Buffalo’s Definitive Foods

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

All this week, we’ve been looking at Buffalo’s definitive foods– the dishes we long for we we’re away, and the ones that just never seem to measure up when Buffalonians try to eat them elsewhere.

We’re starting with a classic.

Beef on Weck

Anderson’s beef on weck and a loganberry.

Beef on Weck has been a Buffalo staple since around the time of the 1901 Pan Am Exposition.

Gohn’s Tavern at Main and Delavan, across Delavan Avenue from Forest Lawn’s entrance, was the first restaurant that made roast beef on Kimmelweck rolls a regular specialty.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: Gohn’s Place, known as home of beef on weck

Gohn moved into a building next door when his property was bought out to put up a gas station in the 1930s. That spot eventually became The Locker Room, which claimed to be the original home of the Beef on Weck.

The Locker Room and Bailo’s on Bailey and Lovejoy were Buffalo’s two favorite Beef on Weck spots for generations, but the sandwich was really Buffalo’s signature bar food, and available at dozens if not hundreds of taverns around Western New York.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: Bailo’s, famed for beef on weck and an urban legend

There was even Beefy’s– the local roast beef fast food place that offered Beef on Weck at the Seneca Mall and a few other locations in the 1970s.

These days there are plenty of places that will serve you a Beef on Weck sandwich, but very few gin mills with a giant slab of beef and a pile of hard rolls right there behind the bar– the way the sandwich was first served more than a hundred years ago.

But the Beef on Weck remains one of Buffalo’s definitive foods.


Buffalo-style pizza

We’re looking at Buffalo’s definitive foods this week…

An author recently referred to Buffalo as “The Comfort Food Capital of America,” and there’s little doubt that Buffalo’s universal comfort food is take-out pizza.

a Bob & John’s-Hertel pie, 2015

That same writer, Arthur Bovino, writes in The Daily Beast that Buffalo just might be America’s Pizza Capital— or at least the country’s most underappreciated regional variety.

The sheer numbers bear that out. There are at least 600 pizzerias in the Buffalo area. Or to put it a different way, you could get pizza every night for 20 months, and not go to the same pie joint twice.

What makes a Buffalo pizza?

Santora’s was Buffalo’s first pizzeria. 1947 ad.

It starts with the crust. Tasty, doughy and golden, for those of us accustomed to it, it makes other crusts taste like cardboard. It’s doughy and soft, but it also stands up– literally. No floppy folding needed for a Buffalo slice.

1959 ad for Bison pepperoni, makers of Buffalo’s “cup and curl” pepperoni.

So there’s plenty of crust, and the crusts are bigger too. Order a large somewhere else in the country and you just might be disappointed.

On that bigger pizza, we pile on cheese in a way that would be considered extra cheese anywhere else.

Then there’s the pepperoni, which might be defined generally as flavorless, flat pink circles on your pizza. The best Buffalo pepperoni curls up a bit, gets a little charred on the edge, and makes the perfect meat vessel for the greasy goodness that adds so much flavor to our favorite pizzas.

Pizza became a fad around the country in the 50s, but we’ve been eating it here, and watching the perfect pie evolve since 1927 when Fioravante Santora started serving it. And then in 1946 when Dino started slinging pies at the Bocce Club on Hickory Street. And the Todaro’s started selling La Nova pizza in 1957.

Bocce Club announces new Bailey Avenue location. 1959 ad.

Pizza is an institution in Western New York, made up of hundreds of neighborhood institutions that make it a quintessential taste of Buffalo.

Santora’s was not only Buffalo;’s first pizzeria, but also among the first to deliver pizza. 1964 ad.

The Fish Fry

We’re continuing our week-long look at Buffalo’s definitive foods…

Mineo South take out fish fry, Lent 2018.

You can get a fish fry in other places, but Western New York is the only place you can get a Buffalo Fish Fry.

What that usually means for most of us is a giant piece of haddock covered thick, golden and crispy beer batter, tartar sauce, a lemon wedge, french fries, and hopefully more than one salad like coleslaw or potato salad. And the best fish fries have a piece of seeded rye bread thrown in on top.

This Buffalo Friday night staple at VFW Halls, Holy Name Dinners, and neighborhood taverns has been evolving into our current expectation for generations and generations.

The first place Buffalo flocked to go out for a fish fry was Richie Roth’s fish house. He was the city’s renown expert fisherman, and he started frying it up in his ramshackle shed on the banks of the Erie Canal at the foot of Hudson Street sometime around 1900.

Today, the spot is covered by the baseball diamonds you can see from the 190 in LaSalle Park. That part of the 190 was built in the bed of the Erie Canal.

