Benny Goodman plays Buffalo (twice), 1938

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Looking back at a time 80 years ago– when Buffalo was big enough to have the biggest act in pop music here twice that year.

Read more and see photos of the visit:

Buffalo in the ’30s: Benny Goodman swings into Western New York

Benny Goodman plays at the Glen Park Casino, 1938.

 

Buffalo’s Great White Way

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s impossible to remember Downtown Buffalo in its prime without remembering the sparkling incandescent lights and glowing neon which brought the night time to life.
In the 40s and 50s, Main Street near Chippewa was aglow with what was described as “Buffalo’s great white way,” and the greatest display of dazzling and flashing marquees and signs between New York and Chicago.
Marquees for the Town Casino, Shea’s Buffalo, Paramount, and Cinema theatres; the big neon signs for Swiss Chalet, Laube’s Old Spain, and the Hippodrome. Many of those signs made by Flexlume,  which is still in business a bit further up Main Street.
There were Huge billboards for Chevrolet and Coca Cola with lights and motion, just like in Times Square, but comparisons to Time Square really started rolling in when the news started rolling in– or scrolling in– on the Western Savings Bank building.

Fun at the Drive-In, 60 years ago today

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re looking back at this date in Buffalo Drive in Movie history, June 7, 1958– 60 years ago today.
If you were heading to a movie at the drive-in today, these were your options according to the listings in the Courier-Express:

More on Buffalo Drive-Ins:

Torn-Down Tuesday: Delaware Drive-In, Knoche Road, 1963

Torn-down Tuesday: Seneca Mall and Park Drive-In, 1968

 

The assassination of Bobby Kennedy and his time in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It was 50 years ago today, only weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy died of gunshot wounds suffered moments after a victory speech celebrating a win in the California Primary…

As New York Senator, Bobby Kennedy spent plenty of time in Buffalo.

Robert Kennedy’s campaign car takes him through Buffalo’s East Side and up Broadway, 1964. The late Buffalo photographer Jack Tapson personally sent Senator Kennedy a copy of this photo. “I received a thank you note from Kennedy after fulfilling his request to send this photo and others….similar.”

Buffalo in the 60s: Robert Kennedy running for Senate; first stop: Buffalo

It wasn’t necessarily a “done deal” that U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy would be allowed to run for a U.S. Senate seat in New York. He was not a New York State resident and wasn’t registered to vote here; the state Democratic Committee had to give him permission to run.

On this day 50 years ago, September 1, 1964, state Democrats gave Bobby Kennedy the green light to enter the race for Senate, 10 months after the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

It was then quickly announced that Kennedy would begin his campaign for Senate at a rally at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo.

While Erie County Democratic Chairman Peter Crotty was one of the state power brokers who helped ensure Kennedy’s nomination, other local big-name Democrats, like Niagara Falls Mayor E. Dent Lackey, weren’t as impressed with Kennedy. Dent called the nomination an act of “extraordinary bad taste,” adding that a man from Massachusetts who doesn’t live in New York shouldn’t represent New York.

“The overwhelming defeat of Robert Kennedy in the November election would be the best thing that could happen to the Democratic machine in New York,” Lackey told The News.

“Bobby’s NY race OKd by committee”

“Mr. Kennedy in a two-day whirlwind campaign tour will also meet with the top leaders of business and labor and do a lot of handshaking with workers in industrial plants.”

 

FOUND, finally: A pic of Dad’s bar

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I found one of my holy grails today, although I didn’t immediately recognize it.

Elk & Smith, 1969

As soon as I saw it, I liked this photo immediately– lots of interesting things going on there– Old ambulances, old license plate, great old tavern sign, a church bingo sign, a grain elevator… When I flipped it over to read the caption on the back, my heart skipped a beat as it sank into my stomach. This is Elk and Smith Streets!

About ten years after this photo was snapped, my dad bought the bar that was called Ceil’s Grill when this photo was snapped. Spent a lot of time in this place as a tiny, tiny little boy… playing with the jukebox, pool table, shuffle bowling, and of course, the pop guns.

So with this, I finally have a photo of the exterior of my dad’s bar, which I’ve been looking for literally for decades.

That’s St. Stephen’s Church with the Bingo sign, and the Buffalo Malting Elevator (both currently under construction for reuse.)

