With a little help from my friends….

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I was interviewed by The Buffalo News Editorial Board today. It’s difficult to know what to expect walking into such a meeting–so it was great to see two of my great friends and mentors staring at me from the wall behind the six questioners.

Two amazing writers, amazing men, amazing Buffalonians. Renaissance men who wrote about sports but wrote about community and life.

I learned so much from Larry Felser and Jim Kelley– and several times have wished to have their counsel as this race has gone on, and here they are–unexpected and unexpectedly together– on a day where I probably would have called for advice, chitchat, and some idea of what to expect.

Brilliant guys both. Both looking at me from photos on the wall of The News and from the heavens today… the same way they used to look at me through the glass in our radio days together.

In the chaos and uncertainty of a political campaign, unexpected moments of reflection and reminders of the incredible people who’ve helped put me where I am in life are spirtually gratifying and calming.

Thanks guys.

Elvis Presley’s death: Ch 4 Buffalo at WBEN Radio 8/17/77

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

From the Buffalo Stories archives: WBEN Radio paid music tribute to Elvis Presley in the hours following his death on August 17, 1977.

Speaking from WBEN Radio’s Studio A at 2077 Elmwood Avenue was then 93/WBEN DJ Chris Tyler. This piece appeared on WBEN-TV Channel 4 (now WIVB-TV.)

I garbage picked this and dozens of other tapes and films during a basement clean out at Channel 4 when I was a producer at the station in the late 90s.

From the Archives: Rick Jeanneret screams WOWIE HOUSLEY!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

On the day Phil Housley was named the Sabres Head Coach, a quick search for WOWIE HOUSLEY netted nothing… So I had to dig into the archives and post fresh it myself.

Sabres broadcast crew, Mid-80s, in the Memorial Auditorium Press Box. Mike Robitaille, Jim Lorentz, Rick Jeanneret, Ted Darling

Listen… as Rick Jeanneret calls a Phil Housley goal for the Buffalo Sabres in the 1988-89 season, with ROCK’EM SABRES setting the proper 1980s Sabres mood.

Audio and images from the Buffalo Stories Archives/Steve Cichon collection.

Audio Flashback: WBEN Newsweek, 1978

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

With the recent passing of Doug Smith, I was reminded of a piece of audio in the Buffalo Stories archives where he was featured as the Courier-Express Film Critic.

The recording is a half-hour feature called “Newsweek,” and was a collection of highlights from WBEN’s “Newsday at Noon.” This particular edition was from what sounds like the last week of 1978.

Doug is being interviewed by Lou Douglas, who also interviews Erie County Legislator William Pauly, Episcopal Bishop Harold Robinson, and Peggy Speranza of the Feingold Association.

The host of the half-hour is newsman Jim McLaughlin, and there is also a Stan Barron sports editorial at the 15:10 mark,

When I started working at WBEN in the early 1990s, running the pre-taped Newsweek– by then hosted by Tim Wenger– very early Sunday morning was one of my first jobs in radio.

 

January 28, 1977: 40 years ago today, a new identity for Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Maybe it was right up until January 27, 1977 that Buffalo was known as a blue collar town. A hardscrabble steel making town. A simple, shot-and-a-beer, look-a- guy-in-the-eye town. It was known as a place with long winters and a string of rotten luck— getting hit hard by the changes in the world through the 1970s.

You knew that OJ Simpson played football in Buffalo and Howdy Doody’s pal Buffalo Bob Smith was from there– but you probably didn’t know about chicken wings yet, because it was a 1980 article in the New Yorker that really put the Buffalo wing in the national spotlight.

Then, starting on January 28, 1977, Buffalo began appearing on the national TV news every night for weeks as the city dug out from The Blizzard of ’77.

Trains being loaded with snow to be taken south to melt, a week after the storm first hit.

The first question of Buffalonians at conventions or in airports was no longer about OJ or Niagara Falls or steel.

“Did the snow melt yet?”

It was always one of the things Buffalo was known for, but 40 years ago today, it became the thing.  Even losing four straight Super Bowls and having the longest playoff drought in major league sports hasn’t been able to shake the Blizzard of ’77’s  stranglehold on our national identity.

Here it is, 40 years later, and we’re just starting to wholly embrace this wintry identity which Mother Nature foisted on us, and hopefully making more and more people aware that making the best of the cold, snow, and ice is something we’re great at.

