– we just liked acting like morons, apparently. Though not destructive, our antics were often enough to wind up in the Orchard Park Bee police blotter a couple times a month. “Loud noise heard near seven corners.”

That, and Dad always wondered why our lawn mower used so much gas.

But the Fourth of July wasn’t for us kids lighting stuff on fire, it was for watching adults blow stuff up. Two of my grandparents– Mom’s dad and Dad’s mom– shared a birthday with our country. Independence Day celebrations were great for us.

Aunt Kathy and Uncle Kevin would have a pool party for Grandpa Coyle’s birthday, and the Cichon kids would swim non-stop all-day, save the frequent breaks for cans of grape or cherry pop.

Around dinner time, we’d head over to see Grandma Cichon– sometimes at the cottage at Sunset Bay, or sometimes at home near Caz Park in South Buffalo.

For a few years, my uncles and my dad would all throw in some money, and drive to Ohio to fill a big old van with fireworks for their mother’s birthday.

My uncle had painted this van blue using a roller, and there was shag carpet hanging on the walls and ceiling in the back. During these momentous days, it reeked of gun powder.

The family would set up in the park near the ball diamonds, and our attention called to each piece of artillery not by the colors or that it might spin or even by the interesting names printed on these things in China.

With a beer in one hand, shouts of “Hey! Watch this one! It was 25 bucks!” were followed by the touching of the cherry end of a lip-dangled cigarette to the wick and a quick backward stumble away.

One year a shout of “SHIT! It’s the cops!” sent a good number of Cichons spilling beer as they ran into the woods. The friendly officer joined us to watch the display, and even turned his car lights on for us kids.

Another year, some guy nobody knew pulled up in a car and asked us if we’d ever seen a real Civil War cannon. It was a two-foot-long replica cannon, which he filled with three shot glasses of gun powder.

“Only supposeda do one, but it’s the Fourth of July!”

At least all that was the wide open park. When we’d celebrate Grandma’s birthday at the lake… 47 people would stay in a 600 square foot cottage, jammed in the midst of other families of 47 staying in similar sized cottages.

The fireworks displays would be smaller, but the cramped quarters certainly made them more dangerous– so of course, somehow, more fun for everyone.

With no room inside the cottage, we’d eventually sleep in the back of our Dodge station wagon– with permanent and satisfied smiles on our faces.

The only things I light on fire these days are the grill and the (very) occasional big fat cigar. Yet I own about twelve Zippo lighters. I guess you never know when you’ll have to fall back on those skills you learned as a kid.

Marie T. Cichon (July 4, 1928 – June 25, 1996)

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon died twenty years ago today, but she’s still with me every day… She had a very different sensibility. Bullheaded but free-spirited. Artistic and cerebral but very well grounded in the realities of the day-to-day world of having ten kids.

steve and grandma cichon

She would have been the eccentric aunt on a 60’s sitcom— certainly not the mother in heels and pearls, although she played that role pretty well from her D&K sandals and housecoats.

She never said goodbye when someone would leave, it was always “Toodaloo,” with a smile and the knowledge we’d be seeing each other again soon.

Lately, I find myself laughing out loud in joy at the sight of animals and small children having fun. One of many mostly… um… flaky behaviors I cherish… and trace back to this lady.

I know I also trace back some of the things I like most about myself to her.

She exuded independence– not in a screaming 1960’s radical way, but just by being herself. Grandma instilled that quiet sense of independence in me.  She encouraged and foster my interest in politics and funny people. It was probably sleeping over at her house that I watched Carson for the first time—and saw the nightly combination of those two worlds. I wasn’t older than 12 when she told me that I would really enjoy David Letterman. Now, she didn’t exactly tell me to watch a TV show at 12:30 in the morning, but she kinda did. And I’m glad I did.

Grandma also treated me as an equal in our discussions about the world. She never discounted my thoughts or opinions. It was sitting at her worn out white formica kitchen table, with the little 13-inch black-and-white TV always running in the corner, drinking Red Rose tea or instant coffee that she showed me that way.

It’s a fantastic vantage point to live from—to try to find the common ground to build a bond, as opposed to finding or reverting back to your self-perceived superiority over someone else. Grandma showed me, by example, that just because I’m older or more experienced or smarter or whatever-er… that my opinion doesn’t count any more than yours.

As this 2016 Presidential campaign plunges on, I can only imagine the political discussions she and my ol’man are having over heaven’s version of that kitchen table set with instant coffee and chain-smoked cigarettes (His Parliament, hers Kool.)

Hahaha, I’m chuckling out loud at the thought. Just like grandma would have.

 

Road Trip: Selfies from San Diego to San Francisco

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – It was really the trip of a lifetime.

Monica and I flew from Buffalo to San Diego, and rented a convertible to drive from San Diego to San Francisco over ten days.

We didn’t have any expectations, not knowing what to expect…. But we had a great time.

I’ll mostly let the photos do the talking, but we ate plenty of good reasonably pricing food at interesting restaurants (as well as sampling the fast food joints we don’t have in Buffalo.)

I really liked that the trip was a great mix of nature, wonderful 1940s-60s buildings and signs along the Pacific Coast Highway, and a few “big things” to see. Perfect nature and world class cities.

These photos aren’t meant to show everything we saw… Just a sampling of the fun we had and an idea of what we like when we travel. (Plus, we took about 2500 photos. !?!?!?)

San Diego

 

Between San Diego & Los Angeles

Some nice breakfasts, a stay on the Queen Mary, and a visit to the Santa Monica Pier.

Los Angeles

In LA, I found myself recognizing street names from 80s game show ticket announcements. For example (from memory): If you’d like to see the Price is Right in person, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Tickets, The Priiiiice is Riiight… CBS Television City, 78-hundred Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles California, 9-double oh-3-6. OK Bob!

Also, I found myself looking for scenes familiar from watching every episode of Dragnet at least five times. Then I remembered about Randy’s Donuts, and we drove there.

In other words, it was a successful trip.

LA to SF

We went to the Reagan Library is Simi Valley… and then took the coast to San Francisco. The prettiest, most treacherous part of the trip. A stretch that was about 40 miles as the crow flies took about four hours on the winding, coastal mountain roads you see in the video and photos below.

 

San Francisco

Tom Connolly: Great Friend, mentor, broadcaster

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – For those who just knew Tom Connolly as the guy who said, “it’s midnight,” every night, seven nights a week for almost 25 years, its difficult to introduce you to the man. He was as unique as his voice– unequivocally one of a kind.

tomconnolly
We both knew it was part goof, but mostly tribute. I put up a page on my Buffalo radio and TV history website about Tom Connolly.  He’s a shadowy figure who lurks just beyond the outer edges of radio….  He’s been around at Buffalo’s top radio station for parts of three decades, where he always prefers the soft glow of the moon to the harshness of the sunlight (and all that it brings.) Tom Connolly is the man with the answer to the question what time it is…. So long as the time is MIDNIGHT, I wrote in 2006. When I asked to take a photo for this page, but suggested I take the photo from behind, “to maintain his shadowy anonymity,” he got that look in his eyes and loved it.

We’ve all seen some movie or TV show where a kid goes to the dumpy basement closet to hang out with the school janitor– a world-weary and gruff, yet kind and brilliant guy, who gives great advice and does his sometimes rotten job like clockwork.

Overnights in radio are a lot like a dumpy basement… And while Tom was no janitor, he just did his work– and a lot of stuff that he’d do just because he thought someone should– quietly with no expectation of appreciation or praise.  He was like radio’s counterculture guidance counselor.

He loved and cared for each one of us kids who went through the station, and encouraged us to make our own role there, because no one else was going to do it for us.

The first time I was ever on the air at WBEN was with Tom’s guidance– make that his insistence. On a Sunday morning shift in 1994, the news guy never showed up.

It was with his passionate, insistent, and unmistakably Connollyesque advice that I began my on air career in radio.

What many people outside of radio might not realize, is that Tom worked overnights, seven days a week. For decades.

Again, that started in part because Tom cared about me personally.  There was a time when I was working 3-11 Saturday evening, then was back Sunday morning at 5. At this point, Tom had Saturday nights off– his one night off every week.

The guy who was supposed to work the overnight shift while I’d go sleep on the station couch for six hours didn’t show up two weeks in a row. Being a naive high school kid, I never told anyone… Until one day I let it it slip to Tom. He was already angry that “the man” was taking advantage of my eagerness to work by putting me on such a schedule.

But Tom had no love for the character who skipped out on that shift. The next week, Tom was working Saturday night — the start of his 23 year run of overnights every night. He also insisted that I forgo that soiled couch in the station basement and drive 45 minutes home for some real sleep. More than once that sound sleep ended abruptly with a phone call from the station.

“Tom here.”

“Sorry Tom, I’m on my way.”

“No problem.”

And he meant no problem. For five years, Tom relived me from “running the board” as the technical producer and operator of the station in the early 90s.

Most nights he’d walk in, fresh from Tops next door, with his arms filled with bizarro overnight snacks. The menu would change through the years, but early on it was a half-gallon of Tops Vim One skim milk, which he’d drink straight from the carton to wash down a bag of oyster crackers and a pound of M&Ms.

Often a minute or two “late,” he’d simply say, “Good evening. Vacate.”

In those years he wouldn’t take official vacation days or any time off– he’d ask me to cover for him, with the same request once a year, several years running.

“If it’s ok, I may be a few minutes late tonight,” he’d say— and I then knew what was coming next. “Weird Al Yankovic is performing in concert tonight, and I’d like to attend.”

The gratitude he’d show when you did him a small favor was as if it had been served on a golden platter.

Maybe a bit more mellowed, Tom was the same cat when I came back to WBEN after several years away.

No longer a (young) punk and having some radio management experience under my belt, I had an even greater appreciation for Connolly (which is nearly universally how we’ve always referred to him.)

He taught young people not only the craft of radio, but the reward in the drudgery of work just for the sake of your own pride in getting it done. He was the cool upper classman who knew all the tricks and was willing to share.

For decades, Tom would send home board ops and news people on Christmas… And work double duty for 36 straight hours so the people at the bottom of the totem poll could spend time with their families.

After his daily nine hours at Entercom, contributing to the success of WBEN, WGR, Star and Kiss’ morning show in his typical unheralded fashion, rarely receiving the credit or thanks he deserved, he’d head to his first radio love, WBNY, and work for free on a fantastic music show– again, acting as mentor and funky uncle to generations of Buff State broadcasting students.