Previously found on Facebook in 2016: an interior shot of Dad’s gin mill. “Not a great shot… but the place has only existed in my mind for more than 30 years. I remember the two guys shown— Rich McCarthy and Dick Lobaugh– from those days at the corner of Elk and Smith. Spent plenty of young childhood Saturday mornings spinning on those barstools, and getting bottles of Genesee out of the cooler for some of the guys who’d still be hanging around inside the bar when the sun came up.”

The bar burned to the ground in 1989, a few years after my dad sold it. It’s been a vacant lot ever since.

Necco wafers– and sweet childhood memories– safe at Vidler’s

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Either you love them or you hate them, but the thought of never eating a Necco wafer again was too much for many people around the country to bear.

When word that bankruptcy might mean the end of the line for Necco, there were some calling the reaction “The Great Necco Wafer Panic.”

“A lady came in and bought a hundred on them the day we found out that they were in trouble,” says Don Vidler, who has spent a lifetime on both sides of the candy counter at Vidler’s 5&10 in East Aurora.

from Vidler’s Facebook page

No matter how old you are, it’s tough to just walk by the candy counter just inside the front door under Vidler’s red awning.

“It’s certainly one of the main draws here,” says Vidler. “When people come in, it catches their eye right away, all the colors and the glass jars and everything.”

And for now anyway, it looks like rolls of Necco wafers will continue to be among those gleaming packages.

The future still isn’t certain– but it is brighter– after Spangler, a fourth-generation family-owned company and the maker of circus peanuts and Dum Dums lollipops had the winning bid of $18.8 million for Necco in a bankruptcy court proceeding last week.

Spangler has since said, however, that long-term plans for lines like Necco wafers haven’t been made yet. It might seem unimaginable that they’d go away, but it’s possible, says Vidler, who sees the disappointment in people’s eyes when they find out their favorites are no longer made.

“A lot of people want Clove or Black Jack gum. They don’t make those anymore,” says Vidler. Another candy with a huge following that is no longer manufactured– Sen Sen. There was a run on the red envelope of tiny licorice mints when production was stopped a few years ago.

The good news is, the shelves at Vidler’s seem to go on for miles with candy that we used to love, but just don’t see as much anymore. Things like butterscotch, peach stones, maple buns, and Choward’s Violet mints.

The Vidler family with the Vidler candy. from Vidler’s Facebook page

Just as Necco’s possible demise was a national news story, Buffalo was shaken by news of Vidler’s vintage popcorn machine running out of pop a few years back.

That’s no problem now.

“The popcorn machine is back up and running consistently, which is good,” says Vidler. “We’d have a riot in East Aurora if the popcorn machine’s not working. And Sandy the mechanical horse is still working, too. We had her retrofitted with a new saddle, all repaired and redone.”

The look of glee on the face of a kid on rocking on that horse, the smell the popcorn, the sound of the creaking wood floor… Just like all those penny candies which we once loved (and still do at Vidler’s), Vidler says there are some things you just can’t experience through a computer screen.

“I always tell people, you can’t experience Vidler’s online, you have to come here to see it.”

Torn-Down Tuesday: The Century Theatre and Harvey Weinstein

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

They pulled out all the stops.

One of the great actresses of the silent film era, Norma Talmadge was brought in amid a parading caravan of 25 touring cars when Marcus Loew of the Loew’s Theater chain threw open the doors of his 3,000-seat Century Theatre on Main Street between Mohawk and Genesee in 1921.

The movie house with a grand reputation passed through the hands of several icons of the Buffalo movie theater business. Michael Shea ran the place starting in 1928, and Nikitas Dipson took it over in 1939, along with the Basil Brothers.

By 1967, the movie house had “an image problem,” after “a gang of hoodlums” showed up to watch a twin-bill featuring biker movies.

When Aerosmith played at Harvey & Corky’s Century Theatre in 1975, they were unknown to the point where the band’s name was misspelled “Arrowsmith.” (Buffalo Stories archives)

“Taking their cue from the violence on the screen, they erupted in a blood-chilling manner, and the repercussions are still being felt,” reported the Courier-Express weeks after the incident.

The theater had been boarded up for some time when Harvey & Corky Productions took over the space as a concert venue in 1974.

“This structure will allow the audience to get into the music,” said Harvey & Corky principal Harvey Weinstein just before the venue reopened. “If people want to get on their chairs and dance, we’ll let them. We’ll treat the people like adults, not children.”

The space went on to host many legendary Harvey & Corky shows, but at a cost.

