Uncle Patrick Norton, grain scooper, lived above The Swannie House

By Steve Cichon

I’m getting ready for St Patrick’s Day…

In 1900, my third great uncle, Patrick Norton, was a grain scooper (or as the 1900 census has it, Longshoreman, grain) who lived above the Swannie House, 170 Ohio Street, First Ward, Buffalo, USA.

This 1920s photo of the Swannie is from The Buffalo History Museum via The Public. 

His father, Miles Norton, came to the First Ward from Ireland to work in in the grain elevators and along the docks. He died in 1883 at the age of 45.

The Norton family lived a few blocks away in a tenement building at 64 Chicago Street.

Patrick’s sister, my great-great grandmother, Bridget Norton, married a seaman from Prescott, Ontario named Thomas Slattery. Slattery eventually became captain of the Juniata, one of William “Fingy” Conner’s Great Lakes passenger steam ships of the Great Lakes Transit line.

Slattery lived at 26 Indian Church Road, one house from Seneca Street behind Babe Boyce (now Hong Kong Kitchen.)

Remembering the silly and fun with Mom-in-law, three years later

By Steve Cichon

My mother-in-law died very suddenly and unexpectedly three years ago today. I’ve never lost anyone suddenly like that, and it makes the pain so much more intense and agonizing. The worst part is the deep shock that everyone feels dampens the celebration of life that usually takes place during a wake and a funeral, because we’re all still lost and trying to rectify what happened.

Pam used to say about people all the time, “She’s had a hard life.” She used to see that in people, because that’s the experience she had. Life just wasn’t easy for her. But when she experienced joy, it was about as full-blown, crazed, smiling, happy, joyful, laugh-til-it-hurts kind of joy.

That’s what I’m trying for today. It’s still hard to not bring some measure of sadness to thinking about her– just because of the way she left us… But she deserves to be remembered with the same kind of unbridled joy she had when she played one of her practical jokes or figured out ways to sneak in dances with Elvis.

Monica’s mom paid one of North America’s premier Elvis tribute artists to crash our wedding. I thought of it this morning and it made me laugh out loud. Seventeen years later, and it makes me smile every time. “It’s not so much I’m losing a daughter, but gaining a dance with Elvis :)”

Honestly, I think she’s the only one who ever understood her practical jokes– but she’d laugh so hard she couldn’t breathe, and whether we were laughing with her, or at her, or both, we’d all be having one of those great family moments that live on forever with just three words… like “two eye patches.”

When she was silly and fun, there was no one more fun or more silly. Of course there’s some sadness today, but I’m making sure it’s more smiles than tears.

Presidents’ Day and Presidents Books with love

By Steve Cichon

This is the first book I ever wanted.

We didn’t have a lot of money, but mom let me get it from the bookstore at the Main Place Mall when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old.

That must have been a heck of a trip on the Seneca bus downtown with me, my little brother, and little sister– 5,3, and 2– mom by herself.

I’m sure there was a reason we were downtown, but I don’t remember. I do remember that Main Street was all torn up— we watched the jackhammers out the window of McDonald’s, where we had lunch.

We walked a few blocks down Main as they were doing construction to make way for the MetroRail, crossed back over Main and went into Main Place, and there, in front of the Walden Books, right by the stairs, was this Presidents book.

I can still see the display table and feel that deep want– which I don’t recall much from childhood. I was obsessed with the Presidents, but the book we had at home only went up to Nixon.

This one went to the current President, Reagan, and had a huge page of facts about every President— facts I still have more or less memorized.

So thanks, Mom.

Whatever sacrifice we made as a family to buy that book helped fan my love of history and my love of books and my love of finding great things downtown. It’s served me well… and I’ve tried to put it to use to serve others, too.

Happy Presidents Day.

It’s not the 2nd Amendment– it’s the 9th Amendment

By Steve Cichon

Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The brilliant James Madison wrote right into the Bill of Rights that all the rights protected under the Constitution are protected equally… and by extension, that it’s up to us to figure out how to work it out if the people start to believe that certain rights are blocking the pursuit of other rights.