If one was trying to be sensitive, one would say Tom was unique. He was unique enough to be comfortable with weird. Mostly a good weird. Mostly a weird like, “Who works that hard?” Or “Who helps people he barely knows like that?” Or “Who just does his job, seven days a week, always superior with no questions asked?”

Tom was one of the people who made working in radio different, exciting, and so much better than any other terrible, terribly-paying job on the planet. His work ethic, his weirdness, and his love and support for all of us will be greatly and forever missed.

Stars make “radio” for those who listen. Guys like Tom make radio for those who make radio.

Vamping: The forgotten film shot in Buffalo in 1983

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Buffalo welcomed plenty of Hollywood in the early 1980s.

Welcome to Buffalo, 1980s style. Still from the film Vamping (Buffalo Stories archives)
Welcome to Buffalo, 1980s style. Still from the film Vamping (Buffalo Stories archives)

“Hide in Plain Sight,” starring James Caan, was shot here in 1979 and released in 1980. In 1982, Goldie Hahn and Burt Reynolds spent some time in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood shooting “Best Friends,” and also watching history at the Aud — both were in attendance the night Wayne Gretzky scored a hat trick shattering the NHL record for goals in a season.

The most celebrated film ever shot in Buffalo, ‘The Natural,” was shot with much fanfare during the summer of 1983 and released the following year. Buffalonians celebrated that film’s 30th anniversary with the same level of hoopla a few years back.

But while Redford, Close, Brimley and the crew were here shooting a baseball flick, an actor just as well known in 1983 — “Dallas” star Patrick Duffy — was in town shooting a music flick.

Buffalo scenery in “The Natural” is much celebrated. War Memorial and All-High Stadiums, the old Parkside Candy at Main and West Oakwood, The Central Terminal, The Ellicott Square Building, and a handful of other locations are seen and immediately recognized by millions of fans of that epic picture.

But you might consider the Buffalo scenery in “Vamping” even better. It’s a look at every day Buffalo. It reflects the grittiness of a city in the throes of factory shut downs, economic crisis, and an identity crisis as well.

In the same way the driving scenes and beauty shots on Kojak show New York City as it was in the mid-70’s, and the same sort of shots show us Los Angeles in the mid-60’s on Dragnet, Vamping’s scenes are a great snapshot in time in Buffalo.

The Buffalo Stories studios recently dug up an old VHS copy of Vamping in our archives and digitally remastered it as best we could. Here are some stills showing some of the great Buffalo scenery in Vamping. We’ve also loaded this entire film onto YouTube, only because as far as I can tell, the film is not available for purchase anywhere… And I think many folks would enjoy seeing our city as it was in 1983.

Watch the film:


While now it seems to be the film that time has forgotten, Buffalo News Critic Jeff Simon filled the front page of “Life & Arts” with a look at “Vamping,” starring Duffy supported by a large contingent of Buffalo talent on the screen and on the crew.

“While Robert Redford and one of the finest assemblages of acting talent in current film were all over the city and environs filming the $25 million film “The Natural,” (local film director Frederick King) Keller and star Patrick Duffy … were scrambling around filming on a budget that wouldn’t pay for the gasoline in Redford & Co.’s Winnebagos.”

4-30-1984-vamping-edit1

4-30-1984-vamping-2-edit

 

The Ol’man’s still pulling one over on the VA

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY –Been thinking about the ol’man today, so I’m wearing a pair of his pajamas… PROPERTY OF THE VA.

SteveVApajamas

He made dozens of emergency trips to the VA Hospital over the last decade of his life, and was admitted for many of those times, and when he was admitted, there was often a conversation that went like this.

“Hey dad, so I’m going to bring you a Diet Spin (he loved the Tops generic diet cola) and an Autotrader… Do you want me to bring  you some clothes to go home in?”

“Nah,” he’d say, “They’ll gimme a new pair of pajamas.”

My ol’man loved getting one over on the VA, and loved leaving that place with another pair of pajamas hanging on his back.

He’d make a half-hearted promise to bring the pajamas back to an orderly who couldn’t have cared any less. “These babies are the best around,” he’d say climbing into my car, tugging on his new NOT FOR SALE emblazoned loungewear.

He had a pretty decent collection when he died– unbeknownst to one another, my brother and I both kept a pair.

“The VA is the best hospital around,” he’d usually say on the trip from Bailey Avenue to Orchard Park.

“Man, this car rides great,” he’d mention, inevitably followed by, “but I do hate riding on this 33. I don’t know how people do it every day.”

Dad had another saying that I think meant something different depending on his mood.

“I wish him well,” started the ol’man’s classic phrase, “but wish him well away from me.”

When he was ambivalent, it sounded like he was saying he has no ill will towards this person, he just doesn’t want to see them.

If it was said with a touch of the caustic rage my ol’man always seemed to have bubbling just below the surface in case he needed it– well then, it sounded like an empty felicitation and a hope that you get the eff away and stay as far away as possible.

I had one of each of those well wishes today, and I avoided driving on the 33 (although I did have to take that damn 290 during rush hour.) Somewhere,  Dad is smiling.

Adventures in Grandma Cichon’s kitchen

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY — A few years after it was published, when I was in grammar school, my grandmother gave me a copy of this amazing issue of The Buffalo News magazine. This cleaner copy is newer to the archives– I still have the well-worn one Grandma Cichon gave me more than three decades ago.

buffalo mag

This great 64 page work is filled with hundreds of historic photos and stories—so many of the great places, events, and people that were a part of Buffalo during The News’ first 100 years of publication.

Seeing the photos and getting my first glimpse at how Buffalo once was immediately triggered a love for and a desire to better understand, collect and share our area’s past when I first introduced to it by means of an old newspaper tucked into in grandma’s buffet drawer when I was in first or second grade.

Grandma’s buffet was piled high with every kind of crap imaginable, including, thankfully, old newspapers. The dining room buffet was only used for supper on holidays like Easter or Thanksgiving—even though she still called the evening meal “supper” when it was pizza from Pizza Shanty or fish frys from Trautweins on Seneca Street. That we’d eat in the kitchen off the Corelle “Butterfly Gold” brown-flowered plates which everyone’s grandma seemed to have in the 70s and 80s.

butterfly gold

She entreat us to leave the kitchen and sit in the parlor when it got too crowded out there, but mostly, Grandma liked people in the kitchen.  She sat in there smoking Kools, drinking instant coffee, and watching Channel 17 on the little black-and-white TV in the corner of the kitchen counter.

The problem was she had ten kids, and all kinds of grandkids and all their friends and they’d all be in the kitchen when she was trying to cook.

“Everyone into the parlor!” she’d say in her high, breathy, asthmatic voice… There were often so many people for dinner, she’d say “small bums on the board!” She had a piece of wood that she’d put across two chairs, and three or four of our tiny bums would fit on there.

We’d all sit there waiting for Gramps to get home from work– The front door was a straight shot to his seat at the head of the table. He’d walk in, put his coat on the banister, sit down and say the fastest grace ever– “BlessOLordgiftsboutreceiveChristLordAmen.”

It came out as one word, but it was prayer, and that’s how our meals were blessed at Grandma Cheehoyn’s house.

Paging through this old Sunday insert still leaves me with a great yearning to understand how things used to be, and why these old ways are important to us now and in the future. The News Magazine and its progeny have enlightened and inspired me for as long as I’ve been able to read, as have Grandma Cichon and all the other great storytellers who have been a part of my life…

And since thinking and writing about this, I’ve had the insatiable urge for instant coffee. Like I did for grandma so many times, I think I’ll turn on the kettle– but like at Grandma’s, I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s going to light a smoke off the gas flame of the stove as the water boils.

 

My ol’man lives on in the little things every day

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY — I could almost smell the Vitalis at Easter Mass this past weekend. The generations old tradition of tiny little boys with their hair slicked down to their heads for church makes me smile and melts away decades.

I have thick, wily hair, and the only time my ol’man ever cared about it not looking that way was on the way to church.

“Get over here,” he’d say, with clipped speech and some vague notion of annoyance… A Parliament 100 dangling from a corner of his lip.

vita;is

One old hair tonic’s commercial told you “a little dab’ll do ya.” Dad must have never saw this commercial. After grabbing my forehead and shaking the life out of that bottle, the bathroom filling with the smell of slightly perfumed rubbing alcohol, he’d pull an ancient brush through my hair until it felt like my head was bleeding.

Potential scalp contusions aside, it’s really a great memory. The very way I was watching the slicked up little dudes and their proud young dads, was under the ol’man’s influence. Even phrases like “slicked up little dudes” and the quiet dry Cichon cackle that I couldn’t hold back as I watched were all Dad.

When I feel him living on, laughing when he’d laugh, smiling when giving a kid a buck, being a special brand of obstinate and crazy, it’s a great feeling. Especially when it’s been six years today since his heart stopped, he breathed his last, and he went on to his eternal reward.

We can’t help but remember our loved ones, and that can be sad. But when we bear witness to the little ways they live on, it’s beautiful. Love ya and miss ya, dad.

Remembering Van Miller’s last day on Don Paul’s last day

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY — It’s not every day that one of the giants in Buffalo Broadcasting steps away from the action… I’ve been thinking about Don Paul’s last day on Channel 4 today– and remembering back to the day when we were on the set together for the last show of another Channel 4 legend in 1998.

I wrote this on Facebook in January when Alan Pergament wrote that Don would retire:

I was just having a conversation with a friend about thinking back through our lives, and appreciating people who’ve given something of themselves to raise us up in such a way that completely changes our lives.

My first job in radio, as a 15 year old intern, was spending a few minutes in a small studio with Don Paul recording his forecast for WBEN Radio. His kindness to me as a high school sophomore, his encouragement of my career, and the words he offered to important people will always mean the world to me, and it’s simply not possible that I’d be exactly where I am without his friendship and guidance. His was one of many great examples I had very early in life and career about being a good guy, loving people, and trying to help when possible.

So thanks… and enjoy your next act, Don… There aren’t enough folks in any business just out there being a good guy— For as much as you’ll be missed on air, broadcasting will miss a good guy in the trenches. mmmMMMmmm how sweeeet itt ISSSSsssSSSS.

Steve & Don on Rich Newberg's last day at Channel 4, 2015.
Steve & Don on Rich Newberg’s last day at Channel 4, 2015.

