Polish Buffalo in the 1930s: Gramps on Easter & Dyngus Day

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Long before Dyngus Day was the celebration of Buffalo culture it has become over the last decade, it was, as most know, a day of celebration and fast breaking in the Polish community.

My grandfather, Edward Cichon, was the seventh of ten kids born to Polish immigrants who lived in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood (nestled between South Buffalo, The First Ward, and The Hydraulics.)

Grandma & Grandpa Cichon. Edward V. Cichon and Marie T. Scurr-Cichon.

His memories of Easter and Dyngus Day went back more than 70 years when I interviewed him for a news story back in 2006. He’s giving us a first-hand account of Dyngus Day in Buffalo in the ’20s & ’30s.

Born in 1926, Gramps grew up on Fulton Street near Smith on a street that was, at that time, half Irish and half Polish. Most of the men on the street, including my great-grandfather and eventually Gramps himself, worked at the National Aniline chemical plant down the street.

On Dyngus Day, he’d go behind his house along the tracks of the Erie Railroad—the 190 runs there now—and grab some pussy willows to take part in the Dyngus Day tradition of swatting at girls on their heels, who’d in turn throw water at the boys.

For Easter, Babcia would cook all the Polish delicacies like golabki, pierogi, and kielbasi.

The sausage, Gramps explained, was all homemade. “Pa” (as gramps always called his father) would get two pigs, and they’d smoke them right in the backyard on Fulton Street. The whole family would work on making sausage at the big kitchen table, and then hang the kielbasa out back—but they’d also butcher hams and other cuts of meat as well.

While he was in the frame of mind, I asked him about the Broadway Market, too. In the late ‘20s, His mother would wheel him the two miles over to the market in a wagon, and park him next to the horses while she shopped for food and across the street at Sattler’s.

Reading these stories is great, but listening to Gramps tell them is the best.

My ol’man, pizza, and the Dukes of Hazzard

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s my favorite Dukes of Hazzard moment.

I was in First Grade, and “The Dukes” were just about the most popular thing in the world. Maybe tied with Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. The early ’80s were a tough time in South Buffalo– and my dad had a tough time finding work.

Billboard outside of City Hall in the late ’70s, placed there by Bethlehem Steel’s union workforce.

Plants closed and he sold the bar at Elk & Smith. He tried teaching middle school history but couldn’t get in full-time, so he lived and worked in Massachusetts for almost a year while we lived on Allegany Street off Tifft near South Park.

Of course we missed dad– and money was tight. There were more 20-cent letters flying than $5 long-distance phone calls being made. I can’t imagine what it was like for my ol’man to be away, and for my mom to be home with us three, a full-time job, and no car.

It was a Friday night and we took our baths early to be ready to watch those Duke boys. We were sitting at our little plastic table in the living room—all ready for “Tic-Tac-Dough” and “Jokers Wild” to end and Waylon Jennings to sing about “two good ol’boys, never meaning no harm…” when the front door burst open.

Dad with us kids just inside the front door of our house on Allegany Street…. probably taken just as he was leaving for Massachusetts one time or another.

Not only had my ol’man pushed our AMC Spirit to the limit speeding home from Massachusetts, but he had the sense to stop at Mineo’s South (when it was on the corner of Tifft & South Park) on his way home to pick up a large pie. Pizza, like long distance calls, wasn’t often in the budget and extra special.

I’m not sure a six-year-old heart could be any more full.

This glorious Friday night was probably about the best night of my life up until then… Dad was home, we were eating pizza, and we were watching the Dukes. All was right with the world.

That’s me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982

How I celebrate paczki day 

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo


At this moment, I am supposed to be writing two magazine articles which are due tomorrow.

Instead, I am daydreaming about a possible road trip that I might have to take to Youngstown, Ohio.

It’s not that I’m looking forward to eight hours in the car– it’s just that the last and only time I was in Youngstown– 22 years ago to drop a friend off at school– I had a culinary experience I’m bound to never forget.

Not long after bidding my friend adieu, as darkness began to fall on the way home, I was called by otherworldly force to a roadside donut shop.

I am obsessed with road trips, roadside attractions, and donuts. Sometimes I drag my wife into it. At Randy’s Donuts in LA, 2016.

It was just my kind of place. When the joint was new, it had to have been a palace. But 30 or 40 years later, the huge illuminated sign out front probably wasn’t as bright as it once was.

