In 1923, there were 181,300 people of Polish extraction living “out Broadway”— the shorthand for what many in Buffalo proper also called “the Polish Colony,” metaphorically centered by St. Stanislaus Church and the Broadway/Fillmore intersection.
For the rest of the half-million plus people who lived in Buffalo, the Polish were at best a very foreign group whose language and customs seemed swathed in mystery. At worst, the Polish were a hard-working but lesser people who – aside from laboring in factories, mills and foundries – were best to stay in “Polacktown, where there are more children in the streets than in the yards.”
“Trouble in Polacktown” Buffalo Evening News front page, 1883. Buffalo Stories archives
Beth Stewart was among Buffalo’s first female newspaper reporters and later became a feature reporter for the Courier-Express. She married fellow Courier reporter Gordon Hollyer and served as the public relations director for the YMCA through most of the 1950s and ’60s.
Among her first series of feature reports was a three-part series on “the large and growing Polish colony of Buffalo.” It was a sympathetic and celebratory look at Buffalo’s Polonia, giving many outside the Polish neighborhoods their first opportunity to have a comprehensive understanding of how their Buffalo neighbors lived.
The Polish people were without their own nation for the entire 19th century. Poland was carved up between the Prussian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
The first big wave of Polish immigrants to Buffalo came from Prussian Germany after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck made it more difficult for the Roman Catholic ethnic Poles to freely practice their religion.
A wave of Poles from the Austrian province of Galicia started coming to Buffalo in 1882. Russian Poles started arriving en masse in 1905.
Buffalo’s first Polish councilman and later assemblyman James Rozan remembered coming to Buffalo as a boy in 1872. His family was one of a dozen or living in the mostly German Fruit Belt neighborhood.
Fourteen years later, when St. Stanislaus church was built at Peckham and Townsend Streets as Buffalo’s first Polish church in 1886, there were 19,000 Poles in the city, mostly living near St. Stan’s.
By 1923, there were 27 Polish churches for the roughly 380,000 Poles spread across the East Side, Black Rock, Elk Street, Seneca Street, Lackawanna, Dunkirk, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Cheektowaga and Depew.
Without much explanation other than just printing the Polish names without translation, Stewart wrote that the larger Polish community, first built around St. Stan’s, was further split into seven communities that would be readily understood by those who lived among them.
The first was Stanislawowo—members of St. Stanislaus Church. Then was Kantowo, from parishioners of St. John Kanty. Members of St. Adalbert’s were from Wojciechowo, Pietrowo was made up of the members of Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Clinton and Smith.
St. Casimir’s in Kaisertown made up Kazimierzowo. The community surrounding St. John Gualbert in Cheektowaga was Gwalbertowo. Black Rock was directly translated into Polish as Czarna Skala.
But however far-flung, Broadway and Fillmore remained “the Polish Main Street and Delaware Avenue” for Buffalo’s Polish population. The business district there was equivalent to the main street of a mid-sized northeast city. Polonia boasted 2,930 Polish-owned businesses and 14 community banks.
Right at that intersection was the building created as a hub of Polonia-wide activity. Translated, Dom Polski means “Polish home.” The substantial edifice opened as “The Polish Literary and Assembly Rooms Association, Inc” in 1889, replacing a refashioned barn used for the same purpose for at least a decade before.
Rather than an organization itself, the Dom Polski was the home of the Polish library and fraternal groups like Kolko Polek—the Polish Women’s Circle, Polskich Krawcow—the Polish Tailors, Sokol Polski—The Polish Falcons, Szewcy Polski—The Polish Shoemakers, and the Polish National Alliance.
It was a place on a Sunday night where you might find a half-dozen small family dinner parties in the different rooms and men smoking and playing billiards in the library. It was the Polish equivalent of the clubs on Delaware Avenue which routinely denied membership to most Polish-Americans past the middle of the twentieth century.
Much like their uptown counterparts, the members of the various clubs of the Dom Polski worked together to make their community a better place. One such effort was lobbying for a high school for the 6,000 Polish-American children in the Buffalo School system in 1923. They were fighting against the notion that the educational needs of Polish-Americans could be addressed by the city’s vocational schools. In 1926, East High School opened to serve the children of East Buffalo.
One of the amplified voices of Buffalo’s Polish population was “Everybody’s Daily,” a Polish newspaper with a circulation of 26,000.
“The paper is a force in the colony,” wrote Stewart. “It has enemies and many friends. It proclaims a policy of honest advertising. It fights for community interests—civic, political, educational, and religious.”
One still familiar institution is the Adam Mickiewicz Literary and Dramatic Circle. It still survives on Fillmore Avenue, but it was once one of many such organizations. Singing societies were also a popular element of Buffalo’s Polonia population in the mid-1920s, and one through which a greater number of Buffalonians were introduced to some Polish customs.
The Aleksander Fredro Literary and Dramatic Circle was a Mickiewicz-like group in Kaisertown. The Moniuszko was Polonia’s first singing society, and in 1923, headquartered at 570 Fillmore. The Chopin singers were at Broadway and Lathrop. There were also the Kalina, Lutnia, Lirnik, Harmonia, and Jutrzenka societies among others.
The Poles of 1923 weren’t just joiners of Polish groups—most of Buffalo’s 4,000 Polish-American World War I vets belonged to the American Legion. Adam Plewacki Post 799 was among the city’s “most active and lively posts,” and 98 percent Polish in membership.
Plewacki, who lived on Best Street, was the first Buffalonian killed in World War I. The post named in his honor worked to “cultivate the love of American ideals in foreigners,” working to “Americanize” immigrants beyond just proficiency in English.
If Buffalo’s landed class could appreciate anything about the people of Polonia, it was the way that most worked quickly to buy land, and then maintain and improve property once owned.
“Polish colonists are not merely home owners,” wrote Stewart, “they are improvers of communities. A piece of land is more than a commercial investment to the Polish buyer. It is a plot to be made his own, a place where a home may be built and trees and shrubs set out for beauty.”
“Fillmore Avenue, wide and shaded, set off on both sides by neat residences, is proof of the Polish ability to build up attractive communities.”
Clearly, Beth Stewart thought she was writing to an audience that—if they thought anything at all– thought very little of the Polish people. She wrapped up her 20,000 words worth of reporting with a glowing summary of her expedition “out Broadway.”
“The Poles in Buffalo have achieved much of which they may well feel proud. They built up a great and prosperous community—a city within a city.
“They have given to the city of their adoption distinguished professional men, sober industrious workers, artists, gallant soldiers.
“They have added to the beauty of the city turreted churches, dignified homes, and fine public buildings.
“They have borne themselves in a manner which leaves the city no room for regret that one-third of its population once bore allegiance to a foreign land.”
Court House. From a series of Buffalo drawings from 1855.
Buffalo Light House
Niagara Railroad Depot
First Baptist Church- North Street at N.Pearl
Aerial view of Downtown. Notice there is no Convention Center… Genesee Street goes right to Niagara Square without interruption.
Albright Museum & State Teachers College. Look at all those trees… Now parking lots.
Arnholt’s Restaurant, 299 Washington St. opposite the Ellicott Square Building. Now a parking lot.
Arrival of Fire Dept on Genesee St., Fighting fires with horse & buggy.
Baby Furntiture Store, 1294 Hertel Ave
Buffalo Raceway, under the lights
Bisons Base-Ball Park, Offermann Stadium
Broadway& Fillmore Avenues. This intersection is much more the same than many others, Except the donkey and the trolley tracks. This is standing with your back to downtown looking at the Broadway Market.