Gramps’ 90th Birthday

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY — Today, February 14, 2016, would have been Grandpa Cichon’s 90th birthday.

Grandpa Cichon… or as he was better known…

“I told them, ‘Just call me Eddie Cichon.'”

Edward Valetine Cichon was the full English version. Some how I feel like I should be buying someone Skin Bracer or Old Spice on Valentines Day… even though Gramps is now smelling good up in heaven– no cologne necessary.

I’m blessed to have recorded about 26 hours of mostly stupid and fun conversations with my grandfather in the four years before he died.

There are plenty of great stories and fun moments in there… i have to make more time to share more of them.

Happy Birthday, Gramps! Sto lat!

George Richert is quietly one of the best people you’ll ever meet

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY — I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working with George Richert twice– both at WBEN, where he was a news man and I was a producer, and at Channel 4– where I was a producer and he was an assignment editor, then reporter.

WBEN's Newsday at Noon host George Richert interviews Broadcasting legend Ralph Hubbell, 1997.
WBEN’s Newsday at Noon host George Richert interviews Broadcasting legend Ralph Hubbell, 1997. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The world of news and TV news is suffering a giant hole in the wake of George’s leaving– not just because he’s an experienced voice of reason, not just because he is a tremendous story teller, not just because of the way he is able to cut through the noise of a situation to find and tell the best story– for all of which he’ll be missed.

George is just about the greatest human being that any of us might have the chance to meet.

His style as a reporter and guy is simple, bare bones, and really perfect. He’s compassionate without being sappy. He’s direct without being overbearing. He’s kind so quietly it often goes unnoticed.

George quietly and faithfully understands and appreciates all that goes on around him, holds onto the best in it, and  tries to let the bad slip away.

He very steadfastly, without drama or affect, does what is put before him. He works in the same way people of our grandfathers’ generation grabbed their lunch pail, went to work, let the work be their reward, and showed those around them that actions mean more than words.

One of the ways you can judge a TV reporter is by looking at a photog’s face when he or she finds out they are assigned to work together that night. Often the look is like someone waved dirty socks under the photojournalist’s nose. Sometimes it’s not the look as much as the straightened back– steeling themselves for spending the day with an arrogant jerk or weirdo… or even worse– an arrogant jerk weirdo.

When you’re assigned to work with George, your day brightens and a smile crosses your face.

As he walked off the set on one his final nights at Channel 4, the note George wrote to the photojournalists who’ve toiled along side him for the past two decades shows the kind of man he is. It was shared on Facebook by Channel 4 videographer Paul Ivancic.

“The Photographers Lounge” On Feb 12, 2016 11:18 PM, “Richert, George” <George.Richert@wivb.com> wrote:
Dear Photographers,

I don’t even remember who it was who first invited me to have dinner in the Photographers’ Lounge, but I want to thank you all for tolerating it.
I’ve tried to earn the right to be there because I think it represents a sort of brotherhood with our big sister.

It’s hardly a ‘Lounge’ at all…More like a simple table for the purpose of eating fast and getting back to work.
After all, that seems to be the life of a photographer.

You run from story to story, often times finding creative ways to make something out of absolutely nothing.
Yet, when the script finally comes in, your hard work still doesn’t usually live up to the high expectations of what’s written.

Reporters like me run around looking stressed out, when you have the ultimate deadline resting on your shoulders; the final minutes and seconds before a story or a show airs.
You’re usually the first to realize that a VO wasn’t shot at all, or that certain file simply doesn’t exist, and yet you’re expected to somehow “make it live”.
Reporters like me get to sit in the car while you stay out and shoot the b-roll we need or set up the LIVE shot.
You battle the elements and clock to make a dark LIVE shot look halfway decent, but often times the only feedback you get is to “iris down!”.

For you, I love the days when your creative talents shine through and you get a lot of compliments.
But I realize most days you must feel like masterpiece painter who’s only given two colors, and ten minutes to work with.

I want you know that you’re the UNSUNG HEROES and the backbone of this industry, and I will never forget you.
My favorite part of this job has been driving around with each of you and sharing the highs and lows of our lives each day.
Those are the lifelong bonds that I will miss the most.
From the bottom of my heart… Thank You.

With Love & Respect,

George

Good luck George… I hope the Bishop knows how lucky he is to have you.

Rediscovered: Irv Weinstein on PM Magazine… 1979, WIVB-TV

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY –There’s a lot going on in the 12 minute video I posted on YouTube today.

Oddly, iconic WKBW-TV news anchor Irv Weinstein was featured on the premiere of PM Magazine on WIVB-TV in 1979. Hosted by Debbie Stamp and Don Moffit, the show featured an in depth interview with Weinstein and his family, including son Marc Weinstein of Amoeba Records fame, with the rest of his “progressive rock group.”

Also featured are promos for Skybird 4, WIVB’s news helicopter, and a spectacularly ’70s promo for News 4 anchor John Beard, now with cross-town rival WGRZ-TV. How ‘70s is it? Suffice it to say, a fetching young woman mentions how much she likes John’s mustache.

At the end of the tape, another Buffalo pop culture treat– Glendora– known in here as a 1970s late-nite TV salesperson, but known around the country for her community access TV show “A Chat with Glendora” and activism in many arenas.

The stop and go of the tape capture two extra images as well—Danny Neaverth for Bells, and a Van Miller still. Arguably Buffalo’s three greatest radio and TV personalities all in one 1979 tape.

It’s classic Buffalo TV at its finest!

This tape was from Irv’s private collection. I dubbed it for him with a number of other tapes—including video from his wedding—about 15 years ago when I was working at the Empire Sports Network.

Still images from this video

Predating YouTube, I first posted a tiny, very low resolution version of this video on staffannouncer.com in 2006.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

 

Cichon evolution: How CHEE-hoyn became SEE-shon

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Spelled Cichoń in its original form, my last name is Polish.

My great-grandfather, Jan Cichon, came to Buffalo from what is now Milczany, Świętokrzyskie, Poland in 1913. He soon changed his first name to John, but never changed the way he pronounced his last name.

He said “CHEE-hoyn” as a little boy in the tiny villages he grew up in near Sandomierz in southeast Poland, and said “CHEE-hoyn” as a railyard laborer for National Aniline in South Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood.

Before John’s son– my grandfather– died in 2015, one of the many hours of conversation I had with him was how CHEE-hoyn became SY-chon (which is how Gramps said it) became SEE-shon (which is how my dad and most of my family says it.)

So, here is Eddie (SYchon) explaining how CHEEhoyn became SEEshon.

Gramps says that his mother and father– both from Poland– always said CHEEhoyn. He says when he and his 9 brothers and sisters starting going to school, SYchon– the generally accepted German pronunciation– was introduced to them, and it stuck.

“You say SEEshon, right?” Gramps asked me. I told him that’s how my dad says it.

steve and gramps

“Well, your dad’s partly French,” Gramps said, cracking himself up so hard he started coughing.

I can’t find the audio– I recorded dozens of conversations with Gramps– but he also once explained that it was one of his sisters-in-law who started saying SEEshon. My grandma also said SEEshon, as did my dad, and now most if not all of the Cichons who are left in my family say SEEshon.

So that’s how my family has come to say SEEshon, although I answer to any other pronunciation from telemarketers who are just plain confused or from little old ladies wearing babushkas (or my Fair friend Jim!) telling me I say my name wrong.

Reflection on Dr. King’s dream, and making it my own

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY –Of course, Dr. King was talking specifically about race when he hoping for a country where we judge someone on their character– what is in their heart and how they let that shine forth– rather than the color of their skin. But my dream expands that a little.

What if we started to look into the hearts of everyone we encounter, instead of judging them by some group they belong to? If we want America to continue to be great, we have to stop thinking that because someone doesn‘t look like us, or doesn’t agree with us on an issue, that they are terrible and need to be crushed.

The country I want to live in, and the country I think Dr. King dreamed of, is one where we look past our racial, political, religious, geographical, and economic differences…

A place where we look into the hearts and souls of people of every race… every religion… every political, sexual, and economic persuasion… and we find good-hearted smart people to help us build a good-hearted smart America that brings together all of us into a place where anyone can succeed and feel welcome and not feel the hatred of another because of the color of their skin or the people they choose to love or the way they worship or the amount of money they have in the bank or the place they live or the political party they belong to….

Because this is America, you have the right to carry hate in your heart… but it’s not the best way. God Bless Martin Luther King and his dream for his people and all Americans and all humans everywhere.

–Martin Luther King Day (observed) 2016

Ten years without the I-190 tolls

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Ah Black Rock and Ogden, we hardly knew ye. The new year will mark a decade since the City of Buffalo had toll booths at its northern (Black Rock) and southern (Ogden) borders along the I-190.

For generations of Buffalonians, it was a bit of a sport to toss the quarter, and later two quarters, into the EXACT CHANGE baskets at the now demolished 190 toll booths.

The tolls were supposed to come down in when the highway was paid for in the late 80’s– but to the outrage of WNYers, you had to pay a toll to get to downtown Buffalo. The outrage built to a crescendo in 2006 when the toll booths were removed.

For some tollbooth memories we dip into the Buffalo Stories archives for these shots.

dannythruway(1)

Its WKBW-TV Channel 7’s zany weatherman Danny Neaverth standing at the Ogden Tolls sometime in the early to mid 80’s.

dannythruway(2)

This story was all about how fast people could drive through the “Exact Change” booths, and still get the coins into the basket.

dannythruway(3)

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Remembering Gramps on a Warm Christmas past

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

What a beautiful day outside.

Seeing small kids playing with someone who looked like their grandfather in Delaware Park just now takes me back 35 years to a similar scene in Cazenovia Park, on a similar beautiful just-before-Christmas day. The only difference— unlike these carefree kids, all was not right in my world.

Gramps  & me...
The first pic of Gramps & me…

It was a quick run across Seneca Street from Grandma and Grandpa Cichon’s into Caz Park, and Gramps loved taking us for a walk whenever he was not on his way to work at the track (Buffalo Raceway) when we’d stop over on a Saturday morning.

The walk part of the walks were longer in the winter, because our visits to Caz weren’t punctuated by a visit to “the swings, and the slides, and the horseys,” as Gramps always called the playground in a sing-song kind of way.

We’d come back to Grandma’s house from taking these walks nearly frozen by the harsh South Buffalo winter, and really having earned our hot chocolate with real marshmallows.

