Milestone: no more colorful glass in the window across from Ken West

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Bottles had been displayed for decades in the window of this Delaware Rd. home.

For as long as I can remember, stopping at the light next to Kenmore West High School has made me smile.

When you were stopped on Highland, you were looking straight into a picture window which, forever, had a lovely glass collection displayed in it.

Driving by the other day, I was a little sad to see the house was up for sale and the colored glass bottles were gone.

Watching men land on the moon at Jenss Twin-Ton, 1969

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a general assignment reporter, I always loved the angle that when something big happens, anything that anyone is doing becomes a story. “How did you ride out the storm?” “How did you celebrate the big win?” “Where were you when the tornado hit?”

No matter what your answer is…it’s part of the larger story and worth celebrating. As a researcher and historian who combs through other writers’ and journalists’ archived works to re-tell their stories in the light of present day life, I love finding those little bits of everyday life set against the backdrop of big stories.

That’s why these ladies watching TV at a City of Tonawanda department store is my favorite image from the lunar landing. A million people are telling Neil Armstrong’s story– But we here care just as much about what was going on in the Twin-Ton Department store as he was making that giant leap.

The crew at Jenss Twin-Ton in the City of Tonawanda gathered around the TV set to watch live broadcasts from the moon fifty years ago this month.

Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Jenss Twin-Ton Department store 50 years ago next week.

That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.

Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.

By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara.

Founded in 1877 as Zuckmaier Bros., the department store was sold in 1946 and became Twin-Ton in 1946. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up. Plans for the department store to rebuild on the site never materialized and the Tonawandas’ only downtown department store was gone for good.

The Twin-Ton Department store is seen on the left of this 1950s postcard. That side of the block was demolished in 1976.

Hearing Buffalo’s accent feels like home

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

After more than a week away from everything Buffalo…

Nothing says welcome home like sitting in an airport waiting for the second leg of a flight to BUF, and listening to the loud flip phone conversation of a 60-something woman with a third-generation Buffalo/Polish accent– ya know– naaht too baayd— but just enough to know that if she doesn’t live in Chicktawaga now, she probably did at some point in her life.

I can’t really believe how the sound makes my heart full. Other places are great to visit, but I just can’t imagine coming home to anywhere else…

Buffalo’s last city-owned Polish-language sign

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I take a photo of this great bilingual sign every time I walk by it in the Broadway Market parking ramp for fear that it will disappear.

Is it the last still-used city-owned sign in Polish? It’s the only one I know of… and it’s a treasure.

United Air Lines says VISIT BUFFALO in poster form, c.1960

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

For years, on and off, I’ve been looking for a Buffalo travel poster, any Buffalo travel poster.

Honestly, I kind of assumed that there never was one. I mean why waste precious wall space with (my beloved) Buffalo when there have always been far more exotic, colorful, and warm places which might be more gerenally appealing to the traveling public.

Then I came across this beauty from the late 50s or early 60s.

United made Buffalo look fun!!

Presidents Day reflection: The Ol’Man & LBJ

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man used to (somewhat proudly) tell the story about how he got suspended from South Park High School for ditching class to go see Lyndon Johnson speak in Niagara Square.

LBJ and Lady Bird with Buffalo Mayor Frank Sedita and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in Buffalo in 1966.In the 40 years or so I’ve had to let that story sink in, I think I have two takeaways.

The first is… When common sense dictates breaking a rule, do it. (There was nothing being taught at SPHS that day that could compete with seeing a President.)

The second is… common sense also dictates that you do your best to find an amiable solution to the breaking the rule. I’ve done plenty of things like skipping class to go see the President… but not while giving the finger to the guy who will paddle my ass and suspend me for doing it.

So thanks Dad and LBJ for the life lessons on this President’s Day.

Personal takeaways from community tragedy: 3407 ten years later

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The worst kind of Buffalo winter weather was working its way through the clouds at the same time Continental Flight 3407 was, ten years ago today.

Then in a moment, fifty people who were just living out a day in their lives, instantly no longer were.