Broadway Looking West… Nice trolley
The Broadway Market. Note Kleinhans on the front umbrella.
Buffalo Harbor Showing Coal docks
Harbor Scene: Grain Elevators and Steam Ships
Harbor Scene: Real photo this time
The Harbor: ladies in a rowboat
The Ship Channel
1960s Tug Boats, The Oklahoma and the North Carolina in Buffalo Harbor
Entrance to the Harbor
Another Harbor Scene
The Americana: Sailing between Buffalo and Crystal Beach (more in the Crystal Beach section)
Buffalo Yacht Club
The Dakota Elevator
Buffalo Fire Boat in Action
Same card as previous with different coloring… common in old postcards.
Concrete Grain Elevators
Jack Knife Bridge, Kellogg Grain Elevator… This is Michigan Ave, just past the new casino heading away from downtown.
Jack Knife Bridge. Given the number of different postcards I’ve seen of this bridge, It must have been impressive in its day
More Jack Knife Bridge
Jack Knife Bridge
Jack Knife Bridge 1950s, a cool later view
The Buffalo Harbor Lighthouse. One of Buffalo’s oldest still-standing structures.
Two Lighthouses. Again, the more familiar one stil stands across the Harbor from the Hatch
Mouth of the Harbor Using the Lighthouse for bearing, the Aud site is out of site just to the right
NYCRR yards near the waterfront. Train tracks criss-crossed the waterfront area.
New Locks. The old Intl RR Bridge.
Buffalo Harbor Stereocard. Stereocards were placed in a binocular-like device and the images would appear.
Unloading Iron Ore
View from the Harbor. That’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral with the twin spires just right of the middle
After the storm of Jan 20, 1907
Yacht Race with the Yacht Club in the background
Entrance to the Harbor
Entrance to Harbor. Real Photo version of previous card
Buffalo Airport. Built in 1939 as a WPA project, it was expanded in 1955, 1961, 1971, and 1977…
Buffalo Airport. This building was replaced in 1997 by the current terminal. The current building is slightly to the west of where this building stood.
Greater Buffalo International Airport. The Name was changed from Buffalo Municipal Airport when the city handed the airport over to the predecessor to the NFTA in 1959. It became the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in 1996.
Original Terminal. This would eventually be known as the “East Terminal,” with a west terminal built in the 70s to alleviate over crowding.
Buffalo General Hospital.
Buffalo State Hospital. Now known as the HH Richardson complex, located on Forest Ave near Elmwood.
Boarding the Americana. The ferry to Crystal Beach left the foot of Main Street. The Aud and the Metro Rail would be in this shot…
Canadiana At Dock. You’d take the Americana or the Canadiana from the foot of Main to the Dock at Crystal Beach
The Americana coming….
And the Canadiana going…
Entrance Midway Entrance. Crystal Beach thrilled the people of Southern Ontario and Western New York from 1888-1989.
Crystal Beach Midway. Despite 70 years difference, the midway didn’t look all that different when it eventually closed.
Arriving at Crystal Beach
The Crystal Beach Pier in winter
Athletic Field at Crystal Beach. The Coaster in the background was known as the Backety-Back.
Bathers on Crystal Beach
Bathers as the Canadiana approaches
Bathers and Boat
1940s view: Bathers and Canadiana
Buffalo’s Coney Island: Crystal Beach. Close up View of the Backety-Back
Two-level Boardwalk and Pier
Union Station Ride
Real Picture card of Customs House. Taken from either Canadiana or Americana
After the Customs House on the Pier
The Pier. You can see the deck chairs in this shot.
Crystal Beach Divers. This doesn’t appear safe…
Jolly Bathers at Crystal Beach. Notice the cottages along the beach…
Entrance to the Midway
More from the Midway
Midway. This One’s very familiar to me… Even only with memories of the 80s at CB
Another Midway Scene
Again on the Midway
Razzle Dazzle. An Early amusement that looks to be unsafe.
Moonlight on Lake Erie. What a way to end a Crystal Beach date…
Cazenovia Park Casino. The water is no longer there… This side of the building faces the creek
Cazenovia Park. This is at the end of the ball diamonds… Basically a bathroom hut as far as I remember it 25 years ago. This is where our grandpa taught my brother and me to “not touch anything” in the public restrooms.
Cazenovia Bridge. This looks alot like the area below the current Cazenovia St. (not Pkwy) Bridge…
Cazenovia Park 1922.
Central Terminal. Here are several views of the building’s exterior…
Central Terminal Cocktail Lounge. Inside the attractive Martin’s Restaurant
Central Terminal Lunch Counters
Central Terminal Main Concourse
Central Terminal Main Entrance
Chamber of Commerce Bldg
Childrens Hospital. Nice Tin Lizzy there…
Chippewa at Delaware. To get this view, stand in Starbucks Parking lot… The rounded building is Bada Bing these days… The Hampton Inn is now across the street.
Chippewa & Main. For this view now, as you drive up Chippewa from the 33 towards the bars, look to the right as you cross the Metro rail tracks. Note the Buffalo Marquee…
Chippewa%2CWashinton%2CGenesee Chippewa, Washinton, & Genesee Sts. This intersection looks as confusing then as it does now. I don’t think any of that clump of buildings is still there… All parking lots or the M&T Building across from TGI Friday’s.
Chippewa Market. The Chippewa Market is now the parking lot across Washington from TGI Fridays.
Chippewa Market. Look for St Michael’s church the next time your stopped at Chippewa and Washington.
Chippewa Washington Market
City Trust Company Building. Shelton Square, Main at Niagara.
Civic Stadium, aka The Rockpile. Before the second level was added.
Civil War Arch
Civil War Arch Close Up
Clay Robinson Co of East Buffalo
Commodore Perry on Lake Erie
Corner Niagara & Franklin
CornerPearl%26WTupper Corner Pearl & West Tupper
Buffalo Country Club
Courier express Birthday Club
Courier Express Bldg (Now the Building houses the Catholic Diocesan Offices
Sheas Theatre on Court St. Condemned to make way for Liberty Building
Sheas on Court Street
DL&W trolley car
Deaconess Hopsital 1914
311 Delaware Ave: Chez Ami
Same Chez Ami image… this one actual photo
Chez Ami back
Chez Ami. Other side of the bar
Delaware Ave Delaware–Buffalo–Park
Delaware–Buffalo–Park Delaware Park
DelawareAve%26North Delaware Ave at North
Delaware Ave Homes
Delaware Ave Homes
Delaware Ave Homes
Delaware Ave At Chippewa
Delaware Ave At Edward
Delaware Ave At Johnson Park. Mayor Johnson’s House is long gone.
Bishop Colton’s House, Now Blessed Sacrament Church’s Rectory, just north of W Utica
Bishop Colton’s House
Bridge Over Delaware Ave. Under Scajaquada Parkway then, now Scajaquada Expressway
Erie County Jail
Ford Hotel, Delaware at Chippewa.
Delaware Ave at Kenmore
Delaware Ave North From Summer
Delaware Ave North From Summer
Delaware Ave North from North
Temple Beth Zion. This building burned to the ground, the current temple was built down the street.
Wilcox House. President Roosevelt was inaugurated here following President McKinley’s death further up Delaware at the Milburn Home.
There’s a definitive visceral satisfaction and joy in watching a machine operated by your own hands so completely defeating Mother Nature.
Of course, snow removal is only poetic when there’s a few inches of the stuff and it’s a windless 32 degrees.