But this day wasn’t one of those days. Much like today, the grass was green and lush, the sun was shining, and instead of shivering we were probably sweating—unnecessarily overdressed in layers on a 50 degree day, for fear that the Blizzard of ’77 would quickly revisit Seneca Street while we were on our 90 minute hike.

And despite the beautiful weather, this day, there were no swings to play on—the city parks department was much more rigid about taking swings down in those days. It was by date, not by weather forecast.

Anyway, this day I’m thinking about, we were on one of our epic walks taking in most of Cazenovia Park from the ball diamonds to the ends of the golf course. I should have been enjoying the warmth—and not a flake of snow in sight, but I wasn’t.

There was growing concern in my Kindergartener heart, and I had to share it with someone I could trust. Gramps was the man, for sure.

“Grandpa,” I asked, probably with doe-like eyes fluttering, “if Santa’s sleigh doesn’t work because there’s no snow, how will he be able to deliver our presents?”

“Santa has a helicopter, son,” he said reassuringly without skipping a beat. I’m still warmed by his reassurance.

I don’t remember what I was hoping Santa would deliver that year, but I know I was excited to deliver to Gramps—no chopper necessary—a gift bearing the brand name Skin Bracer, Old Spice, or Hickory Farms. He always loved our presents no matter what they were.

Gramps was special because he had the mind of a man and the heart of a child. We should all be so blessed.

John Otto: Hold the Phone!

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

 This page first appeared on staffannouncer.com in 2004, and was last updated May 21, 2014.

Weekly vintage John Otto airchecks from buffalostories.com
Weekly vintage John Otto airchecks from buffalostories.com

In celebration of John Otto’s 85th birthday, and mindful that it was 15 years ago this year that your congenial co-communicator signed off, we introduce several hours of John Otto recordings unheard since the day they were first broadcast in 1998.

It’s truly one of Buffalo’s greatest broadcasters at his finest: John Otto, broadcasting live from the Tralfamadore Cafe on the night he was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

John talks with and interviews dozens of our city’s finest broadcasters, and they pay tribute to him– on the radio, on the telephone, at long last.

And the more to come sign is up– As we draw nearer the 15th anniversary of our-operator-on’s last show, we will present dozens more recordings from the 1950s through 1999 in this space. We’ll get to that in as soon as it takes to tell it– in the meantime, enjoy that Hall of Fame day broadcast below, and hold the phone.

John Otto played many of his own sound effects on the show… You could often hear him fumbling for the right cart as someone asked to guess the voice, or Joann the Just would call– of course, the trumpet was necessary to announce her presence. Here are a few of the sound effects “Your operator on” would play– taken directly from the broadcast carts which he himself used on the show.

otto-cart-label

John spent most of five decades on Buffalo radio, and his show was introduced by various jingles and production elements through the years. Several of these were given to me by the late Ben Bass, who aside from sending 30 years as a disc jockey himself, was also an engineer on the Otto show in the 1970’s.

Finally, here are some clips of the man himself– These were saved at the radio station by many of John’s producers through the years, including Mike Maniscalco, Brad Riter, Greg Bauch, Ben Bass, and others. They are mostly short, entertaining John Otto clips on pop culture and bad callers– others are just a taste of how John sounded on the air. The last clip is 46 minutes worth of a show– enjoy!

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

New: The Weekly Otto & Ben Bass Jingle of the Week

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

The holidays are bringing the first installment of several new features on Buffalo Stories.com. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll regularly be sharing from several categories in our expansive audio archive.

Weekly vintage John Otto airchecks from buffalostories.com
Weekly vintage John Otto airchecks from buffalostories.com

The first is “The Weekly Otto.”  With at least 48 hours worth of John Otto shows on tape, plus many more interesting audio clips from his own personal audio collection, there should be plenty of material to keep us going for quite a while providing regular audio looks back at one of Buffalo’s all-time favorite intelligent men of the people and most missed voices in the night, on the radio, on the telephone (at long last, don’t you know.)

Another soon-to-be regular feature is The Ben Bass Memorial Jingle of the Week.

Jingles from the collection of the late Ben Bass on buffalostories.com
Jingles from the collection of the late Ben Bass on buffalostories.com

Buffalo Radio good guy Ben Bass passed away unexpectedly in 2014. Ben was often irascible and difficult to deal with– but he had a heart of gold, and was always doing what he could for others. Aside from 40 years as a broadcast engineer, radio disc jockey, and ham operator, Ben was also a great collector of commercial and radio station jingles.

Upon his death, a handful of Ben’s friends got together to buy up as much of his jingle collection as possible– it’s a veritable history of Buffalo radio. This archive includes jingles, production pieces, and station IDs from the 1950’s through the 2000s from dozens of Western New York– many of which it’s almost certain that Ben had the only remaining copy. Stations big and small… Jingles good and bad… We’ll be offering regular segments from more than ten hours worth of jingles from Ben’s collection.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

We’ll also be repackaging classic Staffannouncer.com pages here on Buffalo Stories.com. I started working on Staffannouncer.com in 2003, at a time when many of Buffalo’s pop culture treasures weren’t even mentioned on the Internet.

It’s hard to imagine typing “Irv Weinstein” or “AM&A’s” into Google and getting no results, but that’s the way it was.  Staffannouncer.com was my way to fix that.

I built a great 2004 website from code, by myself. A dozen years later, the look and some of the information needs some updating. I’ll be taking care of both of those things as I migrate all of the still-relevant pages and information from Staffannouncer.com here to Buffalo Stories.com.

Connecting people and their memories: Micro & Macro

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

I spend a lot of time thinking about things that people like to remember and how to present those things in a way that make to not only make them smile, but also realize how those memories help shape how we got where we are today.

When I’m posting a blog post here or a piece on history.buffalonews.com, I’m usually thinking about the larger Western New York audience, or maybe a slightly smaller group or community– rarely am I trying to speak to a single person with a post.

It’s really gratifying, then, when i share something that we all love and remember ends up meaning something very personal and direct for someone who sees it.

That’s happened twice in the last week.

In one instance, a man who was featured in a 1970 news clip found the clip on YouTube and left a comment.

The video, shows a pro-Richard Nixon, “anti-antiwar” march on Buffalo’s City Hall in 1970. I interviewed WBEN/Ch.4 newsman Lou Douglas several times before his death, and each time he spoke about covering this march— and his fear for the safety of the anti-war counter protester he interviewed.  The young man– now a retiree– found the video on YouTube, and took the time to finish and add to the comment he couldn’t finish 45 years ago.

hardhats

The other instance was a bit more lighthearted and fun. If you lived in Bufalo in the 80’s, it’s likely you can sing the line, “You’re gonna wanna…. Come to Lackawanna…” It’s all because of this commercial, which I posted on YouTube a few years ago.


The Ridge Dining Furniture Family– always featured in these spots which ran through the 80’s and into the 90’s– wrote to say they thought they’d never see one of these spots again.

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I explained that I found this commercial on a newscast that I had recorded as a kid– but also that I’d be on the lookout now for any more that I find.

It’s fascinating and edifying for me to reconnect our city to its past– and when it means something extra special to a particular person or family– its even more rewarding.

Christmas in Parkside: Black Squirrel, Books & Beer at the PM

Parkside owned businesses are spreading holiday cheer with a true “shop local” event on Wednesday.

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The neighborhood folks connected with The Parkside Meadow (owners Nancy Abramo & Len Mattie, Summit Ave.), Black Squirrel Distillery (co-founder Matthew Pelkey, Woodward Ave.) and Buffalo Stories LLC (owner Steve Cichon, Parkside Ave.) are joining together on Wednesday, December 16, at The PM, 2 Russell Street, for a Black Squirrel tasting and book signing by Cichon.

Buy one of his books, he'll buy you a beer! The signing at The Parkside Meadow on Wednesday, December 16th, will be Cichon's only time Cichon signs his five books this December.
Buy one of his books, he’ll buy you a beer! The signing at The Parkside Meadow on Wednesday, December 16th, will be Cichon’s only time Cichon signs his five books this December.

The warm “everyone knows ya” feeling of a corner gin mill and the selection of locally brewed beers on tap at The Parkside Meadow make it a great place for a couple of local boys to make their locally produced wares available as Christmas presents.

Pelkey will be lining up cocktail samples and special holiday gift packs from the spirit distilled a few blocks away on Elmwood Avenue starting at 6pm in the Parkside Meadow. Cichon will have his 5 Buffalo history books– including local volumes “The Complete History of Parkside” and ” St. Mark Parish: The Loving Legacy of Msgr. Francis Braun and Sr. Jeanne Eberle”– available along with his promise that if you buy one of his books that night, he’ll buy you a beer.

Mathew Pelkey will be offering Black Squirrel samples and gift packs.
Mathew Pelkey will be offering Black Squirrel samples and gift packs.

You also have the chance to give the gift of a great Parkside meal– that night and anytime, Parkside Meadow gift certificates are available in any denomination. The Parkside Meadow is quickly becoming the meeting place for folks in our part of North Buffalo– and there’s never been a better reason to stop by than to enjoy Black Squirrel samples and “buy a book, I’ll buy you a beer.”

Thanking dad for McCartney’s Buffalo show

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

It’s not unusual for dads to pass on their love of sports teams to their sons. It’s easy to see how it happens when a boy sees and gets caught up in his ol’man’s borderline religious fanatic devotion to not only games, but talking about and thinking about and clearly loving a team even when they aren’t on the field.

This is the way I became a Beatles fan. Our house was always filled with Beatles 8-tracks and albums with STEVE crawled in the sloppy ballpoint pen work of my ol’man. There were also albums from John, Paul, and George’s solo careers. Dad never owned a Ringo solo record, but he did name his last dog Ringo after Sir Richard Starkey, so I think it’s even.

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The ol’man, listening to 8-tracks, somewhere in Asia as a Marine. I’d be willing to bet that’s a Beatles 8-track in there…

Before I say what I’m about to say, let me first flatly state there was nothing “cute” about my ol’man. The guy was a tattooed Marine. But looking back, dad’s devotion to this band was really almost cute. Seeing him sing (terribly, of course) or talk or even think about The Beatles offered us all a glimpse at what he must have been like watching John, Paul, George, and Ringo on Ed Sullivan for the first time when he was 13.