The Buffalo Commercial, 1922

The shack which was condemned more than once still played host to politicians, musicians, and plain old working people. Those fishing boats were good for more than just bringing in fresh-caught Lake Erie fish– even during Prohibition, the beer flowed freely at Richie Roth’s.

Buffalo’s brewer Mayor Francis X. Schwab, who himself faced federal charges in the production of “near-beer” that was over the legal alcohol limit, lauded Roth after an inspection of his fish shack in 1922.

“This vice talk is all bunk,” Schwab told The Buffalo Commercial. “(Police Captain) Jimmy Higgins didn’t see a thing wrong. There’s no law against eating fish, I guess.” He called it “a nice place.”

The Courier-Express called Richie Roth’s “the best fish fry in the world.” He spent decades arguing with the city over his right to stay in the shack he’d worked out of for more than 40 years. He died in 1948.

Trautwein’s serving Blue Pike, 1955.

Before 1960, any good fish fry was made with blue pike. Once the most ubiquitous and tasty fish of Lake Erie, the blue pike was over-fished and saw competition from invasive species such as rainbow smelt.

As the blue pike grew more rare, Buffalonians began to acquire a taste for the haddock fish fry, which is a good thing. By the 1970s, the blue pike was generally accepted as extinct.


The Buffalo Hot Dog

As we continue to look at Buffalo’s definitive foods, we look at the hot dog.

Sahlen’s hot dogs on a home grill, with 4 different levels of char.

Just like pizza, they have hot dogs everywhere, but we all know there’s something special and different about a Buffalo hot dog.

And recently, a national food blogger wrote “forget wings, Buffalo is a hot dog town.”

So what does all that mean?

Longtime Buffalo butcher Mark Redlinksi tells me the biggest difference between a Buffalo hot dog and one of the national brands is the casing. He says it’s difficult to find a natural casing if you’re not buying a Buffalo dog. Sahlen’s most popular varieties are tender casing dogs, but natural casings are also available.

It’s also what’s inside– or not inside– a Buffalo dog. All meat, no fillers in a Sahlen’s or any other local brand. It’s also a unique beef to pork ratio we’ve become used to here.

And of course, like everything else in Buffalo– our hot dogs are much bigger than what the national brands sell.

A Ted’s dog, loaded.

As far as how we eat ’em, there are two equally definitive Buffalo styles.

The charcoal broiled dog highlights that natural casing and gives a great bite… and maybe a great crunch if you like yours well done. Ted’s charbroiled dog, on a toasted roll, with special spicy sauce, mustard, relish, onions, and a pickle spear is a WNY Classic.

Ted’s has been serving Buffalo’s favorite hot dogs since 1947.
A Louie’s Texas hot, “up,” wrapped in the to-go wax paper.

Another WNY classic is the Texas Hot, also known as the “slime dog,” the “scum dog,” and if you’re from South Buffalo, the “shit canoe.” (I think I grew up thinking that last one is what they were officially called. )

The hot dogs are usually a slightly different formulation… usually without the natural casing, which would get rubbery when fried on the griddle.

On that griddled dog, add mustard, slivered onions, and that spicy meat sauce.

“Slime on the line” at Seneca Texas Hots on Seneca Street.

Whether you like ’em off the grill or drowning in that Texas Hot gravy, the Buffalo hot dog is like no other.

MORE: Buffalo’s love affair with the hot dog


The Chicken Wing

Of all these great Buffalo foods, only one is known around the world with the city’s name attached to it– of course, that’s the chicken wing.

Wings. Medium. Extra Crispy.

These days, there are dozens, probably hundreds of varieties of chicken wings available across WNY… but the original is still the benchmark… chicken wing parts fried doused in a combination of butter and Frank’s hot sauce.

The well-told story of the chicken wing is that Anchor Bar owner Teressa Bellissimo whipped up the first wings as snack for her son and his friends after midnight on a Lenten Friday in 1964.

This 1972 shot is the first of many photos showing The Anchor Bar’s Dominic Bellissimo and chicken wings appearing in The Buffalo News through the years. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Teressa Bellissimo, the inventor of the chicken wing

While Teressa Bellissimo and the Anchor Bar certainly get the kudos for Buffalo’s first split wing, they might have to share the title of Buffalo’s first spicy wing with John Young, who served unsplit wings— with the flat and club still connected to each other and the wing tip— all covered in his spicy Mambo sauce at his “Wings & Things” restaurant on Jefferson Avenue starting in the mid-’60s.

Still, it’s the Anchor Bar’s version which gained notoriety and became a Buffalo institution.

MORE: As the chicken wing turns 50, a look at its first appearance in The Buffalo News

Looking under “Pizza” in the yellow pages of Buffalo’s 1969 phone book, only one restaurant — the Anchor Bar — lists “chicken wings” as a menu option in its ad.

Ten years later, in the 1979 phone book, 54 different pizza restaurants list wings as a menu option.

