The Butcher and Preservation

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

I was saddened to hear of the death of Donald Palmer, forever etched in Buffalo’s memory as “The Butcher.” He will remain forever one of Buffalo’s sports and pop culture icons. Rest in Peace. -Steve Cichon 11/22/16

BUFFALO, NY – I love preservation and giving current context to Buffalo’s old stuff. My attic is a testament to my single handed efforts at saving our city’s past.

Sometimes, though, I’m frustrated that we don’t celebrate things as a city until they are moments from the wrecking ball.

The Bisons have been here forever. They aren’t going anywhere. They have beer and peanuts and baseball. And a giant TV screen. Do we have to wait to show them massive amounts of Buffalove until they decide to move to Carolina with Carborundum or Arizona with Teds?

It’s hard to believe that the Bisons just wrapped up the 26th season of baseball at PilotNorthAmericareDunnTireCocaColaJimmyGriffin (sorry if I left one out) Field.

TheButcher1986

The Bisons’ Most Famous “Bat Boy”: The Butcher at War Memorial Stadium, “The Rockpile,” in 1986.

Also hard to believe: if any good Buffalonian were on Family Feud, and RichardDawsonRayCombsLouieAndersonTheGuyFrom-HomeImprovementJohnOHurleySteveHarvey (sorry if I left one out) asked, “Name a Bisons’ Bat Boy,” we’d all have an immediate number one answer.

No other baseball city in the country has a bat boy turned bat man who lasted through two baseball stadiums and became an icon like our Butcher, shown above in 1986 at War Memorial Stadium.

We love our Bills and Sabres, but our Bisons are a much more Buffalo organization at the heart of it.

Mayor Griffin’s brass ones built the ball park. He just started building it, and sending some of the bills to Albany. And they paid.

The most famous Bisons of the last few decades include the Butcher, Conehead, The Earl of Bud, Larry the peanut guy, and Irv from the 7th inning stretch.

For the record, that’s beer, beer, peanuts, and shouting obnoxious things in unison during Gary Glitter’s Rock’N Roll Part 2. There’s some genuine, real article Buffalove.

It’s too late now, but maybe next season we can get all hipster and act like we just unearthed this amazing gem that is soooo Buffalo that we need to go and look at it, and drink beer. It’s at Washington and Swan.

Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers worked in grain mills or steel plants and nothing will bring them back. But guess what? They also watched the Bisons at Offerman Field.

And many of us went with our dads to the Rockpile. And the “new” ballpark.

It’s like preservation, without having to strap yourself to anything!

I love finding new-old stuff to rally behind, but I like the old-old stuff, too.

So, I hope I’m not alone in grabbing my Red&Blue/Green&Red/Blue&Orange/backtoRed&Blue (sorry if I left one out) Bisons gear, and looking forward to opening day at a home grown institution that screams Buffalo by screaming “WHO NEEDS A BEER…”

Charge!

Originally appeared on Trending Buffalo on September 3, 2013

Thomas J. Dolan, 1942 -2013. His admission of struggle changed my life

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Tom Dolan died this week. For the last 30 years, readers of the Buffalo News knew him as Thomas J. Dolan, News Staff Reporter.

I worked side-by-side with Tom a lot during the contentious Satish Mohan years as Amherst Supervisor.

Amherst was Tom’s regular beat for the News, and it was becoming mine for WBEN, as every meeting was seemingly an event.

Board members yelling at one another, threatening physical violence upon one another during meetings.

“Mr. Supervisor, someone had better shut their mouth or I’ll shut it for them.”

In a back office, I once saw a board member boiling to a point where it looked line he was inches away from a slugging another, only to see those two embarrassed apart by yet another board member. It didn’t get reported because it was about the tenth most interesting thing that happened that night in the zoo that was the Amherst Town Council for a few years.

Tom was unfazed by all that. He kept all his laptop components in separate ziplock bags. He showed up a few minutes before the meeting started, pulled his mouse and power adapter out of their baggies, and started to listen and write.

He’d get it all in the paper, stripped of nonsense, and without resorting to the wild sound bites and noisiness that came with reporting these meetings in the electronic media. He got it all in, like a pro, put on his tweed cap and went home.

It was easy to be overcome by the emotion of those meetings. Of course, it was only because of the emotion that I and other radio and TV reporters were there. Tom would get the taste of emotion, but more importantly, the facts of the meeting. The actual operation of government. The real news, not just the stuff of prurient interest.

He had a quiet passion that burned slowly, but intensely. He talked about the best kind of dogs, his beautiful Parkside home, the rewards of being divorced- but remarrying in the Catholic Church after years of work with to make it happen the right way.

He also talked about being at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, a watershed moment for American politics, activism, and freedom.