The clichéd notion of the cranky Vietnam era disabled vet might include an abhorrence of computers– but such wasn’t the case for my ol’man. He quickly realized that the online world offered him two amazing things– an unending supply of used cars for sale and an unquenchable supply of new Beatles facts, ideas, and photos. This meant at any given moment, any conversation could quickly turn to “There’s a great little Caddy in Ohio– only three grand!” or “Did you know John’s dad played the banjo?”

As sons often do, over the last 38 years, I’ve developed and nurtured my own love and appreciation for that which my ol’man had such a devotion. For my ninth birthday in 1986, I got a Walkman. (For the record, it was a knockoff GE cassette player from Brand Names, but it was a Walkman, dammit.) Anyway, for another present, my uncle took me to Gold Circle to pick out a couple cassette tapes to listen to on my sleek new machine. Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, The White Album. I was able to get an extra one because the older Beatles cassettes were cheaper than Guns N Roses or Huey Lewis and The News.

For the roughly 15 years that CDs were my music delivery method of choice in my car, Paul McCartney’s “All the Best” greatest hits album is the only one I ever had to replace– I wore it out playing it so much.

Dad never got to see any of the Beatles live. A few years before he died, my mom took the ol’man to see the Beatles tribute band Rain at Shea’s Buffalo. The way mom describes it, it might as well have been the actual guys up there the way dad was enjoying himself.

When I heard Paul McCartney was coming to Toronto, I was going. It was deeper than “really wanting to go,” it was about being in the presence of someone who has brought me untold joy from the moment of my birth. It was being in the presence of someone who helped bring so much light into the often dark life of my ol’man. It was fulfilling the wish, hope and desire that filled the last 47 years of dad’s life– to see a Beatle live.

Then the Buffalo date was announced. My sweet wife signed up for the chance to buy presale tickets online as a birthday present. A half-hour’s worth of refreshing a clogged webpage finally hit pay dirt with a pair of seats available. I would have been happy with nosebleeds, but the robot living in Paul McCartney’s computer only offered us floor seats. I cashed in my 401k, and got ready to see Paul McCartney.

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Steve and Monica outside First Niagara Center, October 22, 2015.

What a show. Three hours’ worth of mostly Beatles tunes, with some great Wings stuff, and pretty good brand new music as well. Every single song sounded like we would expect it to sound, as it did on the album. McCartney is not bored with the music that made him famous and brought us all such joy for the last half century.  The only exceptions were his ukulele version of “Something” as a tribute to George Harrison, and extra audience sing along choruses of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Na, Na, Na, NaNaNiNa.” There was also a heartfelt and stunning tribute to John Lennon, which he introduced by asking for an ovation for “John,” and then encouraging everyone to not hold back the things they want to tell people they love. (You can watch highlights of all of these in the video below.)

He displayed tremendous energy keeping up with our 40 and 50 year old memories of how he sounded on our car stereos on the way to the concert. His voice was there, and he played an instrument– his trademark bass, one of three or four guitars, organ, or piano– on every song. He didn’t take a single song off and hit a surprising number of notes when any of us would have given him a pass.

As you might expect, Paul was charming, too. His talking between songs wasn’t just canned stuff from every concert. He played off the crowds. He played off the signs. He looked like he was having fun.  After playing “Back in the USSR,” he told about his first time playing in Russia. Doing a pretty decent ’60s spy movie Russian accent, he told the story of the Russian defense minister who shook his hand and told him, “The first record I ever buy was Love Me Do.” He said another Russian official said he learned English from Beatles records, “so I say Hello. Goodbye.”

While singing “Lovely Rita,” introduced as “a song about a lady who used to write me a lot of tickets,” he gave the best commentary of the night with his face.  While schmaltzing though the lyric “sitting on the sofa with a sister or two…” he very briefly offered up the same comical pained face that your favorite uncle might give in telling a similar story of sitting on a couch between a couple of sisters before a date. It’s clear that Sir Paul had been on that couch.

There was also the extra-worldly. From the moment I heard McCartney was coming, I knew this show was going to be a convening with my dad’s soul. Seeing Paul McCartney, standing in front of me, singing the songs my dad taught me to love reduced me to tears too many times to count.  A few times it was more the images being flashed than the music– during Band on The Run, the big screen flashed that album’s cover. Instantly I was flashed back to sitting legs crossed in front of my parents’ record shelf, trying to decide which record to play (and probably scratch the hell out of– sorry!) next.

One resoundingly smiley moment came as Paul lead 18,000 people in “All Together Now,” a silly song from the silly Yellow Submarine album. Dad was the biggest Beatles fan out there, but he didn’t discuss Yellow Submarine. When I made copies of all my Beatles CDs for him, he told me to skip Yellow Submarine. I think I actually heard dad say, “ooOOooh geeeez” when McCartney started the song during the concert last night. Dad would have been happy, though, that Paul resoundingly made fun of the song, saying something along the lines of “it was one of my more intellectual moments.” Paul actually agrees with Dad. Somewhere, dad’s saying, “I told you that song was stupid.”

An amazing concert musically. Tying up loose ends for my ol’man. And thankfully, it was loud enough where no one had to listen to my singing– because there was a lot of it and it was terrible. Just another way my Beatles devotion is like father, like son.

Here is a 12:30 video with some highlights I recorded at the concert.

Quick snippets from his 3 hour show in Buffalo, NY, at First Niagara Center on 10/22/15. Beatles and Wings classics, talks about John Lennon, George Harrison, playing in Russia, and more. Wobbily shot from floor seats on an iPhone6s.

What Labor Day means for me and my family

Both of my grandpas typify what Labor Day is about.

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With my grandpas Jim Coyle (left) and Eddie Cichon (right), and Grandma Coyle and my beautiful bride on our wedding day in 2001. The more weddings I attend, the more grateful I am that I had three grandparents there on my wedding day.

Grandpa Coyle was poor, and I think it’s fair to say didn’t have many prospects, until his boss at the Boys Club helped get him an apprenticeship with the Glaziers Union. After years as a glass worker, he ran Local 660 for decades.

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That’s Grandpa Coyle, in the center, next to the sailor, with the checked jacket and the rip in the photo. He was a glazier– a glassworker– and eventually spent a couple decades as the funds administrator for the Glaziers Local 660. This is from c.1953.

Grandpa Cichon started as a laborer at National Aniline, but learned a trade to become a tinsmith. He put in 40 years there.

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Grandpa Cichon usually had no fewer than 3 or 4 jobs at a time, including regular work through the ticket takers and bet takers union at Memorial Auditorium, War Memorial Stadium/Rich Stadium, and Buffalo Raceway.

Both men’s willingness to work hard for better lives for themselves and their children is now also being enjoyed by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Sure, organized labor is about 40 hour, 5 day work weeks… But to me, it’s about building American families for generations.
Labor Day also makes me think of my time as a union member, when the company that owns Channel 4 locked out half of our NABET-25 bargaining unit.
Technicians (studio crew, engineers, master control operators) weren’t allowed to work through contract negotiations, while newsroom staff (producers, photographers, editors) were forced to work with (incompetent) replacement workers.

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As someone who has only ever wanted to show up and do my job, it was a time I’ll never forget– when the owners of Channel 4 wouldn’t let some of its hardest working, longest tenured employees come to work to provide for their families.
I don’t always agree with every union stance, but whenever I hear someone say unions are past their usefulness, I pray that they never learn first hand how useful a union can be.

The 1,000th look at critical, mundane: What BN Chronicles is all about

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Every week, I read a week’s worth of The Buffalo News from some gone-by year, looking for articles, photos, and ads that shed some interesting light on our past, help provide some clarity to our collective community memory of the great people, places, and institutions of Western New York, and help explain where we are now.

Western New York historian Steve Cichon combs through old editions of The Buffalo News to gather material for BN Chronicles. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)
Western New York historian Steve Cichon combs through old editions of The Buffalo News to gather material for BN Chronicles. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

This week, The News will publish my 1,000th BN Chronicles look into Buffalo’s past.

We are all excited and thankful about the renaissance Buffalo is currently enjoying, but I think projects like BN Chronicles help us to remember — even amid all that is new and exciting — what truly makes Buffalo unique.

Every place has history, but few places have so much, so varied, so unheralded history as Buffalo.

In a city like New York or Boston or Chicago, there is likely at least one college professor who is an expert on every fascinating facet of those cities’ past. Books have been written that tell the complete stories of nearly every neighborhood, group of people, and institution.

Here, we are playing 50 years of catch up. For a half-century, as a community, we had a general self-defeatist attitude thinking that if it had to do with Buffalo or its past, it was probably not worth thinking about or keeping.

Now we realize our strength is in a future planted firmly in and building upon our past. The way to build Buffalo’s future is to collect and codify its past making for a deeper, richer experience not only for us, but also for the newcomers to our city who arrive daily.

It is the big things and the little things. Buffalo was suffering from a sort of mass depression, and many of the great moments of our pop culture history limped away and vanished unnoticed. Now that the depression is lifted, we are wondering what became of the way we have lived our Buffalo lives over the last 50 or 60 years.

In the ’50s and ’60s, we steamrolled our past with good intentions, expecting our city of 600,000 people to grow to 2 million. We wanted to build roads and giant skyscrapers to be prepared. In the ’70s and ’80s, the hemorrhaging of industry, jobs, and people left us reeling and wondering if the last person leaving Buffalo would turn off the light. The ’90s and 2000s saw more people realizing our resilient and friendly people were our strength, and seeds were planted to show off our assets and bring people back.

As the writer of the BN Chronicles, I enjoy taking the opportunity to share the snapshots in time that help tell us the story of how we got to the place we are right now. How our industries wound up decimated. Why the waterfront, Buffalo schools and Peace Bridge have been difficult puzzles to solve for years. But also the good news. The men and women who believed in this city when few others did. The sometimes terrible, but certainly well-intentioned and hopeful development that took place through the years. The people and places who through it all kept Buffalo the wonderful blue-collar spirited community it remains today.

But along with the heavy lifting, come some of the stories of our lives that have been lost to time. We are able to look at the city where you could not walk more than two blocks without hitting a corner gin mill, a firebox, and a milk machine. Maybe we are reminded to tell our kids and grandkids that when we did well in school, we took our report cards to Loblaw’s to get a free day at Crystal Beach.

Whether it is the earth-shattering headlines or the warm and fuzzy “whatever-happened-tos,” it is more than just nostalgia. The most important piece of what happens in the stories of the BN Chronicles is taking a step back and seeing how all these vestiges of our past have shaped who we are today. It is what makes us in Buffalo unique, and each story told adds to the critical mass that is bringing new life to our community.