Today, even the restaurant that calls itself “Just Pizza” has succumbed to wing sales.

But back to that 1969 phone book– in the “Restaurant” section– the Anchor Bar’s ad makes mention of music and Italian specialties, there is no mention of chicken wings.

In the RESTAURANT section, the only mention of wings is a small listing for “Wings & Things,” John Young’s Jefferson Avenue restaurant, which was of many East Side spots were people were eating some version of chicken wings before the Anchor Bar made them into what the world knows as Buffalo Wings.

MORE: Chicken Wings and Blue Cheese (not Ranch)

The chicken wing– perhaps THE definitive Buffalo food.

Dominic Bellissimo, outside the Anchor Bar, 1986

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: The Buffalo hot dog

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

As we continue to look at Buffalo’s definitive foods, we look at the hot dog.

Sahlen’s hot dogs on a home grill, with 4 different levels of char.

Just like pizza, they have hot dogs everywhere, but we all know there’s something special and different about a Buffalo hot dog.

And recently, a national food blogger wrote “forget wings, Buffalo is a hot dog town.”

So what does all that mean?

Longtime Buffalo butcher Mark Redlinksi tells me the biggest difference between a Buffalo hot dog and one of the national brands is the casing. He says it’s difficult to find a natural casing if you’re not buying a Buffalo dog.

It’s also what’s inside– or not inside– a Buffalo dog. All meat, no fillers in a Sahlen’s or any other local brand. It’s also a unique beef to pork ratio we’ve become used to here.

And of course, like everything else in Buffalo– our hot dogs are much bigger than what the national brands sell.

A Ted’s dog, loaded.

As far as how we eat ’em, there are two equally definitive Buffalo styles.

The charcoal broiled dog highlights that natural casing and gives a great bite… and maybe a great crunch if you like yours well done. Ted’s charbroiled dog, on a toasted roll, with special spicy sauce, mustard, relish, onions, and a pickle spear is a WNY Classic.

Ted’s has been serving Buffalo’s favorite hot dogs since 1947.
A Louie’s Texas hot, “up,” wrapped in the to-go wax paper.

Another WNY classic is the Texas Hot, also known as the “slime dog,” the “scum dog,” and if you’re from South Buffalo, the “shit canoe.” (I think I grew up thinking that last one is what they were officially called. )

The hot dogs are usually a slightly different formulation… usually without the natural casing, which would get rubbery when fried on the griddle.

On that griddled dog, add mustard, slivered onions, and that spicy meat sauce.

“Slime on the line” at Seneca Texas Hots on Seneca Street.

Whether you like ’em off the grill or drowning in that Texas Hot gravy, the Buffalo hot dog is like no other.

MORE: Buffalo’s love affair with the hot dog

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: The Fish Fry

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re continuing our week-long look at Buffalo’s definitive foods…

Mineo South take out fish fry, Lent 2018.

You can get a fish fry in other places, but Western New York is the only place you can get a Buffalo Fish Fry.

What that usually means for most of us is a giant piece of haddock covered thick, golden and crispy beer batter, tartar sauce, a lemon wedge, french fries, and hopefully more than one salad like coleslaw or potato salad. And the best fish fries have a piece of seeded rye bread thrown in on top.

This Buffalo Friday night staple at VFW Halls, Holy Name Dinners, and neighborhood taverns has been evolving into our current expectation for generations and generations.

The first place Buffalo flocked to go out for a fish fry was Richie Roth’s fish house. He was the city’s renown expert fisherman, and he started frying it up in his ramshackle shed on the banks of the Erie Canal at the foot of Hudson Street sometime around 1900.

Today, the spot is covered by the baseball diamonds you can see from the 190 in LaSalle Park. That part of the 190 was built in the bed of the Erie Canal.

The Buffalo Commercial, 1922

The shack which was condemned more than once still played host to politicians, musicians, and plain old working people. Those fishing boats were good for more than just bringing in fresh-caught Lake Erie fish– even during Prohibition, the beer flowed freely at Richie Roth’s.

Buffalo’s brewer Mayor Francis X. Schwab, who himself faced federal charges in the production of “near-beer” that was over the legal alcohol limit, lauded Roth after an inspection of his fish shack in 1922.

“This vice talk is all bunk,” Schwab told The Buffalo Commercial. “(Police Captain) Jimmy Higgins didn’t see a thing wrong. There’s no law against eating fish, I guess.” He called it “a nice place.”

The Courier-Express called Richie Roth’s “the best fish fry in the world.” He spent decades arguing with the city over his right to stay in the shack he’d worked out of for more than 40 years. He died in 1948.

Trautwein’s serving Blue Pike, 1955.