It’s fleeting and wonderful, so I do my best to fully enjoy it when the unlikely great conditions make for a delightful snow blow.
Even slightly more snow, calm wind, or a few degrees falling off the thermometer can easily turn happy, bloviatious SAT word-laden thoughts into gutturally spewed Anglo-Saxon words. But you can’t have one without the other.
There’s no way to feel the fullest high of an easy snow removal without having unfurled a deeply painful and cold “SONAVABITCH” at the senselessness and stupidity of living in such a place as this.
True Buffalove means, to apocryphally paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, if you can’t handle Buffalo at its worst, maybe you don’t deserve it at its best.
And either way, there’s always the notion that post-snow blowing is the only acceptable time for me to take my pants off in the kitchen. And Bailey’s hot chocolate or a Manhattan.
John Zach’s Buffalo broadcasting career has spread over seven decades, starting in the late 50’s as a volunteer in the early days of public broadcasting at Channel 17.
When he walks away on December 30th to spend more time with his chickens (and his grandkids, I assume), he takes with him the last vestige of a great era in Buffalo radio.
He learned the craft of radio and radio news from men who treated their jobs in radio like their friends and neighbors treated their jobs at the plant or the office. Buckle down, do your job with all you’ve got and with the highest attention to detail and quality, shut your mouth and get it done with as little nonsense and frill as possible.
For quite some time now, John has been the defiant last holdout of that generation still grinding away in the news mill every day– to the point where there aren’t even many folks left who started ten or twenty years after John did still at work in broadcast news in Buffalo.
The sound and sensibility he has brought to Western New York microphones for nearly 60 years is unmistakable. That unique richness and breadth his presence has added to the tableau of media and journalism in Buffalo will be forever missed from our airwaves and news coverage.
Your chickens and grandkids will like to see more of you, John, and I can assume you won’t mind seeing more of your pillow in the 3am hour. That, however, leaves the rest of us to miss you and your daily presence in our lives.
The many Faces of Ed Little By Steve Cichon November, 2004
ED LITTLE spent an astonishing 62 years on radio, nearly all of it in Buffalo and Rochester. His awe-inspiring career took root in 1938 when he stepped in front of the microphone at WEBR as a child actor with a grown-up voice. Later he played many parts on stage and on the air with the UCLA Campus Theater troupe.
During World War II, Little carried a wire recorder aboard B-29 bombing missions over Japan and delivered the play-by-play description for later playback on NBC.
Joining WEBR as a music personality post-war, he soon became host of the late-night Town Casino broadcast, interviewing every megastar of the 1950s—from Danny Thomas and Tony Bennett to Johnnie Ray and Rosemary Clooney—at that storied nightclub.
During 1958-64 he lit up the night airwaves at KFMB San Diego, then returned to Buffalo for an eye-opening career shift—becoming the newsman during Joey Reynolds’ nighttime romp on WKBW.
Following 14 years as the afternoon news anchor at WBBF Rochester, Little in 1981 joined the news team at WBEN, where his trademark delivery continued to add a sense of distinction to that station’s aura until his retirement in 2000.
Ed in the Press… Click to read MORE
He was one of my best pals ever… The late, great Ed Little. He was a WBEN newsman from 1979-2000, was a newsman at KB on the Joey Reynolds Show, and hosted a show live from the Town Casino on WEBR in the early ’50s. He started in radio in the 30s as a child actor, and also flew in bombers over Japan in WWII, recording his play-by-play of bombing runs to be played back later on nationwide radio.
He could sometimes be a pain to work with 🙂 but he NEVER had a bad word to say about anyone, and always had plenty of change to buy you a 25¢ cup of coffee from the vending machine in the basement. Judas PRIEST, indeed!
BUFFALO, NY – It’s funny the way memories begin to haze. Strictly from a Buffalo point of view, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, KB was one of many stations cranking out the music and antics that made for great rock n’ roll radio.
Stations like WBNY, WWOL, WXRA, and later WYSL and a host of others were capturing the imaginations of young people in Buffalo. Tommy Shannon first made girls swoon at WXRA Radio, from a location way out in the boonies. The studio was on rural Niagara Falls Boulevard, in a location which soon would be the home of Swiss Chalet for the next 50 years. WXRA later became WINE, where Hernando played host.
Tom Clay, one of many disc jockeys to use the name Guy King on WWOL, was arrested after his playing ‘Rock Around the Clock’ over and over again, while perched atop a billboard in Shelton Square. Traffic was snarled for hours in what was considered “Buffalo’s Times Square,” and is now just considered the MetroRail tracks in front of the Main Place Mall.
If you tuned to WBNY in the late 50s, you were likely to hear the voice of Daffy Dan Neaverth, Joey Reynolds (right), Fred Klestine and Henry Brach. At WBNY, Neaverth would pull a rooftop like event similar to Guy King’s, throwing candy out to passersby. Neaverth, perhaps with his boyish good looks and demeanor, evaded arrest for his stunt.
As many of the smaller stations in Buffalo were churning out rhythm and blues music all day, at night, for Buffalo and the entire eastern seaboard, ‘the Hound Sound was around.’
George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, the Godfather of rock n’ roll radio (not just in Buffalo, but PERIOD) first plied his trade in Western New York at Niagara Falls’ WJJL, as early as 1951. By the mid 50’s, Lorenz’s hip daddy style, and the fact that he was spinning records from black artists, made him an institution.
Ironically, the man who brought Elvis to Memorial Auditorium was out at KB when the station went Rock n’ Roll full-time. Lorenz wanted nothing to do with a Top 40 style format. While inspiring many of the changes that came to KB and many other stations around the country, the Hound stayed true to his style, and founded WBLK Radio; where he continued to uncover and spotlight new artists, both in Buffalo, and to a syndicated audience around the country.
Despite a pioneering spirit and great imaginative programming, each of those true rock n’roll pioneer stations had unique problems. Either they weren’t well financed, or had daytime-only signals so weak that they couldn’t be heard throughout the city and all the nearby suburbs.
Enter WKBW Radio, soon with the corporate backing of owner Capital Cities (now THE DISNEY CORPORATION, by the way), and its monstrous 50,000 watt signal. With an eventual 50% of the marketshare, KB quickly blew all of the much smaller competitors out of the water. Half of the audience was listening to KB. Never before, and never since, has a radio station been so dominant in Buffalo.
On July 4, 1958, Futursonic Radio was alive on WKBW. The rock n’roll era had arrived on a respectable, long established Buffalo radio station. When station manager Al Anscombe first convinced the Reverend Clinton Churchill to make the switch to Top 40, initially, the station was stocked with out-of-towners at the direction of the man who’d established WBNY as the city’s Top 40 leader, program director Dick Lawrence.
But eventually, a base of homegrown talent sprinkled with some of the most talented people from around the country, KB built an unprecedented following in Buffalo and around the country. Most of the names already mentioned here made their way to KB, and many reading this might not know or remember they worked elsewhere.
As often happens, over the last 50 years, for better or for worse, people who remember Guy King or the earliest Tom Shannon or Daffy Dan Neaverth shows, will think they heard those things on KB, forgetting those early pioneering rock n’roll days. If you watched Elvis shake his hips on Ed Sullivan for the first time, and you then listened to Elvis on the radio– It wasn’t likely KB, even though your memory might tell you otherwise.
Many who played a part in making those smaller stations great feel slighted by the fact that KB has swallowed up the collective memory of the early rock n’roll era; but it’s no slight on those great stations and the folks who worked there: It’s more a testament to the incredible juggernaut that KB was. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he was just the first to make the same car available to everyone.