This first appeared at history.buffalonews.com.

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The K-Mart Radio Network was my favorite radio station

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

I was 11 when we moved to Orchard Park.

We lived within walking distance of Taffy’s, McDonald’s, and K-Mart, and when we were bored, we’d shake the couch cushions (or make a small raid on Dad’s change bowl) for a buck or two and head to one of those places to waste some time and get something to eat. I laugh at the thought of me at 11– ordering a small coffee and a hamburger at McDonald’s because it was something like $1.24.

When we had no money– or a lot of money– we’d go wander around K-Mart for hours. Never causing any trouble, just browsing and wishing… Toys, bikes, camping equipment, records, tapes, CDs, electronics, tools, books… We spent A LOT of time and most of our money in there.

The store was about where the Lowes and Tops now stand on Southwestern Blvd. It looked like the K-Mart in this video– But all the K-Marts built in the 70s looked like that.

This K-M-R-T jingle used to play incessantly on the PA at K-Mart… along with the big voiced announcer reading specials and always ending with “Thank you for shopping your Orchard Park K-Mart.”

I snagged this audio clip from this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t5TYw2bkOk

Parkside’s community activist and community mom, Ruth Lampe

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

 

Our community’s self-styled “Deputy Dog” and “Mother Hen” has succumbed after a long valiant fight against cancer.

Ruth Lampe was no-nonsense and tough as nails, but also loved her friends, family, and community with fierce and burning passion.

She was a force of nature and in a category all her own. Her style and sensibility was a beautifully complementary combination of Iowa farm girl, 1960’s style left-wing radical activist and motherly protector and influence to all who knew her.

In a society where most people like to meet and vote– or worse, just complain– when problems arise, Ruth roared and steamrolled for what she thought was right. And once she pushed her way to the front of an issue, she took command and was relentless and got things done.

After more than 40 years of community and civic activism in Parkside, she knew everyone– and knew most of their fathers, too. Widely accepted as speaking for the community and fair, her aggressive tactics were usually met with open arms by the powers that be– with the knowledge that having Ruth on your side was always a smart move.

But it wasn’t just about sweeping grand notions with Ruth– it was about sweeping up after events. And moving chairs. And helping at the ticket table. She was the sort of leader who lead by example every step of the way, and would never ask anyone to do something she hadn’t already done and wasn’t getting ready to do again.

All that is wonderful, but to really turn the rusty wheels of change– you inevitably rankle the comfortably accepting of the substandard or offensive.

You know Ruth Lampe was a hero by the number of people who wince– even decades later– at hearing her name. It may have happened during the city’s 1982 free paint program, but 33 years later, there are still those in Parkside who will snear, “Ruth Lampe made me paint my house.” She always made an impact. She sure did on me.

When my phone rang during lunch on two weeks ago yesterday, I smiled to see the name Ruth Lampe on the caller ID.

She’d been terminally ill with untreatable cancer, but I was thinking of how I’d been filled with joy when I saw a thin-but-healthy Ruth out on Hertel going to dinner with her husband David a couple weeks before. I was about to run up to say hi when a couple of little munchkins hop out of the car, too.

Selfishly, I stopped and enjoyed watching her be grandma from half a block away. I’m sure she would have enjoyed a hello and a hug, but I wasn’t going to intrude on grandkid time, and I really enjoyed seeing her in that element.

She looked great that day, and that was in my mind as I answered the phone.

With genuine excitement I hit the button and offered a “Hey Ruth!”

Without thinking, I followed with a “How are ya!” which I genuinely meant– but said without thinking given her battle.

My upfront question meant the call got right down to business. She talked about the next stage. Hospital beds at home, making final plans.

Ruth’s last great gift to those who love her is taking on the final project of her life with the bullheaded strength and tenacity she’s shown every project she’s ever undertaken. She was planning her own goodbye– one she knew was coming in a period of time that could be counted in days more than weeks or months.

It was a classic Ruth moment of organization– but of course it’s different. This isn’t fighting with mayors over stop signs or school boards looking for racial balance and equality in our neighborhood public school.

I don’t know that I ever heard this great woman resigned to anything– but she was calm, accepting, and willing to put her and her loved ones into the hands of the Lord. The peaceful beauty and dignity with which she faced this grand struggle is awe inspiring.

This final battle is for everything. We want to help, just like with every other battle we’ve joined her for– but no letters to the editor or picket carrying can help.

We always say, “Anything I can do,” which is always true. But I think we say it more to help ourselves through the thought of someone else’s pain. Someone in Ruth’s situation really doesn’t want to be handing out jobs, you know?

So, I’ve tried not to say that. Ruth and her husband David know it’s true– anything– but I try not to say it.

What I’ve tried to do, since back pain turned to cancer turned to just a matter of time, is just remind them both in little, hopefully unobtrusive ways that I love them both very much.

There are no more cliches. Just what’s real. What else can you really do but love and pray and answer the phone when it rings?

Which it did during lunch on a Friday two weeks ago.

And Ruth asked me to be a pall bearer. At her own funeral. Taking what she could off the plate of her soon to be grieving and devastated family, by fighting and loving the best way she knew how— by doing.

I have little right to be emotional as this incredible woman powered through what was the start of her final two weeks among us, but I can’t help but be moved to tears by the thought of it. This woman, our neighborhood queen and sheriff and mother asked me to do the honor of presenting her earthly remains to her friends and to her church and to their final resting place…. That someone who has meant so much to me as a civic leader, as a mentor, as a cage-rattling compatriot, as a friend– can even think of me at all as the sun sets on her beautiful life, but that she would so powerfully and personally offer me this honor leaves me just without words… Other than…

I love you, Ruth. The many many many of us you’ve touched, we all love you.

And we’ve all learned from you. The trail you’ve blazed in fighting for what’s right won’t grow cold so long as I’m here to battle forward with the gifts of knowledge and strength you’ve given us all.

The spirit you’ve kindled lives on… and doesn’t show any signs of letting up.

Looking back at Buffalo through matchbooks

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

 

Today, marketing is a highly skilled and nuanced mix of artistry and science. It wasn’t so long ago that the most thought that most businessmen would give marketing is making sure people leave their business with a pack of matches with the business name on them.

 

Everybody smoked. Every business sold cigarettes. Everybody had a pack of matches in their pocket, and if they didn’t– they needed one. Everyone handing out matches was a win-win.

Matchbooks eventually became more that just a means for lighting a butt.

People might hold on to colorful, fun, or borderline pornographic (from a 1950s sensibility) matchbooks. Some became souvenirs of visiting a restaurant or a city.

Matchbook collecting became a serious hobby for many through the second half of the twentieth century.

eBay seller uniqueanteek has recently posted over 12,000 matchbook covers for auction, several dozen of which are from Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and the immediate area.

Especially for some of the smallest businesses, like neighborhood grocery stores, corner taverns, and storefront restaurants, these matchbooks are the sole surviving proof that these businesses ever existed.

Most of these matchbook covers date from the 40s and 50s, with a few as late as the 70s or early 80s.

Enjoy this unique, broad look at Buffalo’s pop culture history through the matchbook covers of uniqueanteek, and if the spirit moves you, head over to any of uniqueanteek’s auctions, and pick up one of these or any of the thousands of cool covers listed for sale.

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If you have anything to share about any of these places, drop me an email: steve@buffalostories.com

 

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Marker’s Gay Way was at 1321 Broadway.
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Link’s Tavern 2715 Seneca St stood where I-90 crosses over Seneca near Harlem.
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The Hotel Graystone on South Johnson Park was recently renovated into luxury apartments.
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Jew Murphy’s Steel bar at 369 Pearl St stood in a spot now occupied by The Key Towers.


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Teddy’s Beauty Shoppe, 3173 Main St. Today the spot is Slice of Italy pizza, next door to The Lake Effect Diner.
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Salemi’s Club Rainbow was on Court St. behind Buffalo City Hall. The burlesque style entertainment was accompanied by 25¢ spaghetti plates.
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Laube’s Cafeterias were all over Buffalo and “famous for food,” but the name “Laube’s” lives on in reference to “Laube’s Old Spain,” which outlasted the cafeterias for decades.
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Curt’s Stop Inn , 1341 Kensington Ave. It’s still a bar, and still has a stop sign on the front– No word on Curt.
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Pop & Freddie’s Call’s Grill, 140 Forest Ave. between West and Grant on the West Side.

 

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Before there was Lombardo’s, there was Tommy’s Tavern– Tom Lombardo, proprietor– Michigan Avenue at East Utica.
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Arkansas Bar & Lounge, 12 Grant Street. Stood where Rite Aid now stands near the corner of Hampshire.
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The Friendly Inn, 844 Washington, looks like it would have been the corner of Washington and Virginia, one block west of Ulbrich’s.
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Style Beauty Salon, 108 York St, at the corner of 17th on the West Side, about a block from Kleinhans
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Casa Di Amici, 1066 Abbott Rd, South Buffalo. Now a doctor’s office at the corner of Carlyle.
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Carrot Top Inn, 222 Katherine St, Old First Ward. at Hamburg St, today it’s Cook’s Bar & Grill
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Little Harlem Hotel, Michigan Ave. One of Buffalo’s most famous/infamous jazz nightspots.
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Tudor Arms Hotel, 354 Franklin St. Now apartments, half a block south of Edward.
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Ryan’s Hotel Niagara, on Niagara St. near Niagara Square, was known in the 1950s as one of the first places in Buffalo known as a “gay bar.”
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Ricardo’s Steak House & Lounge, 252 Delaware Ave. Was located in the recently demolished Delaware Court building at Delaware and Chippewa.
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Western Auto, 1393 Seneca St., was located about where I-190 crosses over Seneca near Bailey.
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Bison brand sausage. Also the makers of Buffalo’s classic Bison Dip.
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The Park Lane at Gates Circle. One of Buffalo’s most elegant dining experiences for generations.
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Mure’s Campus Restaurant, 1110 Elmwood Ave., home for decades to Mister Goodbar.
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Merry time Restaurant & Lounge, 305 Oak St. Located about where Oak, Huron, Sycamore meet, one block east of the Electric building.
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Leonardo’s Tasty Italian America food,                   386 Pearl St., just south of Chippewa. The site is now a parking ramp.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jay’s Catering, 1257 Genesee St. Two blocks north of MLK Park. Now a vacant lot.
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Maroon Grill, 382 Pearl St., same block as Jew Murphy’s and Leonardo’s, just south of Chippewa.
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The longtime home of Theo Phillies’ Chippewa Liquor Store, 86 West Chippewa St. is now the home of the Emerson School of Hospitality (and one of the best lunch deals in Buffalo.)
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Sterns Electric Equipment, 66 Broadway, near Broadway and Oak.
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Kam Wing Law Chinese Restaurant, 433 Michigan Avenue. Michigan near William
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Kenney’s Hotel and Grill, 605 Michigan Avenue. Michigan Ave at Sycamore

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Looking for help in piecing together Dad’s USMC service

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Since I can’t find the appropriate venue in which to ask these questions, I’ll ask them here– and ask people to share this around so that I might get some answers for my family and me.