Even before Weinstein’s place in history was secured as the man whose misogynistic behavior inspired the #MeToo movement, his popularity in Buffalo was mixed at best. For decades, one of Weinstein’s biggest detractors has been former News Arts Editor Jeff Simon.

The marquee of the Century Theatre in 1974. (Buffalo Stories archives)

On more than one occasion, Simon talked of Weinstein’s having destroyed the Main Street landmark. In one 1997 piece, he wrote that Harvey and Corky “gutted and ruined the venerable old Century Theater.”

In 2012, The News’ Colin Dabkowski further expounded on a dislike for Weinstein and his mistreatment of the Century when he wrote, “And then Harvey and brother Bob compounded the crime in their film ‘Playing for Keeps’ by concocting a putrid demographic us-vs.-them fantasy about righteous big city youth trying to bring a rock ‘n’ roll hotel to a community full of sclerotic bumpkins.”

The Century, a block up from Hengerer’s, 1978. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1978, the Century Theatre met the wrecking ball after a balcony inside began swaying during a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and housing inspectors warned that another such show could turn deadly.

Some of the Buffalo-crafted Flexlume neon signs that graced the Century for generations wound up a few blocks away. The Century Grill on Pearl Street featured a sign from the theater while it was open, from 2003 to 2014.

While developer Rocco Termini proposed a “Century City Lofts” development project in 2007, the spot where the Century lobby once stood remains an open lot.

 

Remembering Buffalo’s Sacrifices: Memorial Day 2018

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Many of us are making plans for a three-day weekend, but in this run up to the Memorial Day weekend– we’re remembering the sacrifices made in Buffalo and by Buffalonians.


Striking a Memorial Day balance with the twin sister of a fallen soldier

On November 3, 2016, Andrew Byers, 30, a Captain with the Army’s airborne 10th Special Forces Group was killed in Afghanistan.

Capt. Andrew D. Byers.
09/02/1986 – 11/03/2016

“Gone are the days of Memorial Day as the start of summer and worrying about whose barbecue we’ll be going to,” says Lauren Byers, Captain Byers’ twin sister.

For Lauren and the Byers family, Memorial Day is now more than ever about striking a balance.

“I think we’re all looking for that thing to do to honor him, but also not be frustrated when you see all the commercials and ads that say ‘splash into summer’ or ‘Memorial Day Sale’ and not feel that twinge of pain, that that’s not really what Memorial Day is,” says Byers.

“How do you choose something that’s meaningful and balance that with knowing that your family member would want you to enjoy your time together as a family.”

A Memorial Day holiday might involved a chat about the Sabres for Andy Byers, whose love of the team followed him all around the world in service to our country. But that service is something Captain Byers knew he wanted to pursue from an early age.

“Even after he passed, we went to his office at Fort Carson, where he had a Sabres coffee mug on his desk,” says Lauren. “But he knew when he was 15 that he wanted to serve.”

It took her some time to accept her brother’s choice of career, but now Lauren looks on her brother’s service and ultimate sacrifice with a mix of pride, devastation, and working to keep the memory of her brother– and all fallen service people– alive.

“I think for Gold Star families, the challenge is two fold,” says Lauren. “We don’t want out family members to be forgotten. We don’ t the lives they lead to be forgotten. He would say, ‘If not me, then who?’ Someone needs to do this job. I am capable, I will be the one to do it.'”

What would Lauren like to see people do on Memorial Day? Just remembering those who’ve given their lives for our freedom– including her twin brother.

“People remembering them, the choice they made, and how they lived their lives– and giving them the respect that they are do.”


Remembering WNYers killed in Vietnam

We’re looking at one man’s quest to make sure the memories of the 532 Western New York service members killed in Vietnam live on.

Promises of peace came and went several times during the decades that American soldiers were in Vietnam… Peace was fleeting, too, for many if not most of the men and women who returned home from Southeast Asia.

“I just didn’t want these men and one woman to be forgotten,” says historian and Vietnam Veteran Pat Kavanagh, who started a huge project and labor of love started with the simple thought.

Pat Kavanagh and his research. Buffalo News photo

“Come hell or high water, I’m going to try to find all the original obituaries of those from Western New York killed in Vietnam,” says Kavanaugh of the through that sent him on his quest. “Right from the start, it just became very emotional.”