Buffalonians welcoming the world to our annual celebration of winter. (canalsidebuffalo.com photo)

Even though a few winters have really kicked us in the teeth, we sure know how to do winter in Buffalo.. and we even do the winters that have done us.

When the snow really wallops us, take care of each other and have fun. During the “Snowmegeddon” storm of 2014, firefighters carried a patient a mile up Abbott Road to Mercy Hospital. We also make beer fridges out of the snow drifts blown against our doors.

In the days following the Blizzard of ’77, both Tops and Bells ran ads telling Buffalo they had food left.

Having the Blizzard of ’77 notched in our belts makes us bad ass. We’ve seen the worst of it and know that we mostly survived. But our hearts often turn to those whose death in 1977 made us more careful as a people.

We’ll never forget the ten people who froze to death in their cars– their awful fate is our permanent warning.

We learned lessons of neighborliness and what it truly means to be a Buffalonian. One tragic example of a the kind of Buffalo guy we all strive to be was Officer Carl O. Reese.

Officer Reese worked for 25 straight hours at the beginning of the blizzard, pushing cars to get people on their way and bringing people stranded just south of downtown medicine and food, putting their health and comfort before his own. After more than a full day on his feet, he went back out to help free cars stuck on the Skyway.

Officer Reese collapsed of exhaustion and suffered a heart attack upon arriving home after that marathon shift– he was only 38 years old, and survived by a wife and small child.


From the pages of the Courier-Express: a day-by-day recap of the Blizzard of ’77:


Coming this week with BN Chronicles’ look back at The Blizzard of ’77:

Johnny Carson and how Buffalo became a permanent punchline:

More on Monday at BN Chronicles


Tuesday at BN Chronicles:

Separating the fact from the fiction:

A look at how the Buffalo Zoo made it through The Blizzard, which animals escaped and were caught, and which one animal escaped and was never heard from again.

 


A classic page updated with new information and photos:

Newspaper, radio & TV broadcasts bring the storm back to life…

See the front pages of the Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express, watch a full-half-hour broadcast of the WBEN-TV Channel 4 news, and listen to radio around the dial in Buffalo at the height of the Blizzard.

 


More Blizzard Memories:

[termposts]

 

 

Buffalo in the ’20s: YMCA branch was heart of black community

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Between the world wars, there was no greater unifier of Buffalo’s growing black population than the Michigan Avenue YMCA.

As late as 1920, unique circumstances made gathering as a community in a single space difficult. Overt racism made many civic gathering places, and most private ones, off limits. In other marginalized and immigrant communities within Buffalo, a place of worship also acted as a place of assembly for non-religious activities – but unlike the Irish, Polish, Italian and Jewish populations, there wasn’t necessarily a unifying current among the many different churches of the larger African-American community.

The organization of a YMCA branch specifically for Buffalo’s black men and boys started in 1924. By 1927, $225,000 had been raised and plans were drawn up for the building by John Edmonston Brent. He was one of the founding members of the branch, as well as Buffalo’s first black architect. Brent would go on to work for the City of Buffalo, where his design work remains on display, most notably along the gates and fences of the Buffalo Zoo.

On April 15, 1928, the new building was dedicated in “devotion to the uplift and advancement” of the 10,000 members of the black community it served.

Aside from the 20-by-60-foot swimming pool and gymnasium, the building boasted a barber shop in the basement, a lounge for men fronting Michigan Avenue, and a lounge for boys on the side of the building. The second floor was filled with classrooms, club rooms, a cafeteria and a women’s area. The third and fourth floors were dormitories with room for 70 men.

More than just a club, the Michigan Avenue YMCA became the heart of the community. Famous speakers, performers and human rights activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Count Basie and a young Jim Brown all visited the building.

William “Pops” Jackson (left) began running a YMCA program for Buffalo’s black population in 1923. He oversaw the building of the Michigan Avenue building. When he retired in 1947, he was widely acclaimed as the driving force behind the YMCA and much of the good happening in Buffalo’s black community. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Perhaps more importantly, the building was home to fostering ideas and a sense of purpose from within the black community out to the rest of Western New York.

Following the appointment of the Rev. D Ormond Walker, pastor of Bethel AME Church, to Buffalo’s War Council in 1944, Michigan Avenue YMCA chapter president A.J. Smitherman felt that the YMCA had helping bring people together. He spoke about it at a Y gathering that included the fire commissioner, the Democratic Party chairman and the president of Western Savings Bank.