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The ol’man having a smoke and wearing flip-flops, but no ribbons to help me identify his proper service awards.

In 1973, my father, an E-4, was honorably discharged from the USMC after 3 years 4 months 20 days of service because of physical disability. He spent time stationed in Camp Lejeune, Cuba, Panama, Okinawa and finally, Walter Reed before going home.

My dad always said he had three ribbons on his uniform as a Marine. His official transcript lists only The National Service Medal– but it also shows he qualified for the Good Conduct medal which wasn’t listed (It was one Dad said he got– but they just gave everyone who hung around long enough.)

The third one is a bit of a mystery. He talked about receiving some decoration after Nuclear/ Biological/ Chemical Warfare School (or maybe for some use of that training). The schooling is listed, but the award isn’t.

Does this sound plausible to anyone who’d know? What award might they have given for N/B/C training (or excellence in N/B/C training… or excellence in use of N/B/C training skills) in USMC in 1970?

The only medal listed on the ol'man's DD-214-- The National Defense Service Medal.
The only medal listed on the ol’man’s DD-214– The National Defense Service Medal.

Also, dad talked about being trained in parachuting… and also training others in the use of parachutes. Again, not mentioned on his DD-214… nor is his rifle expert badge, which he talked about proudly. Having been trained in parachuting, that would have qualified him for the parachuting badge, right?

Anyone know someone who might know these answers if you don’t? Internet research is vague and non-specific here, especially since I’m not entirely sure what I’m asking.

I’m also quite positive that “official channels” won’t offer many answers– I’d just like to ask these questions of someone who might have a good idea of what the truth is, regardless of the form that was filled out hastily and improperly 42 years ago.

Dad’s DD-214 is clearly incomplete– all he left the Marines with was the uniform on his back. All of his belongings were stolen when he was transferred from a base hospital to Walter Reed, from where he was honorably discharged. Because he was sick, he was never given the chance to review or sign his separation papers.

unsigned dd214
His separation papers, Form DD-214, was completed using whatever scarce information they had on Dad, at a hospital far from his unit and far from his belongings. He was so sick, he was unable to sign (and more importantly, verify all the information on the form.)

This is all to say, he never bothered trying to amend his records because he had no proof. His paperwork and medals were stolen with his camera, stereo, 8-tracks, and uniforms.

I’m not looking to amend his records– just for the ability to pay proper respect to his military service, and remember him for the commendations he actually received.

Dad-Marine-editThe few photos of him during his time in the Marine Corps don’t show him in regulation uniform— except his boot camp dress blues head shot, which was taken before any of the awards would have been earned.

He was proud of serving his country, but like many who did so, he didn’t like to talk about it much. I wish I had pressed a tiny bit more or taken better notes through the years.

Please feel free to email me with any insight– steve@buffalostories.com. Thanks.

Mom’s good scissors

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

When we were growing up, my mom was generally pretty steady and even keeled. Under almost every circumstance, she was very difficult to rile.

Unless you touched her scissors.

Sadly, in retrospect, it was a line we crossed regularly with laughter and impunity– we the other heartless bastards of her family.

Poor mom had very little to herself. By the time she graduated grammar school, she had six brothers and sisters. She married at 20 and had three kids by 26.

In all that time, as far as I can tell, the only gosh-darned thing she ever wanted for herself were those scissors.

Now we had scissors all over the house, at least half-a-dozen of those severe heavy steel ones with black handles.

The problem was that each of these pairs of scissors– with the gloss black painted handles– had issues. There wasn’t a perfect pair among them.

Some were dull, some had a loose pivot screw, some had tips broken off. None could zip quickly up wrapping paper like Mom’s could.

In our house, it seemed the best course of action for any cutting need was to rip out a piece of mom’s heart– and rip off her scissors.

These babies were beautiful.

fays measuring cup
The fact that I could find a photo of this exact obscure Fay’s Drugs glass measuring cup online  means that almost everything is on the internet.

Not just merely scissors, these were shears– orange handled shears– sticking out among the pens, pencils, and Emory boards in a Fay’s Drugs measuring cup on mom’s nightstand.

Of course, mom was well within her rights to be so protective.

We were like wild Neanderthals, just barely able to understand the proper use of a crude axe, and this pair of scissors was the precision tool of a seamstress, meant to be used with delicate cloth and thread.

While I’m still not convinced, that as Mom said, “Cutting paper with them will ruin them!”– I do know that something terrible happened to every other pair of scissors in the house to render them somehow useless, and she had every right to be concerned about the future of her scissors in our hands.

For one, my dad had no handyman sense, and it would have been completely plausible that he could have ruined these scissors trying to fix the lawnmower or a leaky drain with them.

Us kids inherited our ol’man’s lack of differentiation of tools, and any of us might have used the scissors to carve a point on a stick or to cut open a pop can like the guy on the Ginzu commercials.

ginzu can

Of course, we’d laugh and laugh when mom would lose her mind over HER scissors… but it’s understandable now, for sure.

Especially when my wife grabs for the kitchen shears out of the knife block to clip coupons.

Even when I hold my tongue, my blood pressure still rises because that’s what we bought those dollar store scissors for– clipping coupons.

It’s pretty much an incontrovertible fact that kitchen shears– meant for food prep stuff– are ruined by coupon clipping.

Just ask my mom.

What Van Miller meant to me

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

I’ve been grappling with what to say about Van Miller.

Steve and Van
Steve and Van, 2007

You don’t need a biography– Everyone knows, or at least confidently suspects, that he was the greatest broadcaster and entertainer to ever make a career in Buffalo.

Most people also know that he was a great story teller. I spent about 20 hours with Van after he retired from TV, recording all his stories getting ready to write a book that never happened. I still have those studio quality tapes– But maybe another day.

For me, when I think about Van, the Bills and the broadcasting– well, that’s only the half of it– as he used to say after two quarters of football.

I generally like to write about a person and their accomplishments and what they maybe should mean to you from a historical perspective. I just can’t with Van.

What I’m about to write is as much about me as it is Van, because I just don’t know how else to say any of this without making it personal.

That is to say (to stick an Ottoism in a Van piece), for as talented and amazing Van was as a personality— he was was never satisfied until he squeezed out every last bit of himself for every single person who watched and listened during his five decades in broadcasting.

I was 16 or so when I was working at WBEN and Van Miller became my friend. Really. My pal. I was working on the Bills broadcasts on the radio for a while before I became “The Game Day Producer” of the radio play-by-play. Van liked people who liked him, and I sure did like him.

steve cichon_van_miller
Van and Steve, Channel 4 sports office, 1998

He’d come down from the TV end of 2077 Elmwood Avenue and hang out with some mix of Chris Parker, Randy Bushover, Howard Simon, Rick Maloney and me in the WBEN Radio sports office, and those few minutes were always the highlight of each of our days.

Van knew that, and he liked it. Lived off it, I think. He knew the power he had in “just being himself” among people, and smiling and having a good time. And telling mildly off color jokes. And whispering swear words.

One of my occasional jobs back in those days was recording the religious and public affairs shows that would playback at 5 or 6am on Sunday mornings.

One day, with me at the controls and several Protestant ministers on the other side of the glass, Van came in, holding a pen and a reporters’ notebook, looking very serious. He importantly scrawled something on a sheet, ripped it off with a flourish, folded it and left it just out of my reach as he walked away quickly.

I rolled the chair back, opened the note and read:

Stevie, Those Protestants don’t know shit about bingo. -Van

He didn’t didn’t harbor any ill-will towards those men of God, he just wanted to make me laugh. At any cost. And I did. I’m also pretty sure that he was hoping that one of them would ask afterwards, “Ooh! What did Van Miller want! It looked very important!”

This was the highlight of my career up until that point, and still remains in the top 5. If my career ended that day, I’d have the story of the great Van Miller giving me a note mentioning shit and bingo. I loved it. And he knew it.

Van wasn’t just like this with me, he was like this with literally everyone he encountered. He loved that people loved him, and he loved them right back. He loved making tiny bits of trouble that he could always smooth out if it came to it, and he loved making personal connections with people. All kinds of people.

Every person.

My grandpa was a ticket taker at The Aud, and Van used to come through his door. He always said Van was the nicest VIP who’d walk through in his fur coat. He was generally beloved by all the technicians at Channel 4– no small feat for a one of “the big stars.” He treated the floor guys in the studio the same way he treated all the hundreds of athletes he’d dealt with over 50 years– with a friendly smile and with respect.

When I was working with Van at Channel 4, there was a severely handicapped guy named Stewart who used to call the sports office everyday with the same question… “What’s in sports today?”

I tried to be nice, but sometimes in the throes of deadlines and scripts to write and packages to edit and highlights to cut, it was easy for any of us to be short with Stewart– especially since no matter what we said, he’d mutter, “ok” and hang up the phone.

When Van picked up the phone, he did a fully embellished sportscast for good ol’Stewart.

“Well let me tell you,” he’d shout, in more of his Bills gameday voice than his Channel 4 voice, “The boys were practicing down at Sabreland today, and Wow! Did Pat LaFontaine’s knee look great— I think he’s getting ready to come back by the time the team skates in Hartford on Saturday. The Bills brought in three free agent linebackers today– trying to put the squeeze on negoatiations with Cornelius Bennett today… and a pair of hoemruns for Donnie Baseball today— Don Mattingly 3 for 3 as the Yankees destroyed the Red Sox 7 to 3. Rain stopped play at the Mercedes open… Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg will pick up their tied match right there tomorrow.”

He’d usually end the call with some silly rhyme or play on words or pun– something so bad he wouldn’t use it on the air.

