The essence of Buffalo Stories is defining and celebrating the people, places, and things that make Buffalo… Buffalo.
That’s Buffalo’s pop culture heritage-– and that’s what you’ll find as you scroll through these stories or search the collected works of one of WNY’s most prolific pop culture historians of the last decade for something specific…
Today is Amherst’s 200th Birthday! It’s official because it says so on Wikipedia:
The town of Amherst was created by the State of New York on April 10, 1818; named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst. Amherst was formed from part of the town of Buffalo (later the city of Buffalo), which had previously been created from the town of Clarence. Timothy S. Hopkins was elected the first supervisor of the town of Amherst in 1819. Part of Amherst was later used to form the town of Cheektowaga in 1839.
Here are a few of our looks back at the Town of Amherst over the years:
His smiling face and happy accordion are one of the great welcoming sights of the Easter Season at the Broadway Market.
And with his Easter season appearances in newspaper and social media photos and all over television newscasts, Tony Krupski has really become the face of the Broadway Market.
“Many people tell me that, yes,” said Krupski last week at the market.
Krupski has been playing accordion for 60 years, famously for his family’s band, The Krew Brothers Orchestra and for Full Circle. Playing at the market is really source of pride.
“I don’t take it for granted. I’ve been playing all my life. But the Broadway Market– it rejuvenates the entire year. I’m happy to be a part of it,” says Krupski.
So now as his playing creates new memories and a connection to the past at the Broadway Market, he’s reminded of his own memories of the place.
“I remember coming here to the Broadway Market as a youngster,” says Krupski. “My parents would bring me here and we’d shop in the market. In the back, the hucksters selling fruits, vegetables and chickens. It just brings back a lot of memories, and here I am, years later, enjoying and playing here.”
Tony honored me with a command performance of my favorite Krew Brothers’ song, The Buffalo Polka.
For six decades, a trip to Grand Island has included passing through one of these blue sheds– the same toll booths have stood at the entrances to the Grand Island bridges and all along the Thruway.
We’re looking back at Thruway toll booths as we say good bye to the Grand Island booths with the introduction of cashless tolls to the Island this Thursday.
When the Thruway was built throughout the 1950’s, it was celebrated as a marvel of modern engineering– and written about in places like National Geographic magazine.
People were actually happy to pay the tolls– as the Thruway cut the time to drive to New York City, for example, by 300%.
Driving through toll booths were even something you wanted to tell the folks back home about– There were postcards all along the Thruway, like these two from the Buffalo area for the Williamsville tolls and the 90/190 interchange, the old Ogden tolls.
And back in 2015, we celebrated a decade without the Black Rock and Ogden tolls…
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.
Its WKBW-TV Channel 7’s zany weatherman Danny Neaverth standing at the Ogden Tolls sometime in the early to mid 80’s.
This story was all about how fast people could drive through the “Exact Change” booths, and still get the coins into the basket.
It’s with great sadness that I’ve spent several hours creating this post today.
When I bought a copy of the 1983 Priests’ Pictorial Directory, I did it with a smile. Flipping through the pages, there are dozens of men who’ve had a positive and wonderful impact on my life.
Instead of sharing the warm and fond memories of the hundreds of men of God in this booklet, I’m drawn today to make sure that the airing out of the deepest recesses of evil within the Catholic church here in Buffalo is as complete as possible.
Of the 42 men named by the Diocese today, 38 of them had photos in this directory. Those photos appear below.
I remember one of these men regularly visiting my Kindergarten classroom. I regularly attended Mass offered by another. It makes me sad and sick– but healing occurs in the light not in the dark.
Here are photos of those accused. May the light shining upon it bring healing to all those who feel the pain of this horrific chapter in the history of the Catholic church.
Here is the complete list released by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo– 42 priests, with dates of their deaths in parenthesis:
Having worked with Van Miller on Bills broadcasts on the radio and then as his producer at Channel 4, I spent a lot of time listening to his stories.
Van was a tremendous storyteller, and always delighted any crowd gathered around him with his ability to spin a tale about almost anything and make it interesting.
One of his favorites was “The Cookie Gilchrist earmuff story.” Ask people who’ve spent time around Van– Paul Peck, Brian Blessing, John Murphy… and they probably know the story as Van told it by heart as well as Van knew it himself.
The story goes, Cookie Gilchrist wasn’t really happy with the amount of money The Bills were paying him, so he was always looking for a way to make an extra buck. One time, he decided to buy a load of earmuffs and sell them as “Cookie Gilchrist earmuffs” at The Rockpile one Sunday.
“Well,” Van would say with a smile, “It happened to be one of the hottest December days on record, and the sun blazing at kickoff– he only sold about three pairs of earmuffs!”
It’s a classic Van story, quick and neat, and leaves the listener smiling.
The problem is, while there’s probably some basis in truth— Van was always more about telling a good story than about getting all the facts straight.
In a quick internet search, I found three different reports of Van telling the story. The temperature at kickoff was either 69, 57, or 60 degrees depending on which version you read. The number of pairs of earmuffs he had changed too– 5,000 in one telling; 3,000 in another; 15,000 another time.