With its clear-channel 50,000 watt signal, KB was heard all over the eastern half of North America. Anyone who worked at KB in its heyday has stories. The Joey Reynolds Show was a resounding Number 1 in Buffalo. But 370 miles away in Baltimore, the show showed up in the ratings as number 4. The late newsman Ed Little would remember being in the room as packages containing female lingerie were opened; sent from Maryland by an obviously big fan. Don Yearke, known as Don Keller the Farm Feller back in the early 60s on KB, was recognized along with his KB Litter Box by a fan in Southern Pennsylvania.
Starting in the mid 50s, and running through the mid 70s, its fair to say cumulatively, that nighttime KB disc jockeys like George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, Dick Biondi, Tommy Shannon, Jay Nelson, Joey Reynolds, Sandy Beach, and Jack Armstrong enjoyed more listeners on a single radio station during that clear-channel time in the evening, than any other station in the country.
For that reason, KB owns a special place not only in Buffalo’s pop cultural lexicon, but also for thousands and thousands of fans, who just like the ones in Buffalo, fell asleep with their transistor under their pillow, wondering where the hell Lackawanna was.
The proof is in a quick search of WKBW on your favorite search engine. People from all over the country, and not just Buffalo transplants, have built websites dedicated to keeping the memory of WKBW alive. It’s a part of Buffalo’s past of which we should all be proud.
Listen to WKBW!
Narrated by then-KB Radio newsman Irv Weinstein, this piece reflects the KB staff from it’s first year as a Top 40 station. It starts with The Perry Allen show, with an Irv Weinstein KB Pulsebeat Newscast… with some of the great writing and style Irv would become known for in Buffalo over the next 40 years. You’ll also hear from Russ Syracuse, Johnny Barrett, Art Roberts, and Dick Biondi.
Narrated by Irv Weinstein, Instant KB was actually released on a single-sided album sized record for distribution sponsors on the local and national level. You’ll hear snippets of disc jockeys Stan Roberts, Fred Klestine, Jay Nelson, Dan Neaverth, and Joey Reynolds at work, followed by a Henry Brach newscast, and a quick excerpt from Irv Weinstein’s documentary “Buffalo and La Cosa Nostra.” Many KB commercials and contests follow.
The famous Jeff Kaye produced and narrated look at KB in 1971, with jocks Danny Neaverth, Jack Sheridan, Don Berns, Sandy Beach, Jack Armstrong, Bob McCrea, and Casey Piotrowski, with Kaye’s thoughts and insights on each in between. First appeared on album form from the industry periodical “Programmer’s Digest.”
BUFFALO, NY – The village of Buffaloe was, in 1814 described by one visitor as “a nest of villians, rogues, rescals, pickpockets, knaves, and extortioners.”
When the British burned Buffalo, it was a small village of log cabins, with tree stumps strewn in the streets. It’s difficult to imagine the Buffalo of 200 years ago, but suffice it to say, the the area that is now Forest Lawn cemetery, the Parkside neighborhood, and Delaware Park, then known as Flint Hill, far outside the tiny village, served as a home base for American troops invading British Canada during the early part of the War of 1812.
Roughly half of those garrisoned here never made it home.
While the detail of the story follows, and is illustrated in the articles shown to the left, it’s enough to know that basically, after several failed attempts to invade Fort Erie by crossing the Niagara, a decision was made that troops would spend the winter of 1812 at their home base at Flint Hill.
These were volunteers, mostly from places like Maryland, Virginia, and Southern Pennsylvania. They came to Buffalo in the summer time, with their southern-styled thin linen uniforms. They had open ended tents in which to sleep, and very few blankets. No woollen winter uniforms.No boots. Food was scarce this far out on the frontier. When sickness spread through the camp, called a “dreadful contagion” by the newspapers of the day, soldiers began to succumb. Quickly.
Given the rocky soil of the area, the fact that is was frozen solid in the harsh winter, and the fact that so many were dying so quickly, men were buried in graves around a foot deep on the edge of the camp. In the spring, Dr. Daniel Chapin, upon who’s land they were camped, dug up and reburied all 300 men in a single trench, in an easy to dig meadow in the middle of his expansive backyard.
Chapin’s home was at what is now Main Street and Jewett Parkway; his backyard, Delaware Park. He buried the men in the middle of what is now the golf course, and planted willow trees to mark the spot.
When 80 years later, the willow trees began to die, a marker was placed on a boulder, in the middle of what was then the Park Meadow.
Since then, the hallowed spot, and the sacrifice made by those men to defend our nation have slowly been forgotten; especially as the nation’s first public golf course opened as that game began to sweep the nation just before the turn of the century.
In the 1920s, flappers used the cannons for playful photo backdrops (see left). By the 1940s, “The Cannons” were a well-known and well trodden night spot for teenagers looking to imbibe away from the watchful eyes of grown ups.
Ironically, by the late 60s, when the infamous Park Meadow Bar at Parkside and Russell was filled beyond capacity, the overflow crowd often went to the actual park meadow, with a 6 pack or a case to drink the night away.
At some point, the cannons disappeared. Sometime during the 1970s. Maybe something as simple as a parks worker sick of mowing around them, or the parent of one of those drunken youths making noise after he was “innocently” injured by one of those muzzleloaders. (If you know what happened to those cannon, let us know!!)
By the late 1990s, renewed efforts by area historians Michael Riester and Patrick Kanavagh began shedding new light on the War of 1812, and the Parkside area’s roll in it.
A Flint Hill marker was placed at the corner of Main and Humboldt through the hard work or Patrick and Michael. Now, along with fellow historian Steve Cichon, they are trying to call attention to Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns, as the bicentennial of the War looming.
I dedicate it to the memory of those who, during the War of 1812, died from wounds and disease, and whose remains find here repose; who left home and friends, to repel the invasion of a foreign foe; to defend our hill sides, valleys and plains, and who feared not death in defense of the flag. I dedicate this memorial, which will for ages mark their final resting place, to their honor and memory.
May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism, when called upon to defend their country’s honor, and if need be die in defence of the flag, the glorious stripes and stars, emblem of liberty, equal rights and National unity.
– Speech dedicating the Memorial, 1896
Below, you’ll find two different full accountings of what happened in the Parkside/Forest Lawn/Delaware Park area during the winter of 1812 which left about 300 American soldiers buried in a single trench mass grave, in the middle of what’s now Delaware Park golf course, without any real accounting of who was buried there.
On the penultimate Memorial Day before the celebration of the War of 1812’s centennial, an event was organized to remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who died at the mound in the meadow.
Coverage from The Buffalo News:
Better memorial sought for grave of War of 1812 dead – Delaware Park site is largely unknown
The Buffalo News | May 29, 2011 | Phil Fairbanks – NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Next time you’re playing the fourth hole at Delaware Park Golf Course, look down and say thanks to the 300 war dead buried there.
Better yet, stop and read the small plaque on a nearby boulder, the only physical reminder of the so-called Tomb of the Unknowns.
Unbeknown to most visitors, under the middle of the park’s sprawling green meadow lies a mass grave for American soldiers who died of disease and exposure during the War of 1812.
Because of the public’s lack of awareness of the grave, a small cadre of local historians is pushing for a better memorial of the “sacred site” and the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for a young country.
“It was like a punch in the face to find out about this,” said Steve Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian. “I just can’t imagine someone putting their life on the line for me and then being forgotten, even 200 years later.”