None of our constitutional rights stand alone— they are all together in a big Jenga tower whose strength lies in maintaining the tower.

Pulling out one block and throwing it away weakens the tower. Pulling one out and pretending that one single block is the foundation of the whole tower is just as silly.

I’m talking about guns. Trying to anyway. We’ll see what happens.

NRA safety programs– I’ve taken a few– always start with the responsibility of someone owning or even just handling a gun.

Responsibility, and respecting the power you hold in your hand when you are holding a gun. We have to respect guns. We have to be responsible with them.

I think part of respect and responsibility is to admit what guns are, in clear language, without judgement.

Guns are for killing. Guns exist to kill. Period. If you say your gun is for protection, you are saying your gun is there so you can kill people trying to harm you. If you are a hunter, your gun is to kill animals.

Even if you just enjoy target practice, chances are you are shooting at human shaped targets or animal facsimile targets. You are practicing to kill.

Every single gun owner reading this hopes never to kill, but part of the respect and responsibility of owning a gun is knowing that when there’s a bullet in the chamber, it becomes a possibility.

It’s cut and dried, and it’s like nothing else. There are no analogies for guns. It’s not like a car or a knife or sugar or fat or whatever else might kill people, too.

It’s such a special case that’s it’s enshrined in the constitution– guns are so special that a firearm is the only actual, tangible thing James Madison thought needed to be protected in the Bill of Rights.

In the 2nd amendment, he wrote Americans have the right to have a gun in case they might have to kill someone trying to take their freedom or security.

The problem is, the number of people who have guns but don’t have the proper respect for guns or are responsible in using them is clearly growing. It’s growing to the point where I fear for young people going to school. I fear for old people walking at the mall. I won’t go to the movies– mostly because movies are terrible these days, but also– mass shootings.

My version of “securing the blessings of liberty” doesn’t involve my having to pack heat to go to buy a gallon of milk. Maybe yours does, but that’s not a second amendment issue– it’s a ninth amendment issue.

This is a uniquely American problem and needs a uniquely American approach to solving it. The American way says, “no right trumps any other,” but it also says, “I respect your position and I hope you can respect mine.”

We need to find common ground to find a solution here. Aren’t you sick of watching people die while you scream F@#$ YOU at people over the fence?

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“Sh*thole country” is 2018 speak for No Irish, No Colored, No Polish, No Italian…

By Steve Cichon

Recently, the President of the United States referred to a handful of poor countries as “shithole countries,” which frankly is bad enough on its own– but the fact that it was in reference to not allowing the good people of those poor, desperate places access to the American dream makes me sick and makes me sad.

If you are reading this, chances are you have some connection to Buffalo. If you have some connection to Buffalo, chances are pretty good that you some part of your family migrated here from a nation that was considered poor and unsavory by most “real Americans,” ie, the people who’d already been here.

If you are one of those folks, can you read through this list of want ads I’ve compiled from Buffalo newspapers and feel the treatment your Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Catholic, and African-American ancestors felt. (and in some cases you still feel.)

No Polish or Colored. Buffalo Courier, 1918. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No colored. Buffalo Evening News, 1925. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Colored woman need apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1916. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Catholics. Buffalo Evening News, 1883 (Buffalo Stories archives)


No Polish. Buffalo Courier, 1907. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Polish. Buffalo Evening News, 1913. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Irish wanted. Buffalo Evening News 1895. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Polish girl need apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1898. (Buffalo Stories archives)
“Work and Opportunity for all,” but No Italian. Buffalo Courier, 1907. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Jewish people. Buffalo Evening News, 1925 (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Polish Need Apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1913. (Buffalo Stories archives)
First class man needed– no Italian. Buffalo Courier, 1908 (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Irish need apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1892. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Italians need apply. Buffalo evening News, 1892. (Buffalo Stories archives)
No Jews or foreigners need apply. Buffalo Evening News, 1926 (Buffalo Stories archives)

The rhetoric has quickly evolved from “we don’t want ‘those people’ here because they broke the law to get here,” to “even if ‘they’ came legally, we’re sending them back…” to “we must stop people from ‘shithole countries’ from emigrating to the US, period.”