“It is gratifying that our people and other groups may mingle at ease on terms of human brotherhood and friendship. That’s the kind of unity and brotherhood the world is seeking and it is Buffalo’s answer to those bigots who would raise the red flag of race hatred.”

The Michigan Avenue YMCA building was torn down in 1977; the site remains a vacant lot just south of Sycamore.

Buffalo in the ’50s: Neon signs along the Peace Bridge

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Lines at the Peace Bridge are nothing new, but the scenery has changed through the years.

Buffalo Stories archives

Even when the toll was a quarter and the most evasive question you’d be asked was “Where do you live?,” the backups still felt like forever after a weekend of fun at the cottage or on the Comet.

While the cars were queued up in the 1950s, they were bathed in the glow of neon.

Monstrous iconic signs from Texaco Gasoline and O’Keefe Ale and Old Vienna Beer greeted international travelers to and fro during an age when crossing the bridge was a friendlier and less intrusive experience.

As Texaco shouted “Welcome to Buffalo” in light, O’Keefe and OV advertised what were then two of the Dominion of Canada’s most popular beers. Old Vienna remained a blue-collar Buffalo favorite through the 1980s, with many taverns offering specials on OV splits — Old Vienna beer in 7-ounce bottles. An O’Keefe sign also graced the top of the Hancock Building in Niagara Falls.

Buffalo News archives

 

What It Looked Like Wednesday: Elmwood Avenue bridge, 1895

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Reconstruction of the Elmwood Avenue bridge over Route 198 is nearing completion after several years of work.

Elmwood Avenue looked a bit different in 1895 when the bridge was first built over Scajaquada Creek. The Buffalo State campus was farmland behind the “State Insane Asylum,” and none of the museums surrounding the bridge had been built yet.

This view looks north. In today’s terms, the photographer would be standing on the Buffalo State campus, and those trees on the other side of the bridge would be where the History Museum—built five years after this photo was taken for the Pan-American Exposition — now stands.

Buffalo Stories archives

Torn-Down Tuesday: The Elk Street Market

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Time and circumstance has nearly eliminated knowledge and memory of one of the city’s great institutions.

West Market Street, Elk Street Market. Buffalo Stories archives

In 1904, the Elk Street Market was “the largest fruit and garden truck market in the United States.” The traffic in commodities sold rivaled any similar market on the continent.

Buffalo Stories archives

The market’s size and success was attributed to so many of Buffalo’s immigrants holding onto centuries-old ways and their “adherence to village customs.” German, Italian, and Irish traditions played out all over the four-block long market that ran parallel to Michigan Street, in an area now largely taken up by the Buffalo Creek Casino.

Trying to understand where the market was offers up several red herrings. The first is the name. The market is nowhere near today’s Elk Street.

The part of Elk Street where the market stood is now South Park Avenue. Elk Street once ran from Seneca Street almost to the foot of Main Street. In her blog about Buffalo Streets, Angela Keppel writes that in 1939, South Buffalo businessmen thought it would be a good idea to have a street that runs from South Buffalo to downtown. Elk Street was one of five streets that was carved up to create South Park Avenue.

Buffalo Stories archives

Another red herring is the Elk Street Terminal. Famous now as one of Buffalo’s early reuse condominium projects, it was built at the northern tip of the market and used for the loading and unloading of trucks and trains. The actual market stretched several blocks into the First Ward from the back door of the terminal.

Buffalo Stories archives

It’s actually a double red herring because not only was the terminal a small part of the market away from most of the buying and selling the market was famous for, it’s actually several blocks away from where Elk Street was. It was named after the market (which no longer exists) which was named after the street (which no longer exists.)

Buffalo Stories archives

Thousands of wagons laden with fruit and vegetables paid 15¢ or 25¢ for a spot on the market or took their wares to the terminal to be loaded on trains to be sold around the country. The farmers themselves came from as far as Orchard Park or further south, or as far north as Clarence — but rules prevented Niagara County growers from selling at the market.

During the height of the fruit season, 10,000 bushels were sold a day.

Buffalo Stories archives

The main building also was home to a meat and poultry market, and the fish market was the city’s busiest.

Michigan Avenue just outside the Elk Street Market. Buffalo Stories archives

A fire in the late 1920s and then railroad maneuvering to have most of the larger business of the Elk Terminal moved to the Clinton Bailey Market mostly spelled the end of the Elk Street Market, which continued to hang on as a farmers market through the 1930s.