He was also a neighbor, living a few blocks away in Parkside. It was an honor to be able to tell the story of his home when he and his wife Marion were on the Parkside Tour of Homes.

I think it was sitting in his beautiful walnut-beamed dining room that he said something that stopped me in my tracks and really helped change my life.

After chatting about his home’s history, what he’d done to improve it, his favorite features and the like, I made a joke about how I was going to take five minutes to whip this into a story and get it in right under deadline.

“That’s the hardest thing for me to do,” he said.

What? Writing quickly? Deadlines?

“No, writing,” he said. Some of those late Amherst nights almost killed him, he said. “Writing is hard, a chore, and I don’t enjoy it.”

I couldn’t believe it. Here’s this guy, the world’s most perfect newspaper reporter. Perfect pieces. Dozens of awards, responsible for bringing to light sinking homes and parks scandals. And writing was hard for him. He had to fight through every time he sat in front of a keyboard, to the point he hated it.

Until that moment, I don’t think I thought about writing. I just did it. Fast and easy. It flowed, especially with a deadline looming. It might not be Hemingway, but I’d get it in.

I’ve thought a lot about Tom and that statement since that day.

An ability and facility with writing is a great gift I’ve always had, but it wasn’t until spending time with Tom Dolan that I realized it was a gift, and not handed out to all writers like magnetic schedules at a Bisons game.

And it wasn’t until I realized what a gift it is, to be able to write, that I could decide that is what I had to do with the rest of my life. To put that wonderful gift to good use.

The last time I saw Tom, he really wasn’t sure who I was. Ravages of Parkinson’s.

I told him about some of which I’ve written here, but I think the kind and warm tone may have given as much comfort as the actual words themselves.

We weren’t great friends, just acquaintances and neighbors who got along well and liked to chat.

It’s amazing the impact one can have on another life so accidentally. Here’s to the late Tom Dolan.

Thanks Tom.

Book About Two Who Lived For Kids, St Mark, to Benefit Parish School

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY –  They are called “Father” and “Sister” and it’s a case where they both really feel like members of hundreds of Central Park, Parkside, and North Buffalo families. It’s also a case of reciprocated love and concern.

msgrbraunsrjeannecrop
Msgr. Francis Braun and Sr. Jeanne Eberle each lead a part of St. Mark for three decades. Fr. Braun was Pastor of St. Mark Roman Catholic Church for 30 years, Sr. Jeanne was Principal at St. Mark School for 35 years. (Photo courtesy WNY Catholic)

Before each retired in the last few years, you had to go back to the 1970s to find someone else doing the jobs they loved, heading the St. Mark Parish and St. Mark School.

Though they approached their jobs with personalities almost as different as two human beings could be, Sr. Jeanne Eberle and Msgr. Francis Braun spent 30 years of ther lives selflessly and tirelessly giving their love and of themselves for the people of St. Mark, particularly the smallest ones.

For decades it was a common sight to see kindergarteners and first graders line up to give Sr. Jeanne a hug at the start or end of a school day, while the too-cool seventh and eighth graders walked on by, all with Fr. Braun watching closely, stationed on his own side of the hedge separating the rectory and the school.

It happened many times through the years, though, that the “too cool” kids became parents of St. Mark kids, once again willing participants in hugs for the woman who they know cared as much for their kids as they did themselves.

At Mass on Sunday, Msgr. Braun’s stories of days gone by, and his family made most of us feel like we were listening to stories of our own family. His grandfather the cop, the Crystal Beach boat, the firehouse around the corner, his Irish mom and German dad. We might still know Father’s family stories better than our own.

As the author of two books, including “The Complete History of Parkside,” Steve Cichon wants to write this story because these people are very special to him and the community.

“The history of St. Mark is rich and fascinating, and there are many wonderful stories to tell. From the stained glass depictions of events in the life of Jesus, to the thinly veiled anti-Catholic bigotry which lead to St. Mark being built at the corner of Woodward and Amherst, no one tells those stories better than Fr. Braun,” says Cichon.

“It’s only a natural extention, then, to also talk to Father about his life and times, and to record all of the great stories he shared about himself with us through the years. The same is true of Sr. Jeanne. It’s as much a genealogy project about two beloved family members as it is a book about our church. I’m blessed and honored to have so much support in writing and researching it.”

The hope is to have the work completed by the end of 2014, the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the current St. Mark church building.

If you have any photos, items, or stories pertaining to the history of St. Mark,
please contact Steve Cichon at steve@buffalostories.com

stmarkfrontcover

The book is now available at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore.

You Love To Hate Them: The Best of the Worst in 1980s Buffalo TV Commercials

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – It’s an amazing transformation that happens somewhere in our brain. At some point, judging by the numbers of hits they receive, the terrible TV commercials once hated and vilified, become that for which we search YouTube.