The counters were showing all the signs of the tens of thousands of dozens which had slid across to families and office workers bringing not only a cardboard box with a piece of scotch tape on the front lip— but also anticipatory smiles with each lifting of that soon-to-be untaped lid.

Places like this were why I stay off the interstates when I can. A Thruway McDonald’s only barely serves its purpose. The little spots like these can lead you to sublime distraction for the rest of your life.

I’m sure I was there primarily for the coffee– bracing for a four-hour drive in the dark. The coffee was all that could expected for evening coffee– obnoxious torrents of steam escaping with the pouring of the dense liquid which looked, smelled, and tasted a bit like used motor oil.

But on that classic wall rack behind the counter, glistening in thick sugar glaze there they were– two cherry-chip fry cakes, the taste and texture of which echo in the canyons of my mind.

Moist, dense, sweet, chemically cherry. Another few hours and these would have been “day old,” but at the moment they met my lips, they were aged to perfection.

These donuts come to mind more often than I’d like to admit, and with the possibility of visiting that part of the world almost a reality, almost with the same intensity I felt the need to pull into that shop more than two decades ago, alas, some piece of me wants to ditch all other work to dig through my travel files to find any sign of where this place was. Or spend some quality time with a search engine and terms like donut and Youngstown.

The more pragmatic side of my brain, however, knows there is work to be done. And this all happened 22 years ago. And this place could really be anywhere in Mahoning County, Ohio.

There may yet be a chance to relive that artery-clogging perfection, but it will have to wait. Unless I can convince my editor to run an ode to Ohio donuts instead of a couple business profiles.

A brief history of how I came to be an American

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

After the fall of Napoleon, the people of the Rhineland area along what’s become the traditional French and German border suffered severe economic depression, lack of religious freedom, and governments trying to stop young people in lower classes from marrying and having families.

Four families left that oppression for the tiny outpost of Buffalo in the 1820’s—these are my Grandma Coyle’s mother’s ancestors.

The landed classes didn’t want the Germans in Buffalo.

The most miserable, humiliating, unbearable poverty and famine was felt by the uneducated peasant Catholic population of Ireland during the middle of the 19th Century. To escape poverty and persecution, John Coyle sailed from Ireland to Pennsylvania. His children moved to Buffalo. Thomas Slattery sailed to Prescott, Ontario, and his children moved to Buffalo.  Miles Norton came to Buffalo from Ireland, where he worked in grain mills for 15 years until his death at the age of 48. These are my Grandpa Coyle’s ancestors.

The landed classes didn’t want the Irish in Buffalo.

Mary Ann Vallely was born as a Catholic in Protestant Northern Ireland. Looking for opportunity and freedom from repression, she and her husband moved near Glasgow, Scotland in the 1880s. When her husband died in 1920, she moved to South Buffalo to live among her four children who’d already moved there. Mary Ann Vallely was Grandma Cichon’s grandma.

Grandma Cichon’s father was English—he crossed the Ambassador Bridge from British Canada one day and never went back. He overstayed his visa by more than 50 years, and died a British subject at South Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital.

Jan Cichon was born a subject of the Russian Empire. Ethnically Polish, he was facing compulsory service in the Russian army when he left what is now southern Poland in 1913. It was difficult for a Russian to emigrate to the US—but Jan got around it by setting sail from Hamburg, Germany for Canada. After living in Welland, Ontario for a few weeks, he came to America through the Port of Buffalo under false pretenses.

With $20 in his pocket, my great-grandfather said he was visiting a made-up brother-in-law at a made-up address on Exchange Street. He could read and write, but spelled and signed his name Czychon.

The landed classes didn’t want the Polish—particularly the illegal Polish– in Buffalo.

All of these people went on to contribute to America. To trace the fruits of their loins, you’d be looking at thousands of Americans who’ve done spectacular things to make this country great. Hardworking blue collar men, beautiful women who cared for their families and communities, men and women religious, medical doctors, lawyers, university professors, sea captains, and even a congressman.

But that’s not the whole story—there are quite a few who’ve screwed up as well. Some of whom screwed up terribly.

In my family tree, I have a deported Communist. I have a guy who terrorized his community as serial hatchet-wielding thief, stealing purses off the arms of old ladies. There’s the cousin who spent time in federal prison on racketeering and drug trafficking convictions. There are petty thieves, wife beaters, and drunks. Lots and lots of drunks.