Kavanagh visited dozens of libraries and sent all around the country for microfilms, but the greatest effect was in leaving a small town library, and knowing this is place where this man who was killed in action once walked and made plans for a future which never came.

“I thought I was a hard guy, but after reading and copying these obituaries, I’d get into the car, and I’d pass the street where he lived. I’d pass the school where he went. I’m saying, ‘these guys are only 18 or 19 years old, and they’re dead.’ They’d been killed so far away from home,” says Kavanagh. “This is the least we can do for them.”

It’s been years since he started the project and Pat feels the collection with remembrances of 532 WNYers killed in Vietnam is as complete as it can be.

Read More: Pat’s  Information on all 532 veterans with direct ties to the eight counties of Western New York who were killed or died while on active duty in Vietnam  


Buffalo man’s story of surviving D-Day

The late Michael Accordino was a member of the 299th Combat Engineer Batallion on D-Day.

“For D-Day, we were munition men. We had to build the obstacles on the beach,” said then-Private Accordino in a 2011 interview. He and his mates were under heavy fire as they laid the way for infantry and artillery men to fight their way across and liberate Europe.

“There was a lot of firepower from the Germans up on the slope. Lots of machines guns, lots of mortars, lots of artillery as we were hitting the beach,” said Accordino. “We had to work in those conditions. One guy put it this way– imagine trying to mow your lawn, and your neighbor is throwing rocks at you. That’s what was happening to us.”

Accordino’s story is one of survival, but it’s a story he told often through the years so that people wouldn’t forget the sacrifice of the thousands who didn’t make it off of Omaha Beach.

 

The machine gun bullets were landing at my feet. I moved, and a guy raised his sights. He was going to get me, so I turned around and ran back to the obstacle. It wasn’t very big, maybe eight inches of protection.

I laid there, and to my right, there were these guys with a big spool of wire, and I wondered what they were doing with this wire.

They were about ten yards away from me, and I yelled over, “what are you guys doing there?”

All the sudden, they got hit. I seem them rolling, swaying back and forth. They got hit. I looked like someone threw a mortar in there.

I got up, I got the hell out of there, man. I got to the new line, and I just kept on doing my job.

–Michael Accordino, remembering the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944

Mr. Accordino was awarded the Purple Heart after receiving shrapnel wounds on the beach at Normandy. I spoke to him on D-Day in 2011. He died in 2012.


cannon

Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers

First, it’s the story of Buffalo’s own Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. 300 US Army volunteers, buried in a mass unmarked grave in the middle of what is now the Delaware Park Golf Course.

About 300 soldiers, who came to Buffalo to protect our national border during the War of 1812 and died of hunger and disease as they spent the winter of 1814 in tents in middle of what is now Delaware Park– but what was then America’s frontier.

In 1814, The Village of Buffaloe was described by one visitor as “a nest of villains, rogues, rescals, pickpockets, knaves, and extortioners.”

But it was volunteer soldiers from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania who’d marched to Buffalo to invade British Canada and defend Buffalo and Black Rock from invasion.

When winter came, they stayed. Wearing light summery uniforms and no winter boots, they lived in open ended tents. It was a particularly brutal winter, and food was slow to make it to the Camp at Buffalo, which was literally the end of the supply line. The food that did make it here was never enough and usually rancid.

Soldiers were dying up to ten a day, and with the ground frozen, the dead were first buried in shallow graves, then eventually just left in tents.

What was left of the army left Buffalo when spring came, but not before paying for three-hundred coffins and for two local men to bury the 300 dead– which they did, in what is now the Delaware Park Golf course.

They remain buried there to this day, a bolder in the middle of the golf course marks the spot where the 300 nameless, faceless men, who died here protecting our country, were laid to rest 204 years ago.

Their sacrifice was remembered this way when that boulder monument was dedicated in 1896:

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.

More: The Mound in the Meadow: Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns 


 

 

Wrestling at The Aud: from The Hulk to Gorgeous George

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hulk Hogan is going to be in Buffalo this weekend, and had some nice things to say about Buffalo Wrestling and the fans here. Steve Cichon has more from the Hulk and wrestling’s glory days in Buffalo.

Hulk Hogan is making an appearance at the Nickel City Con at the Convention Center this weekend, and he spoke with Mark Ciemcioch at The Buffalo News about his times in Buffalo.

He has great memories of wrestling in Buffalo, and like so many of us, Hulk Hogan has great memories of Memorial Auditorium.