There were a few local television ads that we really remember fondly, especially when they involve two WNY institutions we don't hear as much from anymore, like Danny Neaverth and Bells Markets. (Buffalo Stories archives)
There were a few local television ads that we really remember fondly, especially when they involve two WNY institutions we don’t hear as much from anymore, like Danny Neaverth and Bells Markets. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Many things annoy us about the spots by which we are regularly bombarded. The seeming ubiquity when they are on radio, TV, billboards, print. The fact that many are cheaply or poorly produced, or just based on an asinine idea that shouldn’t even have been written on the big sheet of paper in the brain storming session, let alone the idea that will not haunt hundreds of thousands of memories into perpetuity.

Perhaps worst is when, for no one particular good reason, the spot is just plain annoying.

The problem becomes, love them or hate them, they become familiar, a little warm. Annoying, but somehow comforting, in that it’s always there. And then, sometime, even decades after they go off the air, you get a yearning to love and hate them all over again. The hatred for the ad in question turns to hatred for the internet when you can’t mine that nugget you are trying so desperately to remember, so you can properly forget again.

The classic example of this is the Kaufman’s rye bread commercial. This jingle ran over and over on Buffalo TV for 20 years.

Whenever I give a talk about Buffalo, I play that, and people smile and sing along. They hate it, but love it. That jolly little baker is the perfect animated definition of frienemy. Almost scary happy smiles while people say, “I hate that!”

But they love to hate it. We all do. We love to hate terrible commercials. Don’t make me list the commercials you hate today that you will one day search for on the 2037 version of YouTube.

All of this came to mind when I was going through some video recently for a friend, and found some commercials that if you lived through the 80s in Buffalo, you will certainly remember them. And maybe even enjoy watching them once before going back to hate.

I found one of the more popularly hated and loved commercials of the 70s and 80s when i was doing research on the book I wrote about Irv Weinstein. A commercial so popular, people who were too young to have ever seen it in the first place still say FUN WOW even though they aren’t sure why–

Amusement Parks can be especially deadly when they are trying to appeal to kids. This is one from 1989 that I just uploaded. I consider this the definitive version of the Marineland jingle, with King Waldorf singing, and the kids filling in the words.

Fantasy Island and Marineland… Fondly familiar to see those spots once– maybe not again for a while now. But here’s one you might wind up looking at again::

Two Buffalo institutions in this one, but even while WKBW morning man Dan Neaverth is shilling for Bells, he has to work in a reference to the country’s newest amusement park: Darien Lake Fun Country::

Danny of course known as a DJ, and doing Channel 7’s weather outside… He wasn’t the only 1980s spokesman to come from a different line of work to sell a product. Jim Schoenfeld sold City Mattresses for years.

A few more:

Check out the “state of the art” computer they are bragging about at Fay’s Drugs in 1981:

The sound track on this 1989 Genny Light spot is pure 80s. So are the women, as Genesee mocks the 80s trend of filling beer commercials with women in bikinis instead of beer.

Finally, here’s one that put Lackawanna on the map in the late 80s… You may have forgotten about it, and you’ll probably hate me for reminding you.

You’ll find all of these commercials and plenty more great Buffalo video on the staffannouncer YouTube channel.

Griffin name continues to help charities with Run Jimmy Run Charity 5k

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Buffalo, NY – As Mayor, Jim Griffin raised over $20,000 for local charities by sponsoring a decades’ worth of annual runs in South Park. Fast forward 20 years, and the late mayor’s name is now once again in the spotlight in the running world as his family, the Buffalo Bisons and the Alzheimer’s Association of WNY organize the “Run Jimmy Run Charity 5k.”

The race takes runners on a tour of Griffin’s vision for Buffalo, starting the bronze likeness of the mayor outside Coca Cola Field, “The House That Jimmy Built.” The course then heads to City Hall, to the Griffin-imagined Erie Basin Marina, and then back to the ball park for the homeplate finish line, a beer and a ballgame.

An optional one mile walk takes participants from the Griffin statue to City Hall and back, and makes it a family friendly event, ending with a ticket to the afternoon’s Bisons game.

Aside from celebrating the memory of Buffalo’s longest serving top executive and the game he knew would help save downtown, the proceeds will benefit a charity with close ties to the late mayor.

When Griffin was diagnosed with a rare, degenerative brain disease in the months before he died in 2008, outside of Google, his family didn’t know where to turn to learn about Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease. The Alzheimer’s Association of WNY became a support network for the Griffins, as it has thousands of other families suffering through memory loss and dementia.