These views show a 1906 and 2016 view near what is now South Park and Michigan avenues.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo in the ’60s: Bills players stand up to racism

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The 1965 American Football League All-Star game was scheduled for 52 years ago this week in New Orleans, but it never happened.

Dave Dixon, who had been trying to bring the AFL to New Orleans, organized the game with promises that there wouldn’t be any problems in the still-segregated city. Players were promised testimonial dinners and golf tournaments, and even told to bring their families. But trouble began as players landed at the airport.

Cabs lined up for the White All-Stars, but the 22 black players weren’t so lucky. A porter called black cabbies from downtown for several players, but there were a few who were picked up by white cabbies — only to be driven out to the boonies before being ordered out of the cab. Bills fullback Cookie Gilchrist was warned by a friendly white cabbie, “Be careful in this town.”

Ten members of the AFL Champion Bills were on the East All-Star team, and Bills Head Coach Lou Saban was East coach. Four of the 10 Bills were black: Cookie Gilchrist, Elbert Dubenion, Butch Byrd and Ernie Warlick.

Bills quarterback Jack Kemp and linebacker Mike Stratton were also among the all-stars, and were joined by their teammate Warlick in the French Quarter. In several different places, Kemp and Stratton — both white — were allowed in, but Warlick was told with hostility that he wasn’t welcome.

In his book “The Birth of the New NFL,” Larry Felser tells the story that Warlick packed his bags after an incident the following morning.

“Warlick was able to order breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, ‘but I lost my appetite when an older woman said loud enough for me to hear, that she didn’t want to eat in the same room with monkeys.’ “

There were many other black players who had similar or worse experiences. Many didn’t want to spent the rest of the week there and play in such an environment.

There were several meetings of players over the coming days. The black players voted at one meeting to skip practice. Then there was a meeting with the game organizers and the NAACP, where Gilchrist did much of the talking.

At a larger meeting, with many players of both races, Bills tight end Warlick was nominated spokesman of the black players. It wasn’t unanimous, but the black players voted to not play.

Immediately after the meeting, Warlick told reporters that the fact that they’d been promised there wouldn’t be any segregation made it that much harder to deal with. Players were told that the better night spots, restaurants and hotels would greet all the players equally with open arms.

“Actually, this came as a complete surprise to us,” Warlick said of the way he and his teammates had been treated. “We were led to believe that we could relax and enjoy ourselves in New Orleans just like other citizens. Maybe if we had been alerted to the fact that we wouldn’t have the run of the town, we could have avoided this unpleasant situation.

“If they had told us this before, we’d have looked specifically for those cabs and sought out our entertainment in those places,” Warlick continued. “But they led us to believe everything was going to be OK. And it wasn’t.”

Kemp was the backup quarterback for the East All-Stars, had just won the AFL Championship with the Bills, and was also the president of the league’s players’ union. He and San Diego Chargers offensive lineman Ron Mix were among the white players at that final meeting. The two agreed to lead white players to stand by their teammates — but not all white players embraced the move. Patriots linebacker (and later Hall of Famer) Nick Buoniconti called the walkout a “raw deal” which “hurt the league a great deal.”

Later a Buffalo congressman, HUD Secretary and vice presidential candidate in 1996, Kemp was also influential in the negotiations to move the game to Houston, where it was played days later.

Immediately following the vote to not play, Gilchrist found a Mexican cabbie to take him to the airport, but snow in the northeast had flights delayed. News of a player revolt came on a TV in the terminal, and “Suddenly, people are all looking at me,” Gilchrist told Murray Olderman of the Jamestown Post-Journal.  “I can sense the hostility. For the first time in my life I’m scared. I’ve been brainwashed about the South.”

He finally got on a flight for New York and was comforted that he was among friends when someone asked him for an autograph.

“We weren’t out to correct anybody,’’ then-Bills cornerback Butch Byrd told the Sporting News in 2015.

“We were just thinking, ‘They’re showing us no respect. This is just pure hatred. We have to get out of here,’ ” said Byrd. “We weren’t thinking about making history, so to speak. We just knew we were treated badly, and we wanted to leave.’’

“The stand the AFL and its players took against the city of New Orleans was unprecedented,” wrote Pro Football Hall of Fame researcher Jon Kendle in a piece for the Hall of Fame’s website.  “The boycott was clearly a milestone event that went beyond the world of sports and was more of a reflection of American society at the time. It helped shine a spotlight on Congress’s ability to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and proved that if America was to desegregate, the culture needed to change its mindset and adopt a more progressive view of the human race as quickly as possible.”