Take a realistic look at any group you belong to, and you’ll find the same. Good and bad.

This is America. This is how America has always been. I can’t imagine America any other way.

 

We all win when we treat each other with dignity

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Either side saying, “But you did it to US for eight years!” =
“BUT MOM, he did it FIRST!” =
Your mom sending you both to your room until you can both stop acting like five-year-olds throwing temper tantrums.

“I’m mad because you did a shitty thing to me… so, because I’m mad, I am going to do the same admittedly shitty thing back to you” is divisive thinking and does nothing to make our country that better place. Being smart and decent means finding some way other than a shitty way. It’s exactly what your mom taught you as a child.

If you want to be angry and shitty it’s your right– but from my vantage point, you  have to wallow to get there. You lose the moral high ground and you lose an opportunity to use your intelligence, decency, tact, and resilience to make your part of the world a better place.

My wish is that more people from both sides would turn the passion they waste in hatred into passion for something that benefits us all– like together finding someway out of the morass we are embroiled in– because together is the only way. 

I’m not saying “stop disagreeing,” I’m saying just do something to help effect the change you want to see in the world.

Fighting with people on Facebook really doesn’t count.

Understand– I’m not talking about dismissing anyone’s worries and fears.

What I’m talking about is using words and ideas which allow us all to be better able to embrace everyone’s worries and fears.

It’s about how a large number of people are allowing those fears and worries to manifest themselves.

My point is hearing about Donald Trump’s penis size and skin color is no better than talking about Barack Obama’s birth certificate and skin color, or vice versa.

Telling me you hate Donald Trump or you hate Barack Obama (or hate what they stand for) is a call to derision and a conversation ender.

Telling me you’re afraid that you might not have insurance or that your right to marry who you want might be taken away… or telling me you’re concerned with our porous borders or reductions in defense capabilities– those are places where conversations can begin and as Americans we might be able to find common ground among ourselves, whether our leaders suck or not.

Fighting crass and rude with crass and rude is still crass and rude. Protesting doesn’t have to be crass and rude. Disagreeing with people doesn’t have to be crass and rude.

The world needs love, not hate. Find it and spread it.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.

“The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

“The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Sneaking a radio into school for Inauguration Day 1989

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Twenty-eight years ago today, January 20, 1989– when I was in sixth grade– I snuck this radio and an earpiece into school with me.

I also used to keep this radio under my pillow to listen to John Otto on WGR, Bruce Williams’ syndicated show on KB, and David Brudnoy and Norm Nathan on 50,000-watt WBZ Boston.

As I sat in Social Studies, I carefully pulled the little Realistic transistor receiver out just before noon, and cranked the volume to a barely audible peep.

With a mix of fear of getting caught and indignation for history class ignoring history that was happening at that very moment, I listened to George HW Bush being sworn in as President.

I was in awe of the Presidency and the transfer of power. I was in awe of the lofty speeches and the fine men making them. I was excited to have the first new President I could really remember.

I read Time Magazine every week and The Buffalo News every day. I watched the local and national news on TV every night with my dad. I felt no hatred or antipathy for anyone in government or politics.  I didn’t feel better than or more American than anyone else because I did or didn’t support a particular politician. I felt no fear or insecurity for the future of our country.

In fact, twenty-eight years later, I still consider George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis to be great and honorable men who I am proud to admire.

I watched them and our other leaders show not just strength, but grace, depth, class, thoughtfulness, integrity, compassion, and empathy– all traits of the best sort of leader.

They were adults facing the adult world with adult attitudes. They also conducted themselves without utter contempt for any of our fellow Americans and without childish pettiness or adolescent insults.

Having this example and finding favor in these folks helped shape me into the person I am today. I am thankful for the wholesome and decent role models I found in the national political leaders I admired.

Now, of course, the game has changed. The world has changed. The people have changed.

I don’t think it’s possible for a dorky sixth grader to be well-informed and engaged and also be able to have the same pure experience I had with my little Radio Shack radio at Orchard Park Middle School.

Whether you love or hate what is happening today, it’s nearly impossible to expect that anyone of our youngest generation could have have the same opportunity for the uncomplicated and unadulterated across-the-board love of this country and its leaders that I had.