The $30 cost of pre-registering for the Sunday, July, 21st race includes a ticket to the day’s 1:05 Bisons game, a commemorative baseball-sleeve t-shirt, a chip-timed bib, and a post-race party serving lunch, beer and pop.

The race starts at 10am.

More details and registration information at www.runjimmyruncharity5k.com

Rest in Peace, Larry Felser… Memories of a great writer and great friend

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – It’s one of those opinionated days, and all of my opinions are on my friend Larry Felser today. Larry used to weave silly observations into gold in columns that started this way. I’m just writing down a bunch of memories of my old pal and sharing some great audio clips.

02-oct-1989-felser

For about a decade, I got paid to hang out with Larry Felser on Mondays for an hour. I produced his radio shows on WBEN and WNSA Radio. Larry was one of those special guys who was able to move comfortably among millionaire athletes and sports owners, and just as easily among 16 year old kids who worked in radio and loved hearing his stories. Well, at least this 16 year old kid.

My friendship was cemented with Larry the day his car broken down a few blocks from the station in the middle of the Elmwood/Hertel intersection. He called from a payphone saying he’d be late, so I drove down there, let him take my car to the station, and waited for Triple-A with his car. He mentioned that all the time, never forgot it. I think he may have even mentioned it the last time we spoke.

He was like that. Those were the kinds of stories he’d tell you about people. He could sum up a Hall of Famer by describing the time he had breakfast with him in a hotel lobby.

To know Larry Felser was to know the heyday of print journalism. He was a Buffalonian in the way we used to mean it. He was the smartest, best mannered lunch bucket guy, but he knew he was no better than the kid he went to Canisius with, who was working at the mill. And while Larry wasn’t throwing around 100 pound bags of feed, he was one of the hardest working guys I ever met. Even after he was “retired” from The News.

“Now here’s a guy….” as Larry would say, who just loved to talk and listen. Larry is the only person I’ve ever met who I could imagine, 1940’s movie style, get on the phone, and tell an editor, “Stop the presses! Have I got a Cracker Jack story for you!” He had that gutty old school newspaper man feel about him, even though he was at least a generation removed from working in that old, old school environment.

Some quick hit Larry memories::

“Fast as wood.” It was fast as wood, or skates like wood… This phrase was written by Larry about Dave Andreychuk, I believe. But I know for a fact it was one of Jim Kelley (the hockey writer)’s all-time favorite line, and as he repeated it so often, it’s become a favorite line among those of us who loved both Jim and Larry… namely Randy Bushover, John Demerle, and me.

Larry was one of the best storytellers around. His delivery was plodding, but he made up for it with his keen and scathing observation skills, and his ability to turn a phrase. The best stories, of course, came during the commercial breaks. I don’t remember what precipitated it, but one day Larry went on the most wonderful, colorful, captivating description of how he used to sneak off to “The Palace Burlesk,” and give a very vivid diatribe about why “Rosie La Rose” was the favorite dancer of him and his friends.

I remember word for word the 1940s slang phraseology used in that discussion of Ms. La Rose, and supplemental offerings she’d provide above and beyond the other entertainers at The Palace. For Larry’s sake, I’ll keep it to myself right now, but I’ll never forget it. In fact, I use the line often. In 1945, it was almost certainly vulgar. Today, it simply makes people laugh.

Another line I heard Larry say often, one which I almost always credit him when I use it.. “My most creative moments in front of a keyboard are when I write my expense accounts.”

I’m picturing Larry’s whole face smiling as he’d say that. Larry’s whole face smiled. It filled a room with warmth.

Toward the end of his career at the News, he grew a full beard. The line I heard him use on more than one occasion… “When I started growing the beard, I was going for Hemingway. It’s come out more like Box Car Willie.” He had the beard for quite a while before The News updated his photo.

One year, he gave me a book for Christmas, and told me that if I wanted to be able to picture what football used to be like in Buffalo in the 40s, that it was just like this book. I’ve read this book about the Baltimore Colts and their fans about 10 times. I wish I asked Larry which other books I should read.

One book I decided to read was Larry’s on the AFL. I bought it and took it with me on vacation one week, and loved it. Read it cover to cover very quickly, and I still can’t put into words what happened when I got to the last page. Larry went through a list of thank yous. NFL and AFL owners (all his friends). Hall of Fame players (all his friends). Some of the greatest sports writers of the 20th century (all his friends). Some of the great sports writers and broadcasters from Buffalo (all his friends). And me.

larrypage

I was just thunderstruck, and to this day, I don’t know what to say. While he has the ear of most of the most important people in sports; that Larry even knew the name of some chump kid from a radio station really shows something about the man. That he’d memorialize our friendship on the same page that he did with Lamar Hunt and Will McDonough is still beyond comprehension to me.