Monday, Cichon will join a group of volunteers in planting 300 American flags at the burial site as part of a Memorial Day ceremony.
The flags simply are a first step in a larger campaign by activists who think more needs to be done to recognize the grave site and the contributions of the men buried there, many of them volunteers from as far away as Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“We’re trying to educate people,” said Patrick Kavanagh, a local historian. “No death is nice, but these men, and maybe women too, died a terrible death.”
The efforts to improve the memorial coincide with next year’s bicentennial of the war’s beginning and are rooted in a patriotic story of courage and sacrifice by young men ill- prepared for the winter of 1812.
“This is immensely important historically and one of the park’s hidden treasures,” Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, said of the burial site.
These were American soldiers, who after failing in their attempts to cross the Niagara River and invade Fort Erie, fell back to what was then known as Flint Hill.
Their camp stretched from what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery to Jewett Parkway and Main Street, and included much of what became Delaware Park.
Equipped with warm-weather uniforms and inadequate tents and facing a shortage of food, the American soldiers soon found themselves falling victim to illness and eventually death.
“Some of them didn’t even have footwear, and they had summer clothing at best,” said Kavanagh. “It was just an incredible loss of life.”
One by one, they were buried in shallow graves because of the frozen ground and naturally hard soil. That spring that Dr. Daniel Chapin, who owed the land and lived nearby, dug up the bodies and reburied them in a single mass grave.
To mark the burial ground, Chapin planted willow trees. And when the willows died decades later, park officials replaced them with the boulder and plaque that remain there today.
“May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism,” Parks Commissioner David F. Day said in a 1896 speech dedicating the monument.
But future generations did exactly what Day said they shouldn’t do — they forgot.
Cichon says he has no problem with the golf course covering the grave site but thinks the monument to the men buried there should be more prominent. Not long ago, two old cannons and a flagpole also sat there.
“Can we get the canons back? I don’t know,” said Herrera-Mishler, “but we’re very open and welcoming to ideas.”
Herrera-Mishler is quick to note that the Conservancy’s master plan for the park calls for adding interpretive signs that document the park’s history and expanding foot trails so they reach the boulder and plaque.
For Cichon, Kavanagh and fellow historian Mike Riester, the boulder and plaque fail to adequately memorialize the tremendous loss of life that occurred that winter nearly 200 years ago.
“They died at a clip of seven or eight a day,” said Cichon, the author of a book on Parkside’s history. “People need to know that and pay reverence to it.”
A new memorial would mean everything to Riester, who has been working on this effort for 15 years.
“These men are still unknown and forgotten,” he said. “It’s like it didn’t even happen.
“I would like to leave this earth knowing this has been fixed, and that these men will always been remembered,” he said.
2011 event at The Mound in the Meadow
Money was raised over the following year, and a memorial was placed on Ring Road at once of the entrances to the Buffalo Zoo.
The story was covered in newspapers all over the world, including The New York Times and USA Today. Coverage in The Buffalo News:
Monument will honor 300 soldiers who gave their lives in War of 1812
Buffalo News, The (NY) | May 6, 2012 | Phil Fairbanks – NEWS STAFF REPORTER
When Steve Cichon learned about the 300 war dead buried in the middle of Delaware Park, he said, it was like a punch in the face.
It also struck him that the small plaque on the fourth hole of the golf course, the only evidence of the mass burial site, was a grossly insufficient way of honoring the War of 1812 soldiers who died defending their country.
On Memorial Day, with the bicentennial anniversary of the war looming, Cichon will unveil the results of a campaign to right that wrong — a new monument to the American war dead once hailed for their “unselfish loyalty and patriotism.”
“It’s just great that it will finally get done,” said Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian. “And something would have been lost if we had waited until the 201st anniversary of the war.”
The new monument to the “Tomb of the Unknowns” will be located on Buffalo Zoo property near Ring Road and the zoo’s bison exhibit.
“One quick email and Donna Fernandes said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ ” Cichon said. With the site locked up, Cichon turned his attention to fundraising, and he quickly raised enough to buy a discounted stone monument.
The discount came courtesy of Stone Art Memorial, a Lackawanna monument company that, like the zoo, wanted to help. Cichon also persuaded Paul Broad, a local concrete contractor, to help build a base for the monument.
“It’s been a real grass-roots effort,” said Cichon. “I raised money by haranguing all my Facebook friends.”
More than $1,500 later, he is ready to unveil what he and a small group of advocates have spent years lobbying for — a more suitable reminder of the sacrifice made by the 300 men who were ill-prepared for the winter of 1812.
They were American soldiers who, after failing in their attempts to cross the Niagara River and invade Fort Erie, Ont., fell back to what later became known as the Flint Hill Encampment. It covered an area from what is now Forest Lawn to Jewett Parkway and Main Street, and it included much of what is now Delaware Park.
Equipped with warm-weather uniforms and inadequate tents and facing a shortage of food, the American soldiers soon fell victim to illness, disease and eventually death.
They were buried in shallow graves because of the frozen ground and naturally hard soil, but that spring, Dr. Daniel Chapin, who owned the land and lived nearby, dug up the bodies and reburied them in a mass grave.
To mark the burial ground, Chapin planted willow trees. When the willows died decades later, park officials replaced them with the boulder and plaque that remain in place today.
“May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism,” Parks Commissioner David F. Day said in an 1896 speech dedicating the monument.
Unlike the old monument, a plaque on a boulder in the middle of the golf course, this memorial will be highly visible to anyone walking the park’s Ring Road.
It also provides visitors with an easy view of the original plaque and boulder, at the site where the soldiers are actually buried.
“It’s an ideal location,” Cichon said of the new site outside the zoo. “It’s also the right thing to do.”
Photos: 2012 Dedication of new memorial on Ring Road
Buffalo News editorial, from Memorial Day 2012:
Remember the sacrifices – Take time to honor the men and women who have made our freedoms possible
Chances are, if you spent any time planning for this weekend, it was to make a tee time, get the pool ready for the summer or buy provisions for a cookout of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.
We’ve long treated Memorial Day as the unofficial kickoff to summer ? a last-Monday-in-May, guaranteed three-day weekend ? while forgetting why we observe the holiday.
But it’s not too late, even if you just take a moment today to recognize the sacrifices made by those who died at far too early an age in the service of their country.
For more than two centuries, families from this area have sent off to war teenagers and young adults, some not old enough to legally drink, only to see too many of them return in a coffin.
This year marks the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812, which saw bitter fighting here, including the burning of Buffalo and other Niagara Frontier villages.
Some 300 soldiers in that war died while camped in what is now Delaware Park. They are buried there in a mass grave.
So it is fitting that a memorial to the “Tomb of the Unknowns” will be unveiled today, near the Buffalo Zoo, by Steve Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian who led the effort to better recognize the 300.
For the past year, Buffalo Niagara has joined the rest of the nation in marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, our nation’s bloodiest war.
It’s only fitting that our attention turns back to Fort Sumter, Antietam, Gettysburg and Appomattox, because Memorial Day traces its origins to Decoration Day, a holiday established in 1868 to honor the dead from that war.
But we don’t have to look to the history books, or stoop to peer at the fading words on a long-dead soldier’s crumbling tombstone to recognize the sacrifices made in the name of the United States of America.
This is the first Memorial Day observed since the withdrawal, in December, of the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq, where 4,486 American servicemen and women died since that war began in 2003.
We continue to wage war in Afghanistan, where Americans have served since October 2001, making it by far the lengthiest war in U.S. history.