Before 1960, any good fish fry was made with blue pike. Once the most ubiquitous and tasty fish of Lake Erie, the blue pike was over-fished and saw competition from invasive species such as rainbow smelt.

As the blue pike grew more rare, Buffalonians began to acquire a taste for the haddock fish fry, which is a good thing. By the 1970s, the blue pike was generally accepted as extinct.

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: Buffalo-style pizza

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re looking at Buffalo’s definitive foods this week…

An author recently referred to Buffalo as “The Comfort Food Capital of America,” and there’s little doubt that Buffalo’s universal comfort food is take-out pizza.

 

a Bob & John’s-Hertel pie, 2015

That same writer, Arthur Bovino, writes in The Daily Beast that Buffalo just might be America’s Pizza Capital— or at least the country’s most underappreciated regional variety.

The sheer numbers bear that out. There are at least 600 pizzerias in the Buffalo area. Or to put it a different way, you could get pizza every night for 20 months, and not go to the same pie joint twice.

What makes a Buffalo pizza?

Santora’s was Buffalo’s first pizzeria. 1947 ad.

It starts with the crust. Tasty, doughy and golden, for those of us accustomed to it, it makes other crusts taste like cardboard. It’s doughy and soft, but it also stands up– literally. No floppy folding needed for a Buffalo slice.

1959 ad for Bison pepperoni, makers of Buffalo’s “cup and curl” pepperoni.

So there’s plenty of crust, and the crusts are bigger too. Order a large somewhere else in the country and you just might be disappointed.

On that bigger pizza, we pile on cheese in a way that would be considered extra cheese anywhere else.

Then there’s the pepperoni, which might be defined generally as flavorless, flat pink circles on your pizza. The best Buffalo pepperoni curls up a bit, gets a little charred on the edge, and makes the perfect meat vessel for the greasy goodness that adds so much flavor to our favorite pizzas.

Pizza became a fad around the country in the 50s, but we’ve been eating it here, and watching the perfect pie evolve since 1927 when Fioravante Santora started serving it. And then in 1946 when Dino started slinging pies at the Bocce Club on Hickory Street. And the Todaro’s started selling La Nova pizza in 1957.

Bocce Club announces new Bailey Avenue location. 1959 ad.

Pizza is an institution in Western New York, made up of hundreds of neighborhood institutions that make it a quintessential taste of Buffalo.

Santora’s was not only Buffalo;’s first pizzeria, but also among the first to deliver pizza. 1964 ad.

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: The Beef on Weck

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking at Buffalo’s definitive foods, and we’re starting with a classic.

Anderson’s beef on weck and a loganberry.

Beef on Weck has been a Buffalo staple since around the time of the 1901 Pan Am Exposition.

Gohn’s Tavern at Main and Delavan, across Delavan Avenue from Forest Lawn’s entrance, was the first restaurant that made roast beef on Kimmelweck rolls a regular specialty.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: Gohn’s Place, known as home of beef on weck

Gohn moved into a building next door when his property was bought out to put up a gas station in the 1930s. That spot eventually became The Locker Room, which claimed to be the original home of the Beef on Weck.

The Locker Room and Bailo’s on Bailey and Lovejoy were Buffalo’s two favorite Beef on Weck spots for generations, but the sandwich was really Buffalo’s signature bar food, and available at dozens if not hundreds of taverns around Western New York.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: Bailo’s, famed for beef on weck and an urban legend

There was even Beefy’s– the local roast beef fast food place that offered Beef on Weck at the Seneca Mall and a few other locations in the 1970s.

These days there are plenty of places that will serve you a Beef on Weck sandwich, but very few gin mills with a giant slab of beef and a pile of hard rolls right there behind the bar– the way the sandwich was first served more than a hundred years ago.

But the Beef on Weck remains one of Buffalo’s definitive foods.

The Golden Age of Kids’ TV in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’ve been taking a look back at the local kids shows we’ve watched through the years on Buffalo TV.

We go channel by channel, show by show, describing some of the favorites and adding photos when a photo is available.

Sadly, no video exists of most of these shows… but the memories live on.

Channel 4

Of course Buffalo Bob Smith was a local guy, and his national Howdy Doody Show was one of the most popular shows on TV anywhere in the late 40 and early 50s.

But along with Howdy Doody, Buffalo’s first TV station, WBEN-TV Channel 4, brought Buffalo’s first locally created kids’ shows.

MORE: Remembering WBEN-TV’s Visit With Santa (And Forgetful the Elf)

Mike Mearian

Uncle Mike and pal Buttons, WBEN-TV, 1956

Starting in 1954, one of the most popular shows on Channel 4 was Mike Mearian’s “Children’s Theater,” which featured the host as either Uncle Mike or Captain Mike when they played Popeye cartoons.

Buttons and Uncle Mike Mearian, WBEN-TV

Mike’s faithful puppet sidekick Buttons, was a marionette operated by Ellen Knetchel and voiced by Mearian.