“But I tell you what— the thunder clang won’t stop Chang… he looked like dynamite today— I’m predicting he wins the tournament handily.”

This was really almost daily. We’d all be laughing, Van smiling, and Stewart getting a daily dose of sports news. I don’t think anyone missed Van when he retired from TV more than Stewart.

Van loved being Van, and loved that other people loved him being Van. I learned that from him. Have fun being who you are– and enjoy other people enjoying it.

I owe a lot to Van Miller. I owe those memories, I owe much of my early career. I would have never been plugged in as the Bills Football producer on WBEN or hired as a producer at Channel 4 at the age of 19 without the backing of my Uncle Van.

And needless to say, Van Miller saying my name 427 or so times every week during Bills games in the ’90s made me a rock star at in high school. It made me a rock star in my family. No one was really clear on what I did at the radio station, but it sounded like Van Miller personally appreciated it– so it must be great!

I was special to Van– because everyone was special to Van. It’s a great gift Uncle Van gave to thousands of “nieces” and “nephews” through the years…

I think all of our lives have lost something with him gone. Despite the fact that I spend a lot of time celebrating institutions and people of the past– I am very rarely personally stirred by nostalgia. I find the past and how it relates to the present and future infinitely interesting, and even when I miss something, I rarely yearn for it.

But with that said, from inside my bones, I yearn for Van at one o’clock on crisp fall Sundays. I really love Murph– but the fact that it’s not Van has made it pretty easy to fall a bit away from Bills fandom as the team has declined. So much of what I loved about the Bills and football was the intangible greatness that Van brought to the play-by-play.

Tears are welling in my eyes thinking this could be the team… this could be the year.

Because I’m a Bills fan, I have no idea how great a Superbowl win feels. I do know, however, that it will never feel quite as good as it would with Van’s voice box popping out of his throat telling us the long wait is over.

wivb50th54

 

After a decade, we want dangerous Parkside Avenue fixed NOW

#fixflorenceintersection

After a decade and a half of band-aid fixes and half-met promises to correct serious structural and design flaws on Parkside Avenue near Florence, another promised completion date will come and go.

Residents are hopeful– but not entirely confident– that a soon-to-be unveiled plan will address concerns that neighbors have been advocating to see fixed for almost 40 years.

IMG_7147

Promised work was slated to be ending now, but residents are only seeing preliminary plans for the first time this week.

It means another year where the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and residents is left in question by a slow moving bureaucracy which apparently needs reminders like this to act before tragedy strikes again.

This video, written and narrated by Parkside resident Steve Cichon, shows 40 of IMG_5107the hundreds of auto accident photos he’s taken within a block of his home near the corner of Parkside and Florence. The images come from 12 of many dozen different incidents over the last 15 years.

“I’ve pulled people out of smoking cars, I’ve played firefighter trying to stop flames from a car on my lawn from hitting my house,” Cichon says.

Kids on Bikes June 2015“My biggest fear, though, is that after being stunned into action by the horrific sound of an accident– that I might run outside to find someone who is beyond my help,” says Cichon. “People thought I was being melodramatic until the tragedy just up from Parkside on Ring Road. We all want this fixed before this, too, becomes a sorrowful ‘I told you so.'”

While Steve is lives at the center of the problem, he’s not alone in wanting it fixed. He’s also not alone in being ready to maintain awareness to make sure that happens.

Video text:
You might hear me joke around saying “stay off my lawn,” but too often there’s nothing funny about it.
 
The City of Buffalo has a responsibility to make sure that the problems which have led to the torrent of cars, into the dozens, driving across my lawn comes to an end.
IMG_2896
 
The city’s own studies and own engineers have found Parkside Avenue as it approaches Florence– with its extreme undulations, extreme banking, and extreme curve– to be dangerous and unsafe. All this, while the city continues to sit on the federal monies awarded to fix the problem.
 
For the 15 years my wife and I have lived at Parkside and Florence, we have been chronicling the problems and watching them get worse as we advocate for a solution. As much as the accidents and traffic give me a headache, my concern is for the families trying to traverse danger to enjoy the park, and even for for the bad drivers I’ve seen hauled off in ambulances close to death on too many occasions.
 
Yes, the bad drivers who’ve totaled two of my cars (parked “safely” in my driveway) have been varying degrees of young and stupid, drunk and high, and just plain distracted.
 
But those same sorts of drivers sloppily plow down your street everyday. When is the last time a car burst into flames on your lawn?
car on fire on the lawn Aug 2014
 
These bad drivers are made exceedingly dangerous by a road that the city admits really isn’t too safe. They have received a federal grant to fix it. What the hell are they waiting for?
IMG_2375
Resources:
Buffalo News, June 14, 2013: Seeking to slow down Parkside speeders
Buffalo News, Nov. 2, 2011:   Living on a curve fraught with danger
Buffalo News, Nov. 4, 2011:   Residents have a right to a solution
Buffalo News, Dec. 31, 2005:  Parkside Intersection a hazard
Buffalo News, June 9, 2005:   Residents say Parkside is a speed zone
2005 article from the Buffalo Rocket
rocketjun05
1976 Buffalo News article:
Parkside and florence protest
Contact: Steve Cichon 716-479-3173

Summer camp early morning swimming lessons felt like death

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Something about the damp crispness of this morning made me think of summer camp as a 3rd and 4th grader– and the year when we had swimming lessons in the lake first thing in the morning. The memory comes with a smile, but can’t shake the chill.

It was under the direction of the day camp’s fine 15- 17 year old counselors that I really learned how to swear. My language and discourse became so vile and curse laden there at the age of 8 or 9 that there was no turning back. My pal Jarin and I also became best friends as we skipped tennis lessons to sit in the woods and read aloud from The Truly Tasteless Joke book; memorizing and laughing at jokes we surely didn’t understand— but we knew sounded really adult and dirty.

Had it not been for summer camp, I might have stayed on the straight and narrow and become something important or won a Nobel Prize.  Instead, I can use the eff-word as at least nine different parts of speech and can tell you a litany of ethnic jokes so politically incorrect that I’m surprised I’m not being arrested for even thinking them.

And while I’m comfortable in the water and can move around OK, I still, after three summers, can’t really swim.

The 1930s South Buffalo vehicular tragedies in my family tree

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

I don’t think we always realize how much better we live these days.

Both Grandpa and Grandma Cichon had little siblings killed when they were hit by cars on the streets of South Buffalo.

The Buffalo Evening News’ morbid coverage of Grandma Cichon’s little sister’s death is incredible. Mary Lou Scurr was about a year-and-a-half old when she was run over while playing in a toy car in the street.

marylou1

marylou2This photo was on the front page, above the fold, May, 1935. Grandma’s little brother Gordon—who was only hours before a witness to the accident which caused the death of his little sister– posed next to the wreckage of the accident. Judging by the description of the scene, it’s fair to assume this mangled car had blood and possibly other remains of his baby sister in it.

Sadly, Gordon Scurr’s next appearance in the news was 11 years later, while in high school, he died of a rare glandular disorder.

gordon

Two years later, Grandpa Cichon’s little brother was killed in a similar fashion.

Roman (also called roman3Raymond) Cichon was five years old and fascinated with trucks. He liked to go to the junk yard at the corner of Fulton and Smith Streets in The Valley to see the trucks in action.

His big brother, my grandfather, used to take him there. The way he told it, while Gramps was stealing an apple off a neighbor’s tree, Raymond was “mangled” by a truck. That word “mangled” was one Gramps often used with us in the hundreds of times we crossed Seneca Street to go from his house to Cazenovia Park.

In his 88 year life, the death of Raymond may have been what caused him the most sadness; even worse in some ways than the unbearable loss of 4 of his own children. As he talked about it, I could feel his guilt in not being right there to save his little brother. His use of the word mangle is the only hint of what the scene looked like—but frankly it’s enough.

roman1 roman2

roman4

In the end, it certainly wasn’t Gramps’ fault– and the truck driver lost his license. Raymond was killed when that truck bolted onto the sidewalk ran him over.

He was buried at St. Stanislaus cemetery near where another baby Cichon, Czeslaw (aka Chester ) was buried after he died from cancer as a baby.

Great moments of childhood, now tinged with hate

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

The item that was “The Red Ryder b-b gun” of my youth has now been branded as hateful. When I rode my “Dukes of Hazzard” big wheel around the streets of South Buffalo as a 6 and 7 year old, the Dukes stood for what is right and wonderful in this world.

That's me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982
That’s me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982. Note the rebel flag sticker just above the shaking hands.

The Dukes always did the right things, for the right reasons, the right way. (Except maybe climbing into their car through the window without opening the door– Copying that move in our old AMC Spirit got me in trouble a few times.)

I don’t think I gave much thought to the “rebel flag” that was clearly a featured emblem on their car “The General Lee,” and also, as seen in this photo, clearly a part of my big wheel. I really hope you don’t find it racist that I still harbor warm feelings for my big wheel and my one-time favorite TV show (even though you couldn’t pay me to watch more than five minutes of it now– not because it’s racist, but because it’s dumb.)

Of course, in the years since cruising down Allegany Street in the saddle of my orange plastic pride and joy, I’ve given plenty of thought to the meaning of that flag.

First I’ll say seeing it fly makes me uncomfortable. But I’ll also say, I’m certain there are many who have displayed that flag who are not racist. I’m also certain that not everyone who has displayed the flag has done so with the thought of doing so as emblematic of racism or a racist culture.

I honestly and earnestly believe that the familiar rebel flag offers many folks a feeling of connection to ancestors and a sense of pride in history. But when you fly a flag… or put a bumper sticker on your car… you are allowing a symbol to represent you, and symbols always have nuanced meaning for every individual under the sun.

Many of us all have a visceral reaction and likely pass immediate judgement about people who put those place oval stickers on their cars. What might be true of someone who likes Key West? The Outer Banks? Ellicottville? How about a Yankees bumper sticker? Or a Vote Bush sticker? Or a Vote Obama sticker? How about MD physician plates on a Honda Civic? MD plates on a BMW SUV? A rubber scrotum hanging from the tow hitch?

It’s fair to say that each of these different instances will cause different reactions in each one of us. It’s also fair to say that each of these reactions were created by someone making a choice on how to present themselves in public.

Generally, I know my reaction to someone flaunting the rebel flag is a negative one. Regardless of what the symbol means to that person inside, I wonder how they c