But Larry is beyond comprehension to me. I’m better at an awful lot of things for just having been in his presence. Thanks, Larry.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

I Really Love Winter: Until I freaking SNAP!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Originally appeared on WBEN.com, February 18, 2013

I’m a Buffalo guy, born and raised. All of my great grandparents called Buffalo home. My Buffaloness runs deep, which is probably in part why I was having a familiar conversation just last week…”Man, this winter’s been pretty easy!”

Not easy like last winter when we didn’t really have winter, but an easy real winter. With plenty of real snow and real cold. And there I was on Valentines Day, like, “Meh! No problem!”

But the temperatures last week were in the high 20s and mid 30s, and there was still snow on the ground. Conditions that are truly winter, but– the best case scenario winter. You can’t get much warmer or get much less snow and still feel wintry.

And though it was certainly subconscious in my case, I’m certain now that there was some element of, “Well, the worst has to be over now!”
furry hat

Of course, it wasn’t. My pleasant winter of 2012-13 came to an end at 8:36am on Sunday. I saw a little snow on the car out the window, but I wasn’t concerned. Weeks of non-stop snow can be annoying, but generally, snow doesn’t bother me. Certainly hasn’t this year. The end of the cheery face about this winter came as I cracked open the opened the front door and was sucker punched with a windy 16 degrees.

I didn’t expect this rage against winter to happen, but it happens every winter. You’d think after 35 Buffalo winters, I’d be standing square, ready for that haymaker right from Ol’man Winter. It’s true every time. I can stand in for 7 or 8 rounds, but winter just waits for that moment my guard slips. KO. Glass jaw shattered.

Every year, I’m like the President of the Chamber of Commerce until that day arrives. I’m our winter’s biggest backer from the first snow of November through sometime into the New Year.

I’d rather have warm, but, “Hey, this is Buffalo.” I snow blow my whole block. I wear warm-but-silly hats. I poke fun at ex-pats and out-of-towners on Facebook gripping for when 2 inches of snow shuts down their non-WNY communities.

But this time, since I got through January and half of February, maybe I was being a little cocky. I’m not sure. But all I know is right now, I can’t write the words I have for winter on a family friendly website.

And yes, I know, I know. Spring is technically one month from today. “Just around the corner.” Well, what’s here right now is my desire to leave winter behind. I want spring Veruca Salt style. NOW!

I’m done. Get me outta here. I can’t take it. I’m a cold, broken man. At least until April or so.

I’ll probably take it in Buffalo stride when that inevitable Bisons home game gets snowed out. By May, you’ll probably hear me reflect on Buffalo’s great four full seasons of weather. Come November, you’ll probably even see a smile on my face as I yank the pull start on the snow blower for the first time.

Until then, however, shut up. I’m done with “our beautiful winters.” And please be kind, because if your break hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably right around the corner.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

20 Years Ago Today: The Houston Comeback Game

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Van Miller, the Voice of the Bills (Buffalo Stories archives)

BUFFALO, NY – Bills games were big doings in the late 80s and early 90s, but they were always big doing in my house. Among my earliest memories of listening to the radio is sitting in our 1977 Mercury Monarch with mustard colored nugahyde seats, listening to Van Miller describe Joe Cribbs run with the ball. It was only a 5 minute drive from our South Buffalo home to Grandma Coyle’s South Buffalo home, where watching my grandfather watch the game was more fun for me, hearing him curse about Joe Ferguson.

Fast forward a few years, when the Bills actually started winning, and my dad would have his 5 brothers over to watch the game. Football for me became an endless walk to the fridge for another beer for someone.

I remember the excitment, I remember the cheering, I remember getting Bills clothes for Christmas every year, and being able to wear them to school on the “Bills Spirit Fridays” before games days and weeks later.

But the actual games themselves all blend together for me before I started working in sports radio. That’s true with only one exception: The Houston Comeback Game. I remember that I was alone in the living room listening to the game on the awful stereo my dad got for free somewhere. No screaming uncles looking for beers. No one swearing when the team was getting killed. Just me… a high school sophomore, Van Miller, and that cruddy stereo.

I was already taping most of the things I listened to on the radio, but I didn’t tape the game for some reason… Maybe because they were losing early, and then I got caught up in the comeback… I don’t know. But I did tape it the next day, when they played back the second half and OT. And here it is, 20 years later.

In Part One, WGR’s Art Wander introduces a collage of highlights, and then the second half of action with Van Miller, Marc Stout, and Greg Brown at the score 28-3 Oilers. (The audio is low quality so that Bills fans reliving the glory days don’t shut down my website.)