The 1956 Sylvania TV Award nominations described Uncle Mike this way:

“Mr. Mearian’s genius as a humorist plus the best available children’s cartoons add up to youthful entertainment fun that is always in the best of taste.”

 

Captain Mike Mearian & Buttons the Cabin Boy

Virgil Booth

Virgil Booth at the Buffalo Zoo,

There was also Mr Bumble’s Curiosity Shop. WBEN Announcer Virgil Booth was Mr. Bumbles. Booth also hosted regular kids shows as himself from the with Clayton Freiheit at Buffalo Zoo and Ellsworth Jaeger at the Buffalo Museum of Science. he also hosted cartoons through the years as Channel 4’s baggagemaster.

The soft-spoken announcer on WBEN’s Luncheon Club recently retired as Ch. 4’s baggagemaster and opened Mr. Bumble’s Old Curiosity Shop– filled with items bound to attract young viewers.

Mr. Bumbles takes about 30 minutes putting on makeup and costume each Saturday afternoon. He becomes a man in his 70s who uses the language of children to heighten their inquisitiveness during the 5 to 6 PM Saturday program.

Virgil Booth at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

 

Jerry Brick

Uncle Jerry Brick, WBEN-TV

Uncle Jerry Brick– who was the floor manager of the Meet the Millers Show during the week, hosted a Sunday morning kids talent show through the 50s and 60s that introduced more than 2,000 talented youngsters on Channel 4.

The show was described in the paper this way:  TV cameras capture priceless expressions of visiting tots as Jerry asks questions during the outing.

Bob & Ellen Knechtel

They created and operated the puppets and marionettes seen on Channel 4 from the 1940s through the 1970s.


Channel 7’s Kids Shows

Rocketship 7

Dave Thomas & Mr. Beeper

When Dave Thomas wasn’t hosting Dialing for Dollars with Nolan Johannes and Liz Dribben, he was palling around with Promo The Robot and Mr. Beeper.

Rocketship 7 was a must watch for many Buffalo kids through the 60s and 70s, before Dave Thomas blasted off for a new job in Philadelphia in 1978.

Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot on Rocketship 7

And Dave Thomas wasn’t the only Dialing for Dollars connection to Rocketship 7. It was relatively easy for Dave to change from his Rocketship 7 jumpsuit into his “count and amount” clothes, but it was a little more difficult for another cast member on both shows.

Dave Thomas, Banaszak, Nolan Johannes and Jimmy Edwin on Dialing For Dollars.

Johnny and Jimmy were the house band on Dialing for Dollars, and Johnny Banaszak had a quick change between his back-to-back gigs, too. He quickly had to shed the Promo the Robot suit and grab his accordion. He was not only the man inside the suit, but also the voice of Promo as well.

Commander Tom

Another salubrious kids show on Channel 7 starred All-American weatherman Tom Jolls as Commander Tom– who took to TV wearing the bright red jacket of a Canadian Mountie.

Commander Tom, Dust Mop, and the rest of the crew on the Commander Tom Show,.

He performed with his puppet pals which early on, were mostly made from his kids’ old stuffed animals.

Some of those puppets, which the Commander voiced himself, included Matty the Mod, a young and energetic, though not too bright alligator; Cecily Fripple, a sensitive and gentle thing of questionable age who tries to recapture her glorious past; and last but not least, Dustmop, the faithful watchdog of Central Command, who is spite of his old age and failing eyesight, is the brave protectorate of the entire cast.

The Jungle Jay Show

Jungle Jay Nelson

Jay Nelson was a disc jockey on WKBW Radio, but is perhaps best remembered as the host of Channel 7’s Jungle Jay Show.

He wore a pith helmet and a leopard print jacket while playing old Tarzan clips when kids got home from school.

The shtick was so popular that even after he left Buffalo for his native Canada to work at CHUM Radio in Toronto, he continued calling himself Jungle Jay, and continued wearing the pith helmet. The show was just as popular north of the border as it was in Western New York.


Channel 2

Channel 2 has had a few popular locally produced kids’ shows through the years.

Maybe most popular was Channel 2’s weatherman Bob Lawrence as Captain Bob.

Puppeteer Jim Menke worked on Channel 2’s Captain Bob Show as well as on Channel 17’s Mr. Whatnot program,

He did local cut-ins during two wildly different programs.

At first, he entertained kids during Channel 2’s playback of old 1930s Three Stooges shorts.

Captain Bob also hosted the local presentation of The Mickey Mouse Club afternoons in the late 50s and early 60s.

Jim Menke was the puppeteer during the Captain Bob Show, and later he brought his puppet Corky to the Mr. Whatnot Show on Channel 17.