Hogan traveled to Buffalo many times during his career, even having knee surgery here. He particularly enjoyed working the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium before it closed in 1996.

“I had some great matches in there,” Hogan said. “I’d hit people with a punch in the middle of that ring, and it sounded like a cannon would go off. The whole crowd would go along with it, (chanting) ‘Boom, boom!’ It’s a great wrestling crowd, a great city and a (I have) lot of fond memories of Buffalo.”

Hulk Hogan on ‘Hulkamaniacs,’ Buffalo and his biggest comeback yet

Wrestling, of course, goes way back in Buffalo– to big Friday Night sell out crowds through the 30s, 40s, and 50s, first at the old Broadway Auditorium (now “The Broadway Barns” and the home of Buffalo’s snowplows), and then Memorial Auditorium when it opened in 1940.

“This was a shirt and tie crowd,” said the late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, who remembered when Wrestling at the Aud was one of the biggest events in Buffalo.

“Not that many people had TV sets back then,” remembered Felser in 2001. “People were crowding into Sears and appliance stores to try to see this thing on TV, because the place was sold out.”

And with all those big crowds, there was no wrestler who could draw them in like Gorgeous George.

“When Gorgeous George would wrestle, they’d pack the Auditorium for this guy,” said Felser.

“The Human Orchid,” as George was known, was the first modern wrestler, said retired Channel 7 sports director Rick Azar, saying he “changed the face of professional wrestling forever.”

As someone who called himself “Hollywood’s perfumed and marcelled wrestling orchid,” it’s clear that George knew how to make sure he set himself apart.

“He had an atomizer, and he’d walk around the ring with perfume, supposedly fumigating his opponent’s corners,” said Felser, who also remembered his flair for marketing outside the ring.

“His valet drove him around in an open convertible around Lafayette Square, and he’s got a wad of one dollar bills, and he was throwing money to people. It was a show stopper. He landed on page one. TV was just in its infancy then, but they were all over it. It was like World War III. That’s how big a story it was.”

Gorgeous George is credited with ushering in the Bad Boy era of sports– and even inspired Muhammad Ali, who told a British interviewer, “he was telling people, ‘I am the prettiest wrestler, I am great. Look at my beautiful blond hair.’ I said, this is a good idea, and right away, I started saying, ‘I am the greatest!'”

See some photos of Gorgeous George and read more about his career:
Buffalo in the ’50s: ‘Gorgeous George’ arrives in Buffalo, perfumes his room
Buffalo in the ’50s: Gorgeous George brings showmanship to the Aud

Buffalo, 1913: Ike Slept Here

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s the kind of story that plays out even today, more than a hundred years later.

You’re a college kid getting ready to make the couple-hour trip home for Christmas, when you realize one of your football teammates isn’t going to be able to make the two day trip back home to be with his family—so you invite him home, knowing there’s always extra room at the table.

West Point football, mid-1910s.

A Buffalo version of this story happened in 1913 when Louis Byrne, a cadet and football player at West Point, invited his fellow cadet and football teammate Ike—Yes, that Ike– home for Christmas.

Byrne’s late father was Col. John Byrne—a former Buffalo Police Commissioner and Commandant of the Pan American Expo Police Force. As a somewhat prominent Buffalo family, their comings and goings were fodder for the society pages of the newspapers.

Col. John Byrne being driven around the Pan-Am Grounds.

Cadet Dwight D. Eisenhower’s visit to the Byrne residence on Summit Avenue in the Parkside neighborhood was written up in both The Buffalo Evening News and the Buffalo Morning Express.

Buffalo Evening News Society Page, 1913

Eisenhower’s next visit to Buffalo came 39 years later, when then-General Eisenhower made a speech in the run up to his election as President in 1952.

President Eisenhower in a Packard convertible at the Broadway Fillmore intersection, 1952.

In his later years, one of Byrne’s favorite stories involved bossing Eisenhower around at West Point. A version of the story even made a nationally distributed Associated Press article.

Louis T. Byrne was an upperclassman at West Point in 1914, and one day was giving a plebe a “going over.”

“I suppose you expect to become a general?” Byrnes asked.

“Yes, sir I do, sir,” replied Dwight D. Eisenhower, the plebe.

You can visit the House where Ike stayed… by the way… on this weekend’s Parkside Tour of Homes— It was later owned by Mathias Hens of Hens & Kelly fame.

More on the Tour of Homes: www.parksidebuffalo.org