In Part two, the second half continues with Van Miller, Marc Stout, and Greg Brown… After overtime and the comeback complete, Paula Green does the news, and then briefly hear John Otto gush about the Bills. Its my favorite part! (The audio is low quality so that Bills fans reliving the glory days don’t shut down my website.)

I’ve been listening to this and thinking a loy about it, and realizing that a few months after taping this, I started working at WBEN. Then soon producing the Bills games on the radio, and covering media day at the stadium. The starting at WBEN in someways seems like only yesterday. That memory of sitting in my living room listening to this game seems like a a book I’ve read, but not something I actually lived.

Thank You For Serving: some vets who’ve had an impact in my life

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I knew what a veteran was from the earliest of ages.

I’m sure I started asking my dad about his tattoo as soon as I could talk. “STEVE,” it said on his forearm, in sloped writing, with a Celtic cross underneath. To say Celtic cross makes it sound better than it was. It was a stick figure cross with a circle where the horizontal and vertical parts of the cross met. It was actually a pretty horrible tattoo, which he said he gave himself when he was a Marine. I never heard the full story of the tattoo, or whether he actually remembered giving it to himself, or if a buddy told him he did it.

Dad always told us not to get a tattoo, but it was more like advice than an order. He didn’t like his tattoo, but I don’t think he considered it a mistake. He never hid it, either. I think in some ways that sums up the way he felt about his service in the Marine Corps. He was quietly proud of it, but didn’t like it.

I know he joined the Marines in 1969 as a way to “get out of the Valley,” the poor working class neighborhood he grew up in. He saw the world as a Marine, and had his education paid for by the GI Bill. But he was also struck with illness that initially almost killed him, but that also started downward progression in his health that culminated with his death at the age of 58.

My dad had few heroes and people he looked-up-to in his life, but one was his big sister Tricia. He was a Marine when her kidney disease came to the point of needing a transplant. Dad was on his way home to see if he could be a donor when she died. I don’t know that he ever loved anyone more than her. She took care of him and understood him. He didn’t get to say good bye to her because he was half a world away.

To make it worse, he had one of those awful Vietnam era welcomes. Walking down the street in his uniform, he was taunted and sneered at. Having heard this story dozens of times since I was very little, the image that pops into my head is my father walking down Seneca Street in front of what used to me Grandma’s Donuts (now Abbott Pizza, I think) with people throwing bottles and trash at him. That’s not what happened, but that’s the image my dad’s telling of the story put in my head.

He was proud of his service, but wasn’t about to join a club or line up for a parade. He was the most humble veteran at the VA Hospital, always thanking roommates, nurses and doctors for their service to our great land.

Dad’s instilling in me such a high level of respect for men and women who have served has made me keenly aware of those who’ve been a part of my life who have given of themselves for our common good.

Dad’s grandpa had two brothers die at sea during World War I. Grandma Cichon had pictures of Uncle George and Uncle Gordon and kept her uncle’s memories alive. Gordon was in the British Mercantile Marine on the SS Trocas when a German U-Boat torpedoed the tanker. George was a seaman aboard the SS Hazelwood went it hit a mine. The internet has helped fill in some of the details, but my dad knew these stories, and while was proud of his service, looked at his great uncles as heroes.

But Veterans Day is about remembering those who went through hell and came home. Or even put their time in in New Jersey or Kansas, saluted one last time, and never looked back.

As a kid growing up on Allegany Street in South Buffalo, we had a few proud veteran neighbors. Pops was an ancient, tiny liver-spotted old man who used to stand in the driveway, chew tobacco, and tell us about his service in World War I and his fear of “the gas,” which I now know to be mustard gas Germans used on American troops. It filled the trenches, and ruined the lungs of soldiers, painfully suffocating thousands.

Further up Allegany, on the other side of the street in the big light green house, Mr. Smith used to give us cookies and hard candy, a very kind old soul who was retired from the railroad. Occasionally, he’d proudly show us his perfectly preserved US Army uniform from World War II, or the box filled with medals and ribbons. I know I thought it was “cool,” but I hope i was properly respectful and reverent, too, as a 5 and 6 year old.

A few years later, when I was in third grade, my school bus driver, George, was finally awarded a bronze star, over 40 years after his heroism saved some of his fellow soldiers from Japanese attack. He cut out the photo of him holding the award that was in the local paper, and taped it up in the front of the bus. I was proud of him, and I wish I remember more about his story.

My Grandpa Cichon was one of 8 brothers and sisters who served in World War II and Korea. Even my twin great aunts, Olga and Mary, were nurses in the Navy and Army respectively. Gramps was an engineer in the Army at the end of World War II. He was in the Philippines, and likely saw some pretty terrible things there that he doesn’t talk about.