Mr. Whatnot, with Jack Paupst in title role, was locally produced by WNED-TV, Channel 17.

Another Channel 2 kids show that was as much a commercial as it was entertainment hit Buffalo TVs in 1960 with the opening of Fantasy Island.

Buckskin Joe at Fantasy Island on Channel 2, WGR-TV.

Buckskin Joe was the host of what looked like a TV version of Fantasy Island’s Wild West Show. Buckskin Joe was actually Clyde Farnan, the General Manager of the amusement park.

He was joined on TV by Marshall Rick, Annie Oakley, Little Bo Peep, and bad guys like Cactus Pete and Black Bart– who was also Fantasy Island’s business manager Harvey Benatovich.

Checkers and Can Can was a short-lived locally produced WGR-TV show featuring Checkers the Clown and Can-Can the tin man.

Checkers & Can Can 1960

Romper Room & Bozo

a 1969 ad for Romper Room on Ch.2. This show was produced in New York City.

Back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, there were probably a dozen different versions of Romper Room you may have seen on Buffalo television screens.

There were nationally syndicated versions, as well as shows that were produced in Toronto and Hamilton.

But on two different occasions, for short periods of time, there were Buffalo-produced Romper Room shows as well.

Channel 7 aired a local version of Romper Room for the first few years the station was on the air.

Miss Mary was the first local host. Her real name was Cele Klein, and she’d been a veteran soap opera actress. The show would get 150 letters a day from kids across WNY and Southern Ontario.

She handed her magic mirror over to Miss Sally Klein, who was around for about a year, then Miss Binnie Liebermann, who was hosting the show when the local version was cancelled in 1962– “clobbered” in the ratings, according to Channel 7, by Uncle Mike Mearian on Channel 4.

Another local version of Romper Room came in 1971 when Channel 29 first signed on the air. Miss Elaine Murphy was the host.

Channel 29 also had another live local version of a national show that appeared in local versions all around the country.

Fancis Stack as Bozo the Clown on WUTV, TV-29.

Young Buffalonians had watched Bozo the Clown productions from Chicago and Boston and watched Bozo cartoons– but the only locally produced Bozo’s Big Top was on WUTV starting in 1971 and starred local clown Francis Stack as Bozo.


Canadian TV

We’ve been looking at local kids TV over the past week, and while they weren’t 2,4, or 7, most of us spent plenty of time watching 5,9, and 11, because there were plenty of Canadian Kids shows we loved.

Mr. Dressup and his tickle trunk filled with costumes for him and puppets Casey and Finnegan was an iconic program airing on CBC for more than 40 years.

Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan sit on the tickle trunk.

Also on Channel 5 for a long time, The Friendly Giant was there every morning if you looked up… waaaaay up.

The Friendly Giant and Jerome the Giraffe

There was a rocker for someone who liked to rock, Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster.

Channel 9 in Toronto gave us the Uncle Bobby Show. Bobby Ash was an old British vaudevillian, who was joined by Traffic Officer John, Meredith Cutting, “the Singing Policeman;” Cy Leonard, “the ventriloquist;” and of course… Bimbo the Birthday Clown.

Uncle Bobby (standing) and Cy Leonard, CFTO-TV.

And if you have any recollection of learning French on Sesame Street— you watched that on Canadian TV, too. In the US, Sesame Street has always taught Spanish.

Goldie Gardner, right, WNED-TV.

Of course you probably watched both– especially if you also remember Goldie Gardner asking you to bring your parents to the TV, as she did on Channel 17 for decades.

Uncle Bobby and Bimbo the Birthday Clown

The Kids Shows of Channel 7

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking at some of the great kids shows we grew up with in Buffalo, and two great ones from Channel 7.

Rocketship 7

When Dave Thomas wasn’t hosting Dialing for Dollars with Nolan Johannes and Liz Dribben, he was palling around with Promo The Robot and Mr. Beeper.
Rocketship 7 was a must watch for many Buffalo kids through the 60s and 70s, before Dave Thomas blasted off for a new job in Philadelphia in 1978.

Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot on Rocketship 7

And Dave Thomas wasn’t the only Dialing for Dollars connection to Rocketship 7. It was relatively easy for Dave to change from his Rocketship 7 jumpsuit into his “count and amount” clothes, but it was a little more difficult for another cast member on both shows.

Dave Thomas, Banaszak, Nolan Johannes and Jimmy Edwin on Dialing For Dollars.

Johnny and Jimmy were the house band on Dialing for Dollars, and Johnny Banaszak had a quick change between his back-to-back gigs, too. He quickly had to shed the Promo the Robot suit and grab his accordion. He was not only the man inside the suit, but also the voice of Promo as well.

Commander Tom

Another salubrious kids show on Channel 7 starred All-American weatherman Tom Jolls as Commander Tom– who took to TV wearing the bright red jacket of a Canadian Mountie.