The American death count for that conflict is nearing 2,000, and coalition forces will continue to press the fight against the Taliban there through the end of 2014, President Obama and his NATO allies said last week.
We will leave Afghanistan as we left Iraq, without declaring victory, mourning the dead and, while hopeful, worrying what will happen after we’ve departed.
Unlike in previous conflicts, the general public hasn’t been asked to make much of a sacrifice during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the burden has fallen disproportionately on the servicemen and women and their families.
But we can take this one day to make a gesture to honor those who paid for our freedom with their lives. Display the flag, attend a Memorial Day ceremony, tend the grave of a fallen veteran or take your children to a parade ? but spend a few minutes explaining why we’re having a parade today.
From: The Complete History of Parkside by Steve Cichon (2009) Chapter 2: Parkside Goes to War
Erastus Granger had been at Flint Hill less than a decade; the Plains Rangers less than five years when the War of 1812 broke out. The Parkside/Flint Hill area played several prominent roles in that conflict. Flint Hill was an encampment and training ground for soldiers preparing to invade Canada. It was also a sanctuary when the village of Buffalo was burned to the ground. Given the nature of war and brutal Buffalo winters, the area also served as a burial ground for hundreds who never made it home.
Throughout much of the documentation about the War of 1812, the Flint Hill Camp was described as “Camp near Buffalo.” This was explained in Peace Episodes on the Niagara (Buffalo Historical Society, 1914).
“In 1812, the Army of the Frontier went into winter quarters at Flint Hill, with Scajaquada creek as a convenient water supply.” Barton Atkins, the great chronicler of history of this period, wrote about the encampment in Modern Antiquities: The camp extended on Main Street from the present Humboldt Parkway northerly to the lands of Dr. Daniel Chapin… and westerly to the head of the Park Lake, on lands belonging to Erastus Granger. On the Main-street front of this old camp-ground stand several venerable oaks, relics of the old camp. The one directly opposite the Deaf and Dumb Asylum is distinguished as the one under which a row of soliders kneeled when shot for desertion in the spring of 1813.
The camp spread from what is now Forest Lawn to near Jewett Parkway along Main Street, and stretched as far back as the Delaware Park Lake. The shooting mentioned was Buffalo’s first execution. As of 1914, one of the old trees that bore witness to the capital punishment still remained in the backyard of 24 Florence Avenue (corner of Crescent.)
Flint Hill, along with the rest of the Niagara Frontier, was a hotbed of activity early in the war as a planned launching point for the invasion of British Canada, and as it was Indian Agent Granger’s job to keep the Native Americans neutral. The Buffalo Gazette of June 2nd, 1812, reports Granger met with the chiefs of the Six Nations, at which time they acknowledged no desire to enter conflict between the US and Canada.
By early August however, after the rumor spread of the British and their Indian Allies gaining control of Seneca-owned Grand Island, Seneca chief Red Jacket told Granger that the Seneca Warriors wished to join the conflict against the British and “drive off those bad people from our land.” As his correspondence from the time shows, Granger spent much of the ensuing year walking a tightrope, trying to make both the Indians and the powers in Washington happy.
The most complete meetings of chiefs in many years was held again on Main Street at the Granger farm in September, and this time the Senecas, the Onondagas, and the Cayugas voted to “take up the hatchet on behalf of the United States.” Those who volunteered their services at the council agreed that they “would go home as soon as the council fire was extinguished, arm and equip themselves for battle, and return to Buffalo.”
Though it was the continued hope to keep the young men of the Six Nations neutral, given the fact that “within a fortnight, between two and four hundred savages” would be in Buffalo ready to fight, President James Madison was forced to allow Granger to accept the services and organize the warriors of the Six Nations.
Still, there were many stops and starts in the Iroquois joining the war effort. Several times, after being asked to assemble, native warriors weren’t used. After nearly a year of “dancing” between native chiefs and Washington bureaucrats, the two sides kept in alliance by the constant work of Granger, it was Granger’s safety that ultimately had the Indians take to arms in combat.
They finally entered the conflict when their friend, Erastus Granger, was in peril. The Canadian British put a price on his head, and had Flint Hill… yes, modern day Parkside… marked for destruction. Judge Granger received word of this on July 10, 1813, and sent word to the greatest Seneca warrior of his time, the old chief Farmer’s Brother. Granger’s longtime compatriot, who fought in both the French and Indian War of the 1760s, and the American War of Independence, had received a medal from George Washington for his service. It was also “from Washington’s lips” that came the name “Farmer’s Brother,” by which the chief would be known for the rest of his days.
A man of at least 80 years old in 1813, Farmer’s Brother traveled from his hut in the Indian village in today’s South Buffalo, to what’s now the Parkside neighborhood, with warriors in tow, ready to fight. The Indians readied for war at the Granger home on Main Street. James Granger wrote an account of the night in his 1893 book Granger Genealogy. The chief and his followers arrived at 11 o’clock, and the night was spent preparing for the coming fray. Bullets were molded by the great fire in the kitchen (of the Granger Homestead), messengers hurried into the neighboring village for arms and ammunition, and the Indians were banqueted on unlimited salt pork prepared by Mrs. Granger’s own hands.
After over a year of waiting to join the conflict, the Senecas would finally join the war. Granger, led by Farmer’s Brother and the Senecas followed Guide Board Road (North Street today) to Black Rock. There, they met with General Porter, who decided to initiate an offensive against the British along the shores of the Niagara River.
The Senecas prepared for battle in a ritual never seen by the American troops assembled at the spot. They took of all of their clothes; stripped down to their breechcloths. Granger and the Senecas were on the right side of the line, regulars in the middle, white volunteers to the left, ready to take on the British. At the order of General Porter, the Indians leapt forward with a yell that startled both their enemy… and their allies. Within minutes, the enemy had retreated. The Indians had even rushed into the water to pull soldiers from their boats as they paddled in retreat for the safety of the Canadian shore. The victory was complete. Buffalo, Black Rock, and Granger’s Flint Hill Estate were safe, for now, due mostly to the tenacity of Farmer’s Brother’s men.
Because of its location, both high in elevation, and a relatively safe-yet-close-enough distance to Black Rock, Flint Hill had become an important meeting place for the military leaders both the United States and of the Six Nations (now Five Nations, with the Mohawks fighting along side the British.) Captain George Howard of the 25th Infantry spent some time at the Granger place recovering his strength and health. He wrote home to Connecticut on June 6, 1813, that he had met many of the famous chiefs of the Six Nations, including Red Jacket, Parrot Nose, Bill Johnson, Young King, Farmer’s Brother, and Silver Heels.
The Burning of Buffalo
Five months after that first battle, in December, 1813, by now Col. Granger and 83 Seneca Warriors under his command again responded to a British attack on Black Rock, but this time, they were forced to retreat when so many other soldiers fled from the line. Granger returned to his home, several miles away, to relative safety. As hoards of men retreated, and the lines of protection broke apart, the British marched up Niagara Street from Black Rock to Buffalo, and over the course of the coming days, laid torch to all but a handful of buildings in the village of Buffalo.
As the British and their Indian allies made their way towards Buffalo, the women and children of the village moved north up Main Street in an obviously harried fashion. Though many fled as far as Clarence Hollow and Williamsville, many dozens sought refuge and stayed safe in the home of Judge Granger on Flint Hill, and in the homes of the Buffalo Plains. As mentioned in the previous chapter, it is noted in several histories, including Studies of the Niagara Frontier, that homes on the Buffalo Plains, like that of Zachary Griffin, were not burned because, “the Indians in their course of destruction with musket and firebrand were too much overcome with liquor before they reached this house to do any further damage.”