Great Grandpa Wargo was a plane mechanic in Guam during the Second World War. Indirectly, because of his service, I met one of my favorite vets ever. Grandpa W was in the VA Hospital, and my dad had little use for the rule that kept kids under 15 out of most hospitals. He’d take us to visit everyone, because who doesn’t love seeing a little kid, right?

Well, as recently as the early 80s, when this happened, there were smoking lounges on every floor right next to the elevator at the VA for the guys who were in there. Dad would ditch us in there, and bring great grandpa down to see us. One time, there was an ancient, ancient hunched-over man in there smoking. He was wearing a bright red bathrobe, had the darkest black skin you can imagine set off against his crazy sprouting bright white hair. Dad flippantly asked the guy to keep an eye on us, because he was going to get gramps. Well, apparently, this was just about the best damn thing that had ever happened to this guy.

He offered to hide us in his bathrobe if the nurses got close, his face lively and excited at not only being able to play with a couple of kids for a few minutes, but also to be a party to this rule breaking. We sat down, and he stood up with his back to us. He spread open the robe, so that we couldn’t be seen from the door. He was laughing and giddy about it the whole time, til gramps walked in.

A few years ago, I interviewed a friend’s dad about his role in the D-Day invasion. Michael Accordino described in vivid, terrible detail, sitting in the water, and watching guys run ashore, and watching many of them be shot dead on the beach. And waiting for his turn to go. And watching his buddies die around him.

My friend Ed Little always spoke in a sort of blasé way about his service in the Army Air Corps during WWII, but what he did was nothing short of spectacular and heroic. He would flying along on bombing runs in the Pacific, and using 1940s technology, record play-by-play of the bombings that were taking place for playback on radio back home. Another broadcasting friend, Fran Lucca was radio man in the Navy. His ear saved thousands from U-boat attacks, and his incessant record keeping has made the war much more real for his dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Letters between him and his mother, official documents, dozens of pages of wonderful material for his years at war have been collected and preserved, and I’m honored that he’s allowed me to learn from and make a copy.

Tom Kane was another friend in broadcasting. He was the security guard at the WBEN/Channel 4 building. One day, I noticed that he went from wearing sergeant stripes on his uniform to lieutenant bars. I congratulated him on the promotion, and he told me that after almost 50 years, he’d finally become an officer. He told me about his time in Korea, and how he’d never been so cold in his life. So wet and cold. For almost a year. Being freezing and afraid of freezing to death, but having to jump into the water or be killed. Tom earned the commission, for sure.

Once in a conversation with my friend and broadcaster Mark Leitner, something about the horror of Vietnam came up. He said nothing with his mouth, but in two seconds his eyes told a wretched story leaving detail unnecessary.

My friend Pat Kavanagh, talks about the fact that he and the men he went to war with were really just about children, and that they used to call their 25 year old Sarge “Pops” because he was so old, and really felt like a father figure. Pat turned his sense of unfinished business with the war into a project to honor those who never came home: He collected the obituaries of every Western New Yorker who was killed in Vietnam during the war. Dozens of visits to libraries, historical societies, and private homes later, Pat’s work is another step in insuring that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

My dad’s big brother, Uncle Chuck, is also a Vietnam veteran, and also lives with the lasting effects of Agent Orange. I hold a lot about Uncle Chuck’s service in my heart, and knowing that he wouldn’t want it written about here, I won’t. Suffice it to say, he’s the best brother man could ask for, a great uncle, and hero.

I don’t know that Uncle Chuck or any of the men and women mentioned above are comfortable with that label “hero,” especially when each of them can clearly see the face and hear the voice of someone who didn’t make it back to the rest of their lives.

Many heroes are like my friend Len, who has told many great fun stories of his days in the Air Force. Clowning around, having fun, traveling to exotic locales for a day or two just ’cause he could. What Len doesn’t bring up is the weeks he spent in New York City following 9/11, and the problems that he and thousands of others are fighting because of it, whether our government admits it or not.

Len, Uncle Chuck, and all these folks are heroes. They were all willing to kill or be killed for not only the common good, but for every American alive while they served, and every American who’ll ever live free.

I know so many newer, younger veterans, too, and their close friends and family. Their sacrifices are much more present in our lives, and in some cases, still open and bleeding. Because the final chapter hasn’t been written in most of their cases, it’s hard to write about them in the same way as I do some of the sacrifices of the more distant past. For most of the older folks, I think while the wounds are forever tender, they’ve healed up a bit, and have, upon years and decades of reflection, become a part of who they are, and in some fragile way, accepted.

My prayers are most with our most recent vets, and really all of those, who are still coming to terms with the hell they’ve endured while proudly wearing our flag on their shoulder. I pray that the final chapter on your service is one of acceptance and an ability to move on with your life, with the memories and realizations of your time spent in harm’s way woven productively into the fabric of who you are.