Commander Tom, Dust Mop, and the rest of the crew on the Commander Tom Show,.

He performed with his puppet pals which early on, were mostly made from his kids’ old stuffed animals.

Some of those puppets, which the Commander voiced himself, included Matty the Mod, a young and energetic, though not too bright alligator; Cecily Fripple, a sensitive and gentle thing of questionable age who tries to recapture her glorious past; and last but not least, Dustmop, the faithful watchdog of Central Command, who is spite of his old age and failing eyesight, is the brave protectorate of the entire cast.

 

The Kids Shows of Channel 4

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking at local children’s TV shows through the decades…

Of course Buffalo Bob Smith was a local guy, and his national Howdy Doody Show was one of the most popular shows on TV anywhere in the late 40 and early 50s.

But Buffalo’s first TV station, WBEN-TV Channel 4, brought Buffalo’s first kids shows.

MORE: Remembering WBEN-TV’s Visit With Santa (And Forgetful the Elf)

Mike Mearian

Uncle Mike and pal Buttons, WBEN-TV, 1956

Starting in 1954, one of the most popular shows on Channel 4 was Mike Mearian’s “Children’s Theater,” which featured the host as either Uncle Mike or Captain Mike when they played Popeye cartoons.

Buttons and Uncle Mike Mearian, WBEN-TV

Mike’s faithful puppet sidekick Buttons, was a marionette operated by Ellen Knetchel and voiced by Mearian.

The 1956 Sylvania TV Award nominations described Uncle Mike this way:

“Mr. Mearian’s genius as a humorist plus the best available children’s cartoons add up to youthful entertainment fun that is always in the best of taste.”

 

Virgil Booth

Virgil Booth at the Buffalo Zoo,

There was also Mr Bumble’s Curiosity Shop. WBEN Announcer Virgil Booth was Mr. Bumbles. Booth also hosted regular kids shows as himself from the with Clayton Freiheit at Buffalo Zoo and Ellsworth Jaeger at the Buffalo Museum of Science. he also hosted cartoons through the years as Channel 4’s baggagemaster.

The soft – spoken announcer on WBEN’s Luncheon Club recently retired as Ch. 4’s baggagemaster and opened Mr. Bumble’s Old Curiosity Shop– filled with items bound to attract young viewers.

Mr. Bumbles takes about 30 minutes putting on makeup and costume each Saturday afternoon. He becomes a man in his 70s who uses the language of children to heighten their inquisitiveness during the 5 to 6 PM Saturday program.

Jerry Brick

Uncle Jerry Brick, WBEN-TV

Uncle Jerry Brick– who was the floor manager of the Meet the Millers Show during the week, hosted a Sunday morning kids talent show through the 50s and 60s that introduced more than 2,000 talented youngsters on Channel 4.

The show was described in the paper this way:  TV cameras capture priceless expressions of visiting tots as Jerry asks questions during the outing.

Bob & Ellen Knechtel

They created and operated the puppets and marionettes seen on Channel 4 from the 1940s through the 1970s.

 

The Sounds of the Erie County Fair

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We spent this week listening in to the sounds of the Erie County Fair.

I Got it!

The sound of an over-modulated PA system, and a guy sitting on a stool grumbling out the numbers of I GOT IT! is a tradition at Western New York lawn fetes, carnivals, and of course the Erie County Fair.

I Got It!

I Got It! was created when a change in state law banned bingo from firehalls.
Orrin “Peck” Catlin took matters into his own hands, building the first eight “I Got It!” units in his Blasdell garage for use at the Big Tree Volunteer fire company.

It was enough like the game of chance bingo to be attractive to the ladies who lined up to play bingo, but also added an element of skill– making it a legal amusement.

That was more than 50 years ago, and we’ve been laying down our quarters to toss those little red rubber balls ever since.

Yelling I GOT IT!… one of the great sounds of the Erie County Fair.


Ramblin’ Lou Schriver

Local country music legend Ramblin’ Lou Schriver played the Erie County Fair for an unbelievable 51 straight years.

He started pickin’ at barn dances, and started entertaining on the radio in 1947, playing live and recorded music as a disc jockey.

Milk for Health sponsored Ramblin Lou’s wholesome family radio shows through eight different decades. He even played on stage sitting on a specially painted old-fashioned milk can.

That can, and Ramblin’ Lou’s “Nudie Suit,”with his famous blue jacket emblazoned with an image of Niagara Falls crafted out of sequins by famous County & Western tailor Nudie Cohn, has been one of the most popular displays at the Fair’s Heritage and History Center.

Elvis, Gene Autry, Hank Williams– all regularly wore suits crafted by Nudie Cohn.