That’s too bad and in its essence leaves me aching and sad.

Hoping for Americans acting more American soon

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

As Americans, we’re all still the same, you know.

Whether you agree with Trump or Streep, strip away the name calling and white-hot hatred for the other side, and it’s the same fear at the core for left and right.

Many Americans feel that after 241 years of progress– that in today’s America their way of life is in jeopardy.

Right and left, Conservative and Progressive alike are worried they’ll wake up in a country where they have been pushed out and are no longer welcome.

That’s the opposite of what it has always meant to be an American.

I did not create this image, but I can’t seem to track down the original creator online. If you made it, please e-mail me so I can give you credit.

Shouldn’t that be a starting point? Isn’t there a leader who’ll rally us around that? “Things are changing pal… but let’s keep it together and make sure we’re all along for the ride and happy.”

We can do that by disregarding the extremists and name callers who stand to profit in some way by keeping America divided… and get back to something other than looking at half of our fellow Americans as assholes.

Right? Do you really feel that 50% of Americans don’t deserve to call themselves “Americans” because of their beliefs or behaviors? Isn’t that what you’re accusing *them* of?

Regardless of our “leaders,” can we, among ourselves, figure out a way to be more civil? To talk to one another instead of past one another? Leave hyperbole behind? Acknowledge our own flaws, find what’s right in our neighbors, shake hands, and find some common ground?

Not judge the heart, soul, and mind of wide swaths of the American population based on one person’s speech or tweet?

Spend less time hating and more time building something so great, so filled with pride and love and peace and hard work and dedication and humility and AMERICA that you win over the other guys without a fight… because despite any political differences, you are the perfect reflection of what our country has always stood for?

Well, that’s what I’m doing anyway. I mean, after I get done reading the hate mail caused by calling for world peace. Hahaha.

staffannouncer.com (2003-2017)


SEARCH BUFFALO’S HISTORY with the form to the LEFT


staffannouncer.com is now BuffaloStories.com

Since 2003, Steve Cichon has been posting the sights, sounds, and stories of Buffalo’s pop culture past and present at staffannouncer.com.

Now, all of the great memories and plenty more are in an updated easy to read format at BuffaloStories.com.

An early staffannouncer.com production image.

It’s really hard to imagine, but back in 2003, you couldn’t find much about Irv Weinstein, Crystal Beach, Clint Buehlman, AM&A’s and Sattler’s online.

There were no researched stories or articles about many of Buffalo’s most cherished pop culture touchstones.

Click for the complete pages of staffannouncer.com 

In those days of prohibitively expensive digital scanners and cameras, dial up internet access, and slow page load times, there were very few photos of these people and places on the web.

Not wanting to live in a world where typing “Commander Tom” into Google had zero results, Cichon created staffannouncer.com with the idea that it would be a place to share his passion about broadcasters, broadcasting, and the stuff that was broadcasted about… especially here in Buffalo.

Fast forward to 2017, and many of the pages created more than a decade earlier aren’t formatted properly for the desktop, tablet, and smartphone browsers of modern web surfing.

Cichon spent months bringing all the 1999 AOL chatroom looking pages into the current Snapchat world, duplicating staffannouncer.com on BuffaloStories.com, where it’s far easier to read, search, and update as needed.

While the main staffannouncer.com URL will now redirect here to buffalostories.com, that’s the only change to the website. All the old pages will remain online at their original addresses as a form of historic preservation– but they won’t be updated, either for content or browser compatibility.

And in case you miss the old staffannouncer.com homepage, that’s still there, too… http://staffannouncer.com/lasthomepage.html

The pages of staffannouncer.com

[termposts]

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

When we’re lucky in Buffalo, snow’s nice at least once a year

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.

#BuffaloSnow

Our grandparents were force-fed laxatives to cure a cold

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Whenever you start to feel like it might have been better to live in a different era, realize that your parents and grandparents got a laxative when they got a cough.

Check out this 1923 ad.

1932 ad, Buffalo Courier-Express

Move little bowels with this harmless laxative.

Whatever else you give your child to relieve a bad cold, sore throat or congestion, be sure to first open the little one’s bowels with “California Fig Syrup” to get rid of the poisons and waste which are causing the cold and congestion. In a few hours, you can see for yourself how thoroughly it works the constipation poison, sour bile and waste right out.

Yikes.