I have many more friends and loved ones who have served our great nation who’ve I’ve failed to mention here. To each of you: I beg that you please know that while I don’t know firsthand what you have endured for our country, I am proud and humbled to carry some part of your pain and sacrifice on my own heart. You have done what I haven’t. You needn’t have served in war to have sacrificed; you needn’t have never come home to be a hero.

To all veterans, though it’s not enough, please accept my humble thanks this Veterans Day, and every day.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

History’s Garbage Bin: Sharing the Garbage Picked Goodness… Again

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

To save everything because “it’s old” is just silly. To toss everything away because “it’s old” is just silly, too. Somewhere between those two extremes is where most of us try to live.I get both sides. I’m a saver, who wishes sometimes I could live more of a clutter-free life. But a healthy portion of my clutter comes from big piles of important stuff that otherwise would have no home.

Depending on how you look at it, I have been blessed or cursed with the ability to see the possibilities beyond a pile of garbage. My home is a great example. It’s taken over a decade of hard work for my wife and me to make it shine, taking it from a worn-down relic to a stop on the Parkside Home Tour.

Over the last two decades, I have garbage-picked, purchased, been asked to copy, or reluctantly accepted thousands of hours of audio and video, almost always locked away on some sort of format that made it impossible listen to or view. Or even know if there was anything there.

Basically, I’ve been collecting “potential.”

Twice I’ve garbage-picked boxes of old film reels. These boxes were in the garbage for good reason; the film was infected with “vinegar syndrome,” a decomposition of the materials in the film, which renders it unviewable. Worse, one “vinegared” film can jump start the degrading process in other nearby films as well.

The relatively small group of folks who had decided to chuck these boxes has literally thousands of reels of film to worry about. As a member of that group I agreed. But as an individual, I decided that I couldn’t see this film simply thrown away. I garbage picked the film, then spend lots of time and money picking out the few good bits from the mangled messes inside those decaying boxes and film canisters, cleaning those good bits, then properly storing them to avoid more vinegar problems and further degrading.

The same is true of a pile of old video cassettes. The TV station I was working at was taking “the best” of some of the video that was on an old, dying format of videotapes, and dubbing them to the format they were then using. It made sense, as these dubs were being made on the station’s last working machine that played the old format tapes. The old tapes were being hauled to the dumpster. I grabbed as many as I could for “safe keeping.”

In both of these cases, I was holding onto what I knew was great video, but had no means to share it or even watch it. In some cases, this stuff had been in my possession for over a decade. Waiting.

Having been lucky enough to turn a bit of a profit from my book “Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story,” I gathered up most of that film, and many of those video tapes, along with others that I’d copied or recorded myself over the years, and sent them off to be properly and professionally digitized. A painstaking and expensive process, but one that was the end result of saving them from the trash in the first place– whether I knew it at the time or not.

Being able to treat my relatively small collection with a great deal of care and respect has allowed me to begin sharing some interesting moments reported and recorded by Buffalo television journalists over the last 60 years. You’re seeing the fruits of it on YouTube.

A Stan Barron obituary piece was the first item from the hours of “new” old video I shared…


The second was a true Western New York treasure. Who among us in Buffalo hasn’t replied with a sarcastic “Fun? Wow!” when asked a question? The phrase, of course, comes from TV commercials for Fantasy Island, which ran over and over and over and… I can remember asking my parents to go to “Fun Wow,” not realizing the actual name of the place.

The iconic commercial forever ensconced the phrase “Fun… WOW!” in our collective lexicon. Type “Fantasy Island” into Google, and the term “fun wow” follows as a suggested search term. Some how the commercial has eluded the Internet, until uncovered in that pile of tapes that time had forgotten was remastered.

There are two wonderful memories supplied, and there’s plenty more to come as well. Literally hundreds more quick videos to come for all of us to pause and remember for a moment.

Video especially has a great power to transport us back to another time and place like no other medium. That’s why I can honestly say that I don;t think I’ve ever been so excited about a project as the one I’m embarking on here in putting this video online to share with the world.

What it comes down to for me is…. my stuff is useless unless it can be of some use to somebody. I’ve already seen the smiles from these small bits already released that proves the usefulness. I won’t make a million dollars on my finds… In fact, I’m in the red getting them ready to share. But it really hurts my brain to know that many of the wonderful archival videos you’ll see, in fact, much of what is posted at staffannouncer.com, could have just as easily made it’s way to the land fill.

No matter where you fall on the “saver/saves-nothing” scale, I ask you to join me in finding good use for your saved stuff, or finding a good home for the stuff you want to get rid of.

One man’s trash can become an entire community’s treasure.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com