Ramblin’ Lou Schriver died at the age of 86 in 2015, but he’s still at the fair in spirit, as the Ramblin’ Lou family band continues to perform daily at the Avenue of the Flags stage.


 

1975.

The Human Block Head (and other oddities)

The oddities shows were once very much a part of the fair.

Melvin Burkhart nails it 1978

Melvin Burhardt had a few different acts over the decades. He was “the man with the rubber neck” and spent some time with the Ripley’s Oddotorium as “The Two Faced Man.”

He could contort his face so that half was Happy Melvin– with a raised eyebrow and a smile, and the other half was sad Melvin– with a scrunched eyebrow and a scowl.

The James E. Strates Shows have provided the midway attractions for the Erie County Fair since the 1920s. When Burkhardt joined Strates in 1956, his act was one of 18 sideshows.

1939 article talks about Strates’ side shows.
Strates’ 8 Foot Man. 1958.

He was best known to Erie County Fair goers as one of many “Human Block Heads” who came through the fair. Through the years, there were dozens of people who learned the Nail Head trick of hammering nails, or ramming knives, right into their faces.

It’s not comfortable– but it’s also not actual hammering. You can see the trick explained all over the internet.

There were many acts through the years named Alligator Man or Alligator Boy or Alligator girl– those were people who suffered from ichthyosis, which causes profound scaling of the skin. Tall people with Marfan syndrome. Hairy people with Hypertrichosis.

The human oddities are gone from the fair and most circuses and fairs, in part because of our changing sensibilities, but also because most of what we once considered odd or freakish is not so much anymore– especially when YouTube is filled with great, scientific explanations for the tricks and diseases which people put on display during these shows.

Strates showbill, 1959

While they are gone and never to return, the oddities and sideshows are a part of the history of the fair that shouldn’t be forgotten.

1971.

Demolition Derby & Joie Chitwood

The Demolition Derby has been a final-weekend-of-the-fair tradition for generations.

1967 ad.

Billed through the years as “The 100 car Demolition Derby,” “The 200 car Demolition Derby,” and then later as “The World’s Largest Demolition Derby,”  through the 50s and 60s, ads in the sports section of the Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express goaded men on to join with headlines screaming, “WANTED MEN WITH IRON NERVES” and “WANTED… MEN WITH COURAGE TO DRIVE AUTOMOBILES HEAD ON AT 60 MPH CREATING A 120 MPH IMPACT.”

1953

For about as long as there’s been auto racing and auto thrill shows, motor mayhem has been a big part of The Erie County Fair. Joie Chitwood was the original stock car daredevil, and he and Erie County Fair staple for decades.

Joie Chitwood… The Demolition Derby… all kinds of automotive daring… a long standing part of the tradition at the Erie County Fair.


Chef Felix’s pizza truck

Chef Felix’s pizza truck was a fixture at the Erie County Fair for 34 years.

Felix Coniglio, in front of his truck at the Erie County Fair. Some of his pizza making equipment is on display inside the Fair’s Heritage & History Center at the Octagon Building.

Starting just after World War II, at a time when pizza was far more of an exotic treat than something you could find virtually everywhere. Felix Coniglio dished out whole pies and pizza by the slice as well.

And it was not only the smells of the pizzas cooked right in his truck that filled the midway, but it was his voice, too, coming from a speaker on the side of the truck.

Chef Felix Coniglio was selling pizza pies at the fair after he left the Navy following World War II up until he died in 1992.


Hear these and many other sounds of the Fair at the Erie County Fair’s Heritage & History Center.

Located inside the Fair’s 1885 Octagon Building, the Heritage & History Center opened during the 177th Fair to chronicle over 195 years of agriculture, food, competition and excitement that have come to symbolize the Erie County Fair to generations of Western New Yorkers. Exhibits were curated to showcase the inspiring traditions that have laid the foundation for the present-day Fair as well as reflect the progression of change in our society.

Read more from the Heritage & History Center from the man behind the museum, Marty Biniasz.

 

Sounds of the Fair: I Got It!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re celebrating the sounds of the Erie County Fair.

The sound of an over-modulated PA system, and a guy sitting on a stool grumbling out the numbers of I GOT IT! is a tradition at Western New York lawn fetes, carnivals, and of course the Erie County Fair.

I Got It!

I Got It! was created when a change in state law banned bingo from firehalls.
Orrin “Peck” Catlin took matters into his own hands, building the first eight “I Got It!” units in his Blasdell garage for use at the Big Tree Volunteer fire company.

It was enough like the game of chance bingo to be attractive to the ladies who lined up to play bingo, but also added an element of skill– making it a legal amusement.

That was more than 50 years ago, and we’ve been laying down our quarters to toss those little red rubber balls ever since.

Yelling I GOT IT!… one of the great sounds of the Erie County Fair.