In fact, none of the buildings as far north as current day Parkside were burned as the British and their Indian allies left Buffalo a pile of smoldering timber. It made the area, especially Granger’s place, a location where many women and children took up semi-permanent residence, while the men who weren’t taking to arms took to rebuilding the village. Encampment at Buffalo
Picture Delaware Park, all along the Scajaquada Expressway, over the Park Meadow and golf course, all the way up to Main Street filled with tents, bonfires, and soldiers milling about. As early as September 1812, over a year before the burning of Buffalo, General Alexander Smythe had planned to use Buffalo and Black Rock as a staging ground for an invasion of Canada; many of his troops, particularly Pennsylvania volunteers under the command of General Adamson Tannehill, were camped and drilling at Flint Hill.
Smythe was an interesting character, if not an effective General, or even a buffoon. His actions (and inactions) make it apparent that he felt that inspirational writing and speeches could surmount instilling discipline and training his men, many of whom were not professional soldiers, but volunteers; signing up only as the Union was in peril. Smythe was written of by Frank Severance in Episodes of Peace on the Niagara (1914): He was… often ridiculous, and has been remembered… chiefly because of certain bombastic proclamations which he issued during his short career in Buffalo and vicinity. Historians… have written of him only in a vein of amused contempt…. calling him “supercilious, dictatorial, impertinent.” (and) “indecisive, puerile and cowardly.”
The folly and incompetence of General Smythe made his troops rambunctious. During the fall and winter of 1812, many citizens of the Buffalo area were alarmed to find their fields and barns being plundered by Smythe’s hungry or simply bored soldiers. William Hodge, Jr. wrote about one series of incidents in Recalling Pioneer Days: Once several fat sheep were put into a horse stable, among the horses, just at night to be dressed the next morning; but when morning came they were gone. They had been taken a short distance into the orchard, and dressed, or butchered and carried off to camp. At last some of the soldiers were caught at this work. They were taken to their camp, and delivered up to the officers for punishment; but to this the officers were not disposed. This rather exasperated some of the inhabitants, who asked the commanding officer what they should do to the soldiers if they were caught at any more of these depredations. He said, “Shoot them, shoot them down the rascals.”
After this a number of the young men of the town kept watch at night. Of this group Velorus Hodge was one and they kept watch one night at the bridge of Granger’s creek, Main street. (This is roughly the intersection of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue.) After a while the one on guard outside discovered eight soldiers crossing the bridge, and hailed them. They answered, “What businesses have you to stop soldiers on the march?” and then a pistol was fired by one of them. The guard returned the fire. This started out those in the house; they sallied forth and all fired at the soldiers giving them an effectual peppering with shot.
Five of the soldiers fell to the ground and three making their escape. Of the five four were wounded by the shot; the fifth fell to save himself from being shot. These five were marched into camp the next morning and delivered over to the commanding officer, who approved of the course taken by the citizens. This put a check upon the stealing and plundering for quite a while.
Granger’s Creek is today Scajaquada Creek. The bridge talked about, though well hidden, still goes over Main Street near Jefferson. Plans to Invade Canada Hatched in Parkside
Plainly, his troops hated him. General Smythe wrote many verbose and bombastic proclamations to his troops, and verbally delivered several more, most of which won him “the derision of friend and foe.” He was known as “Alexander the Great” and “Napoleon the Second.” Plenty of his hot air was blown in preparation for his plans to invade Canada.
Those plans were set into motion on November 28, 1812. Smythe had as many as 8,000 men champing at the bit. He had been building, collecting, and fixing boats by the dozen for crossing the Niagara River at Black Rock. At this point, Smythe’s rhetoric had worked, whipping his men into a frenzy, ready to spill across the river at Black Rock for the glory of the union. Trumpets played Yankee Doodle Dandy, further lighting the fires under the men on a cold winter day, with wind and snow blowing off the Niagara River. An early morning crossing of 420 men in 21 boats were met with musket fire as they approached the shore to the south of Fort Erie. What happened next was the final straw for Smythe’s men. What happened… was nothing.
Wrote Frank Severance in Episodes of Peace on the Niagara (1914):
From sunrise to late afternoon, his army was embarking- the enemy on the other side of the river, in constantly-increasing numbers, looking on at the show. General Smythe did not appear at all, leaving the details to his subordinates. For hours the troops shivered in the boats, some of which, stranded on shore, filled with snow and ice. Late in the day, when at length everything seemed ready for a grand movement across the stream, General Smythe issued an amazing order: “Disembark and dine!” Disgusted and angered, the whole force was at the point of rebellion.
Two more days of similar commands to climb aboard boats… spend the day in the tiny wooden craft, freezing along the Niagara River shore in late November Buffalo weather, and then never leaving that snow and ice- filled shore.
After having been “whipped into a frenzy” days before, some men smashed their muskets against trees in disgust, and many of those who didn’t ruin their guns made mutinous use of them, firing in the direction of Smythe himself. Legend has it that musket ball holes filled General Smythe’s Flint Hill tent by the end of that third night. Of the 1700 Pennsylvania volunteers camped at Flint Hill, 600 deserted in a 24 hour period. General Peter Porter wrote an article in the Buffalo Gazette calling Smythe a coward for refusing to move forward with the planned invasion. The two fought a duel with pistols, but both shots were errant, neither hitting the other.
Between his officer colleague and the angry soldiers under his command, Smythe had survived perhaps dozens attempts on his life over a two week period, and had had enough. On December 17, 1812, within days of his three failed attempts at invading Canada, and, fresh on the heels of gun fire pointed in his direction from both a fellow general and his own men, Smythe would leave Buffalo and Flint Hill for his native Virginia. The Army Register states that he was “disbanded.” But the soldiers who lived through the rest of the winter of 1813 on Flint Hill had not yet seen the worst of it all. A horrific lasting monument to the war, still in Parkside, but little known, had yet to be created. Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns
Enlist your imagination once again. Picture living in Buffalo, in November and December, in open-ended tents, wearing linen uniforms, and having only very few, if any, blankets, coats, socks and boots. It was these conditions in Parkside in 1813 that yielded the mass, virtually unmarked grave that thousands of Western New Yorkers unknowingly drive by each day as they commute by Delaware Park on Route 198.
Up until the time of Smythe’s abortive campaign to invade, the mostly Southern soldiers all lived in mere pup tents. In Buffalo. In the winter. Once the offensive proved a failure, they were ordered to build huts for the winter, but most were slow to comply. The troops stationed on Flint Hill were mostly from Pennsylvania, and even further south, and showed up to Buffalo, in autumn, in their linen uniforms. Now winter had arrived, but more appropriate uniforms had not. Many Buffalo, Flint Hill, and Buffalo Plains families took in soldiers, but the village was just too small to accommodate the great number of troops wintering here.
Food supplies were unreliable to the front in Buffalo, and food that arrived was often rancid. Colonel Widner, Smythe’s second in command, stationed at Fort Niagara, had been experiencing the same conditions to the north. He reported in a letter to his commander in at Flint Hill, “We’re starving at this end of the line for bread.” The conditions were same at the camp that ran through what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery, along Main Street to the north, and into Delaware Park.