There was the fact that it happened right here, the horror of the numbers of lives lost all in a single instant, and the terror of the flames, and the reminder of the fears that so many of us hold in our own hearts.

As a community, we are remembering these fifty and holding up those who loved them in prayer and admiration.

Over the last decade, our community has seen marvelous strength woven from the brokenness of this tragedy.

Robin Tolsma and Karen Wielinski have both written books since their husbands lost their lives that night. Their willingness to publicly grieve has helped so many of us in dealing with our shared grief, but also serves as a role model in how to grieve.

Led by the work of Robin, Karen, and many great journalists, as a community Buffalo remembers and has help in better understanding that singular moment and its aftermath in a broader context.

While generally I consider it my honor to help provide context to the happenings of Western New York’s past and present– I’m also glad that I am not spending the week engrossed in helping craft this narrative. I’m satisfied to sit this one out. It’s still too real and even physically painful.

My eyes are wet and stinging, and panic’s familiar tingle and edginess fills my body as I force myself back to that day and the days and weeks that followed.

In many ways, the post traumatic stress I live with from covering this story and dozens of other stories you might or might not remember, is primarily attributable to my terrible basic reporting skills.

Intuitively, my style as a journalist moved away from facts and figures– and toward trying to make a listener or reader feel some part of what was happening.

I wouldn’t have put it this way during the decade that I was a daily general assignment reporter, but I’d rather have spent my minute in a radio news report helping listeners feel the emotion of the mom yelling at the school board and the measured fidgety discomfort of the board member who voted against a budget than to spend that minute explaining the vagaries and dollar amounts attached to budget lines that were slated for elimination.

Very early in my career, some part of me realized that to report on emotion, I had to understand it. To understand it, I had to feel it.

Allowing myself to feel the angst of a mom whose children might be robbed of art education in middle school makes for a much more enticing story than a comparison of numbers.

In that process to feel the emotion of an event, I become greedy, absorbing every detail– not even necessarily to report on– but to give me the proper context to report from.

I don’t even have to choose the words when the environment can choose them for me; they just flow. So– I lap up detail. And digest it into news stories. And the best stories are well-received, and I get hungrier for the details which don’t make necessarily make it into a the produced product—but ultimately help shade the story and give me a sense of depth and perception that allow listeners and readers to connect more fully with what I am reporting.

This is the subconscious process which accompanied me to Clarence Center a decade ago.

You couldn’t talk about the tragedy unfolding at the scene without understanding the searing odor which left me feeling slightly nauseous and with a chemical sear in my nose and throat with each breath.

There was so much to take in, but story I saw which needed telling was the raw humanity of the usually super-human.

Over and over again, the strong ones– in a private moment– showing signs of crumbling.

Without thinking too deeply about it, the weeping undertaker comes to mind. The minister who just before facing the congregation, looked like he was about to vomit. The police officer who talked a tough game but had only darkness and sadness in his eyes. The rattled fireman who shared a story—and then immediately had the look of someone who felt like he said too much. We agreed that there was no need to share that misery with the rest of the world, and the story has never left my lips.

That firefighter’s story will stay with me, in graphic horror, until the moment I die. Trust me when I tell you that your life is better without knowing what that man went through. I know my life would be, but it was my job to make sure that people in Buffalo and around the world knew the horror without necessarily knowing the details.

In the 20 years I was working in newsrooms every day, I never heard anyone mention PTSD. I never once heard anyone mention needing a break because what we were dealing with was too much to handle.

I am a journalist who suffers greatly from post-traumatic stress, and I write this not just for me—but for the thousands of others who don’t realize they are suffering or who realize it but feel foolish asking for help or “making themselves the story.”

I didn’t realize it at the time. Not even when I had my first panic attack in the newsroom and didn’t know what it was—and as my brain felt like it was unraveling, I thought I was going to die on the spot.

It didn’t occur to me when I could barely function, alone in the newsroom on Christmas Eve 2012 when a Rochester-area man set his house on fire, and then killed two firefighters who came to put out the fire.