The point is, there were probably earmuffs. Beyond that, it’s tough to tell where the colorful imagination of Uncle Van took over.
There’s another version of the story told to writer Scott Pitoniak by longtime Bills trainer Ed Abramowski. Published in 2007, Abe’s version is Cookie was trying to sell the earmuffs for the 1964 AFL Championship Game at War Memorial, but the headgear wound up getting caught in customs when Gilchrist tried to bring them to Buffalo from his home in Toronto.
The only contemporary earmuff story I could find was in the Ottawa Journal a few days after the Bills won that 1964 AFL Championship Game.
A reporter asked Cookie about the autographed earmuffs he said would be sold at the game. “I ran into problems there, and didn’t sell them.”– Ottawa Journal, December 28, 1964
That game was played December 26, 1964. It was a mild day with some rain and a high around 45.
Van Miller’s story is the only reason I know that Cookie Gilchrist ever tried to sell earmuffs, and that really makes me smile. Knowing the real story about how and why makes me smile, too.
This video clip is about one of the toughest guys to ever wear a Buffalo on his helmet: Cookie Gilchrist.. but for me, it's also abotu the guy who taught me everything I know about Cookie– Larry Felser. Again, It's a great story about Cookie, but my favorite part is the very end… when Larry Felser lays it all out there finishing the story in grand style… with that devilish look in his eye and big grin on his face. He was one of the best storytellers I've ever known, and one of the most genuine souls. Rest in Peace, ol'pal.
It’s one of the many things us Buffalonians get pretty sensitive about… chickens wings, what we call them, and what we dip them in.
We mock the uneducated who don’t know any better– but call them Buffalo wings, or those who unwittingly dunk those flats and clubs into Ranch dressing.
But when Frank’s Red Hot– the secret ingredient in most of Buffalo’s favorite chicken wings– tweets about “Buffalo wings” AND eating them with Ranch dressing, it’s enough to make a Western New Yorker lose his mind. And many have on Twitter.
Frank’s has been trying to make up for the gaffe– which is only a gaffe inside the 716 area code.
It proudly points out that Teressa Bellissimo, the generally accepted inventor of the chicken wing, used Frank’s RedHot cayenne pepper sauce in her trailblazing recipe in 1964 at the Anchor Bar. The company in 2009 introduced Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce to allow customers to “expand their culinary creativity.”
The company waited until Monday afternoon to respond. That’s when Frank’s sent out another tweet saying it wants to properly honor blue cheese dressing.
“Our fans from Buffalo have spoken in response to our #NationalRanchDressingDay tweet and inspired us to create a movement for #NationalBlueCheeseDressingDay, where we can highlight the original perfect pair – Buffalo wings and blue cheese dressing,” a spokeswoman said in a statement to The Buffalo News.
Frank’s said it’s looking for feedback from Buffalonians and others on social media about how best to celebrate this new holiday.
At the same time, the folks behind the National Buffalo Wing Festival – not you, too? – late Monday announced on Facebook that they wanted to host a National Blue Cheese Dressing Day on June 4.
If the two of them join forces, that would be the best pairing since chicken wings and mayonnaise. (Kidding!)
Visniak was the unofficial soft drink of VFW Posts, corner gin mills, and East Side homes where the Visniak van would make weekly drop-offs of cases filled with a rainbow of pop flavors.
Hattie Pijanowski, along with her husband, Edward, started the Visniak-Saturn Beverage Corp. on Detroit Street on Buffalo’s East Side in 1931. In 1939, the plant moved to Reiman Street in Sloan.
Edward Pijanowski became active in Sloan politics and ran for mayor of the village in 1951.
The company, which employed ten in 1968, brought colorful and tasty pop to generations of Buffalonians two different ways– in 7.5-ounce glass bottles and from barroom “pop guns” all over the city.
Chances are pretty good– if you ever ordered a Coke in an East Side tavern sometime between the ’50s and the ’90s, you were likely drinking a “VEESH-nyak” (from the Polish for “cherry”) and didn’t even realize it.
Hattie Pijanowski died in July, 1985, at age 82. Her son, Ray, was 70 when he closed up the business in 2004, “because nobody returned the bottles,” and a new bottle cost more than what that bottle filled with pop would sell for.
His only crime was being a member of the Communist Party.
Charlie Doyle’s story is one that I learned not from McCarthy-era newspaper articles, but from sitting in kitchens and on front porches on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.
“He was a commie, but he was always trying to help people,” I’d hear. “A good guy.”
You’d expect that kind of talk from his family — from my family. Charlie Doyle was my grandmother’s uncle. Aunt Agnes’ brother.
I grew up in the ’80s, not the ’50s, but Communists still weren’t good. They were the bad guys, but there was still Doyle, the Communist who caused people to smile when they talked about him.
I didn’t realize until later that the story of Doyle was a bigger deal than just family lore. Though he continually denied it publicly for his safety and the safety of his family, he was a member of the Communist party. He was also a talented labor organizer and helped workers force safer working conditions and better pay at places such as Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel and Carborundum.