It is among these demoralized, starving, freezing troops that a “Camp Distemper,” described as a “dreadful contagion” broke out. The following account comes from an American prisoner of the British, and pays eyewitness account to what the winter of 1812-13 was like in Parkside:
That the enemy have about 3,000 troops one mile and a half in rear of Black Rock, under camp at a place called Judge Granger’s, where the General (Smythe), his aide-de-camp and several officers of rank live.. their camp is unhealthy… they die from eight to nine daily… the dead.. are put into holes two or three of which are made every day, and into each put two to four dead men. The doctors say the disease is as bad as the plague. The patients are first taken with a pain in the head, and in an hour-and-a-half or two hours they invariably die. Besides this disease he mentions their being afflicted with pleurisy, dysentery, and measles.
The Buffalo newspapers of the day daily listed the names of the dead, until the numbers became too great; eventually the Army stopped releasing the names. The home towns, listed next to the names, show, once again, that these men, from places like Baltimore, southern Pennsylvania, and Virginia, would have likely had a difficult time acclimating to Buffalo’s winter climate, even without the starvation and disease that was present. From the Buffalo Gazette, on December 22, 1812: The FEVER, which has made such dreadful havoc among our soldiers and citizens, continues to rage. The Physicians are taking unwearied pains to ascertain the character of the disease and to prescribe an effective remedy for it. Bloodletting is generally fatal in violent cases.
It wasn’t just soldiers who contracted this illness. While the causes of many of their deaths are lost to history, it’s a fact that many residents of the Buffalo Plains and Flint Hill died during this time. Among those who passed that winter were Samuel Atkins, the first Plains Ranger, and Parthenia Chapin, the wife of Dr. Daniel Chapin.
Whether Mrs. Chapin died from one of the many illnesses sweeping through the camp or not, it is certain that she knew of the suffering first hand. It was on the outskirts of the Chapin property that the several daily shallow graves mentioned above were dug. As any gardener in Parkside knows, Flint Hill derives its name from the rocky soil abundant in the area. This is also apparent to anyone who drives the Kensington Expressway; and sees the solid rock that was blasted through near the Scajaquada Expressway interchange.
While digging graves by hand would be a challenge in good weather, these graves, again two or three per day, were being dug in the difficult frozen ground of winter. Often times, they were no more than a foot deep. Dr. Chapin offered his land for the burial, and tavern owner William Hodge was pressed into service to make coffins for the dead. Records say he crafted 300 pine coffins to be used for burying the soldiers who died while encamped on Flint Hill. Written in Buffalo Cemeteries (1879):
The troops of General Smythe remained at Flint Hill until the following spring. During this time there prevailed among them a typhoid epidemic. Deprived as they were of comfortable hospitals, and a sufficient supply of medical agents, it carried off about three hundred of them. They were put into plain pine board coffins, furnished by William Hodge Sr., and temporarily buried near the south line of the Chapin place; but the rock came so near to the surface that their graves could not be more than about a foot in depth.
The ensuing spring they were removed some distance, to the north side of the farm, where the ground was a sandy loam and easily dug. Leave to bury them there being given by the respective owners of the farms, Capt. Rowland Cotton and Doctor Daniel Chapin, they were deposited directly on the dividing line between these farms, in one common grave. Doctor Chapin planted two yellow willows, one at each end of the grave, which have become large trees, and are yet growing. The grave itself remaining undisturbed to this day.
The grave was to be known in coming years as “The Mound in the Meadow,” with those willows coming from clippings of a yellow willow taken from Daniel Chapin’s yard. The willows lasted on the site until at least 1896, when on July 4th; a boulder was placed on the site of the grave, with a marker attached. It’s worthy to note that among those dead might not only be US soldiers, but perhaps servants who died while attending to the sick, and perhaps even prisoners of war- Canadian and British being held captive who met the same horrible fate as the Americans.
Aside from the boulder in the middle of the golf course, the mass grave of 300 American Soldiers, fallen in wartime service, goes unmarked, and unremembered, having been largely ignored for the last 100 years. Plans to properly mark the spot and honor the dead have come and gone over the last two centuries; you’ll read of those plans as the story continues.
As the spring of 1813 broke, and Chapin and Cotton were giving proper burial to the dead, some of those soldiers who had survived the horrible winter began to think pacifist thoughts, and wanted to leave while the getting was good. The commanding officers made an example of several soldiers who tried to desert. As a previously included account spells out, these deserters were knelt in a row and shot in front of several oak trees along Main Street near, generally near what is today Florence Avenue. Their bodies were then hanged from the trees to dissuade any further desertion from the ranks at Flint Hill.
To try to define Buffalo and what it’s like to be a Buffalonian isn’t quite a one sentence or one draft beer notion.
Even exquisite paragraphs and emptied pitchers can leave so much unsaid.
Today, November 18, my wife and I cruised through our city with our convertible top down. It wasn’t just a tolerable drive, it was warm– on the skin of our cheeks and the depths of our souls.
Driving our city streets and watching the outdoor smiles and nice weather rolled up sleeves of our Western New York neighbors only helped radiate more warmth.
Down Hertel to Delaware, under the 190 and through the Marina. It wasn’t just about enjoying the day, it was about enjoying Buffalo enjoy the day.
Backup through Canalside and heading for the Outer Harbor, we turned onto Michigan Avenue, back into the low hanging dark orange sun.
It’s a different warmth that comes from the November sun, and as its gentle-yet-thorough toasting rays began their magic dancing on the skin of my face again, the most glorious surprise struck.
With deep breaths, my lungs filled with intoxicating sweet cocoa smells of General Mills baking cereal.
For a few fleeting moments, there aren’t words. Just Perfection. Right here in Buffalo, the kind of which you can’t find on the most beautiful Caribbean beach or the most tranquil Himalayan mountain top.
It’s the kind of perfection it takes a lifetime to acquire the taste for— but I can’t imagine there’s anything sweeter.
On a day that somehow feels stolen yet still very much right, Buffalo brings it all perfectly.
Already buoyed by friendly smiles and the waning-yet-perfect comfort of the sun drenching all that it touches in just enough warmth, the addition of lungs-full of baked goodness was about enough to leave me momentarily delirious.
And in the midst of all this on a glorious warm sunny day, I stopped to buy gas for the snow blower. The weather man says within 48 hours, we’ll certainly be 40 degrees colder– and maybe under a six-inch blanket of the white stuff for which Buffalo is so well known.
And I’m not only ok with that, I’m giddy about it— because this is Buffalo, and I’m a Buffalonian. And I couldn’t have had today without what might come tomorrow.
Buy another pitcher and I’d be happy to explain further.
BUFFALO, NY – When Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar, and Tom Jolls teamed up in 1965, it’s probably fair to say that more people would have been watching Channel 4’s test pattern than the news on Channel 7. But by the time Rick Azar retired in 1989, the three had not only become the longest running anchor team in history, but also gained an iconic status unparalleled for any other triumvirate in television news history.
For me personally, Irv, Rick, and Tom have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My dad and I watched the news together every day. My mom tells anyone who’ll listen that “IRV TINE-TINE” was among my first words, and I would run around the house singing my own version of the Eyewitness News Theme (ba-ba-BA, BA-BA, Badabadaba, ba-ba-ba-BA-BA, BADABADABA!).
Commander Tom and his pals Davey and Goliath kept me quiet and entertained, and left me having a great desire to have a red jacket with yellow epaulets. And then there was the time my Grandmother nearly passed out when we all met Rick Azar AND Mike Randall at the Broadway Market one Easter… “He’s so handsome, He’s so handsome,” Grandma repeated over and over.
Eyewitness News Audio
Some of the people, places, and stories of Channel 7 through the years…