In the past year, driving in the car, listening to the news and hearing firefighters speak from the scene of the devastating wildfires in California—I pulled the car over, afraid I was going to vomit.

The talk of this anniversary stirred these feelings, and I share them with the hope that it might help someone. The pain and trauma caused by the death of fifty amazing individuals lives on in my heart, bleeding over into areas of my soul where I never intended it to live.

And that’s what PTSD is, I guess, and once again, that’s why I write and share this– but the reason I carry this suffering is for the sake of the story, and this story is one that I will never lose sight of.

I’ve spent time over the last couple of days recalling many of the memories of those who perished that day. I feel like I know a few of those who died—and that their memories live on is a testament to their loved ones.

I’m struck by the strength and courage of many family members who have fought to make sure that similar instances don’t lead to anymore deaths.

I also remain moved by the undertakers, ministers, police officers, firefighters, reporters and so many more– who leave parts of themselves behind for the well-being and healing of others every day.

None of us really knows how we might respond in the face of great tragedy, no matter our role in it.

Most of us, I think, find out something new about ourselves, and wind up spending the rest of our lives trying to understand how to make that new knowledge work as a piece of who we are.

God bless those 50 and those still trying to put the pieces back together.

We’re all to blame for the horrific tragedy of Larry’s death

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

If you knew Larry at all, then just like me, this is probably how you knew him– the guy with the long dreadlocks sitting just inside the door at the Tim Horton’s on Main Street in Williamsville.

I took this photo last January, after asking him if he needed anything on a cold night. In his quiet and gentle way, he politely declined. His face told parts of the story that he wouldn’t say with his voice.

Poor Larry died overnight in the bus shelter at Main & Union, and my heart breaks.

I don’t know why he chose to live on the streets, but I know we have to do better helping people like him— people like me.

Mental illness is terrifying and taboo, for both people who suffer and people who can’t understand the suffering. I don’t know what the answers are, but I know he died in large part because his brain was sick, and we have no good way to help.

We can’t write off his death as “the life he chose for himself” any more than we can write off the death of someone who dies when a sick heart gives them a heart attack or when sick cells mutate and cause cancer.

I tried to buy Larry a cup of coffee a few times over the years. That’s not even close to enough. Others have done a lot more for Larry and others like him, but how the hell can we sleep at night having people freezing to death in one of the wealthiest goddamn zip codes in the country?

A warm bed would have treated a symptom, but still, the sickness would remain. Larry’s sickness took him to a bus shelter to die in a blizzard. That’s the extreme version. There are less dramatic (but just as real) versions of the same story playing out all around all of us everyday. It’s needless suffering that we as a society have to decide all together must end.

Rest in peace, Larry. On behalf of humanity, I’m sorry we failed you.

Mixed feelings on Millard Fillmore’s birthday

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Millard Fillmore’s grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY

Buffalo’s own Millard Fillmore is buried in Forest Lawn cemetery, his grave very simply marked.

Those who loved him, appreciated his contributions to Buffalo’s formation as a city, and his involvement in the creation of dozens of institutions from UB to the SPCA to the History Museum… in death, they called him M.F.

There are also those who look upon his signing of the Fugitive Slave Act and his later lack of enthusiasm for the northern cause toward the end of the Civil War and call him M. F.

It’s nice that we can all agree about what to call Millard Fillmore on this, the 219th anniversary of his birthday.

I tend to agree with both interpretations. HB, MF.

Sears & Kmart, once the gold standard, now nearly dead

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I was a longtime Kmart man.

Throughout my childhood, even as Hills, Twin Fair, Gold Circle, Ames, and Brand Names all had their advantages, Kmart was my gold standard in shopping.

It was always clean, well stocked, and carried quality merchandise.

When we first bought our house, Sears was still the embodiment of dependability. To buy something from Sears was an investment.

It’s been sad to see these great brands ravaged, and to know the service and dependability they stood for is completely and utterly dead on any large scale.

I was thinking about all this after writing about the demise of Kmart and Sears for The News.

The days when Sears and Kmart first arrived in WNY