Despite having been a legal U.S. resident for 25 years with an American wife and family, because he was born in Scotland, he wasn’t allowed to re-enter the U.S. after a trip to Canada in 1949.
He spent the next several years in and out of prison based on illegal entry charges before– at the height of the McCarthy era– he was deported in 1953.
Being deported from the US wasn’t the end of Charles Doyle’s trouble.
In London, Doyle picked up where he left off in Western New York– leading labor organization efforts at a nearby power plant.
The resulting nationwide labor slowdowns caused massive power outages, including at London’s famously lit Piccadilly Circus. Those outages came during one of the coldest snaps of weather on record in London, and nearly two dozen people died from the cold. Doyle was tried in their deaths but exonerated.
In 1963, London’s Daily Mirror tabloid front page was filled with his photo and the bold-faced underlined words, “The most hated man in Britain.”
And it wasn’t just America that didn’t want him. Despite having being deported from the US to his native UK, the House of Lords discussed trying to send him back.
Buffalo’s most famous Communist– labor leader and playwright Manny Fried– wrote about Doyle in a piece which was rejected for publication by The Buffalo News called “Democratic Leaders Are at a Fork in the Road.”
When (John L.) Lewis broke with the American Federation of Labor and sponsored the Congress of Industrial Organizations to organize production workers, he said that he hired the communists to organize the workers because communists were the best organizers, idealists sacrificing everything to get workers organized — and when they got the workers organized, he fired them.
Charlie Doyle, the leading open Communist Party activist in Western New York, was hired by Lewis to work for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. Charlie played a major role in organizing workers into the union at the Lackawanna Bethlehem Steel plant. Then Lewis fired Charlie, and others were credited with
what Charlie had done.
When Lewis subsequently split with CIO leaders and formed District 50 of his Mine Workers Union to organize chemical workers in Niagara Falls, he again hired Charlie Doyle. When Charlie finished organizing those chemical workers into the union, Lewis again fired Charlie.
The CIO Chemical Workers Union then hired Charlie — and the unions Charlie had organized switched from District 50 to CIO. Then CIO fired Charlie. And then Lewis rehired Charlie – and those unions switched back to District 50 with Charlie. AFL and CIO merged into one organization and their AFL-CIO Chemical
Workers Union hired Charlie — and all those same unions of chemical plant workers switched over to the AFL-CIO with Charlie.
Carborundum workers went out on strike in connection with contract negotiations and leaders of the union in Washington held a meeting about the strike across the river in Fort Erie, Canada. U.S. Customs and Immigration wouldn’t let Charlie back across the bridge into U.S. But Canadian authorities looked the other way while Charlie crossed the river back into U.S. in a boat.
FBI and U.S. Immigration then picked up Charlie for deportation on grounds that years earlier when he came here from Scotland he was a communist. Charlie had his first papers to become a citizen, but hadn’t been granted his second papers to complete the process. Jailed for deportation, Charlie staged a hunger strike, but
finally agreed to be deported to England in return for U.S. government authorities persuading his Catholic wife to agree to end their marriage so he could marry the woman he loved.
(Several decades later the Buffalo AFL-CIO Central Labor Council passed the resolution offered by University of Buffalo Chapter of United University Professions recognizing Charlie’s contribution to organized labor in Western New York.)
–Democratic Leaders Are at a Fork in the Road, Emanuel Fried
Doyle died in London in 1983. His obituary appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
Already a widely known leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Buffalo in December, 1959.
In his role as Vice President of the National Baptist Sunday School and Training Union Congress, Dr. King came to Buffalo to help plan that organization’s annual national session, which was to be held in Memorial Auditorium and at UB in June, 1960.
Dr. King spoke with The Buffalo Evening News as well as with the people of Faith Baptist Church on his visit. Some of his remarks were reported in the Thursday, December 17, 1959 edition of The Buffalo Evening News.
Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Wednesday evening told The Buffalo Evening News:
“Today in the deep South there is a collision between two strong institutions — segregation and the public schools. When and where people must make a choice between the two, it is palpably clear what the choice will be.
“The example being set in certain other states, where integration was chosen over closed schools, is influencing the thinking of white leaders.”
The article went on to say, quoting Dr. King:
“There are dark areas and bright areas in the over-all segregation picture,” he said. “The dark portions are the concerted resistance of public officials and the bright portions are created by the rays of light coming from the outside, where we know we have the sympathy and moral support of many Americans.”
Addressing the congregation of Faith Baptist Church and expressing greetings from “behind the ‘cotton curtain’ of Alabama,” he said the bus boycott of December 1955 to December 1956 was successful and a long stride toward recognition of the Negroes’ rights. “We believed,” he said, “that it was better to walk in dignity than to ride in humiliation.”
In a spiritual message, Dr. King said:
“Man has forgotten God, though unconsciously, not intentionally. Right still is right and wrong still is wrong but we are faced with the dangerous thinking that the question of right or wrong is relative. “Everyone is trying to obey the ’11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Caught.’ We must re-discover that all reality hinges on moral foundations, every personality has dignity and worth, all men are created equal, all reality has spiritual control. “We must re-discover God and put Him at the center of our lives.'”