When my ancestors came from Ireland, Poland, Hungary, and Bas-Rhin/Germany… those places were all considered shithole countries by the landed classes of this country. Since 1620, this country has been the shining city on the hill people have clawed their way toward for a new start… allowing more people access to our opportunity doesn’t diminish it– it enhances it.

America’s greatness lies in our heart and our ambition. Stopping people from coming here to make a new life for themselves and their families shows a lack of heart and cut down on our overall total ambition, too.


The Gramps Files: Babcia the Rum Runner

By Steve Cichon

During The Prohibition, my great-grandmother made moonshine in the family basement and sold it from my grandpa’s baby buggy. Here’s Gramps telling the story….

During a visit on June 18, 2012, Gramps tells the story of his mother using a copper kettle to make whiskey in the basement of their Fulton Street home during The Depression and Prohibition days as a way to keep food on the table for their family with ten children Babcia would put the bottles in with Gramps in his baby buggy for distribution around The Valley.

John & Mary Cichon outside their Fulton Street, Buffalo home, 1941.

The Cichons lived on Fulton Street in The Valley, between Van Rensselaer Street and Smith Street. My great-grandparents owned the home where the booze was made from 1922-1978. Jan Cichon and Maryanna Pochec both came to Buffalo from Poland in 1913. They met here and were married at Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Smith and Clinton in 1914.

John Cichon died in 1967. Mary Cichon died in 1980. Gramps died in 2014 just after his 88th birthday.

Gramps always told a lot of great stories, but this was one I’d never heard before. I was bursting with questions to ask, but I always considered my visits with Gramps to be his time. Nearly all of his friends, nine brothers and sisters, my grandmother, and four of his ten children died before he did. He needed a friend to talk and listen and bring Tim Bits—not someone to ask uncomfortable questions.

Gramps and Steve

Then and now, I wish I could have done more. I tried to be equal parts buddy and grandson, and I listened to whatever he had to share and never judged…. And I paid back those secret candy bars and ice cream cones from my youth with a box of Tim Bits or a “real burnt-up hot dog with sweet relish and slivered onions” with each visit.


The beauty of light and serendipity on a cold winter day

By Steve Cichon

If there’s anything I love about this time of year, it’s the days when I happen I to walk down the stairs and look out the window just as the sun starts to disappear towards the other side of the park.

view out of the window on the landing. Steve Cichon photo

And on the days when the air is crisp and the clouds are high, the last gasp of sun splashes honey and orange hued final breaths of light against the houses just outside that window.

My soul is warmed in a way that the sun can’t just by itself on a brutish frigid day– the way nature projects light and life on this pedestrian everyday scene literally just out my window.

I’m moved to wonder, if these were some of the observations that moved a favorite artist to create a favorite painting.

Even before I knew who Charles Burchfield was and that this painting is a composite of a couple of different places around Buffalo, I’ve always loved “Six O’Clock,” and something about it speaks to me– the same something I hear calling from outside my stairway window on late winter afternoons.

I usually resist the urge to take a photo of my special scene. Creating a digital image with the same swipe and click I make dozens of times a day can’t possibly capture the serendipity of it. Taking the photo even actually defeats the fleeting nature of the glowing lights bringing at least visual warmth to the cold.

But today seemed like the right day.

Remembering Michael LoCurto, 1971-2017

By Steve Cichon

My heart aches with the loss of one of the good ones, Michael LoCurto.

Delaware District Council Member Michael LoCurto. (from his Facebook page)

Mike was a great public servant– a man of few words, but much integrity, intellect, and common sense. I learned a lot from his friendship and his quiet yet firm stewardship of the Delaware District. A good guy. A honest guy. A funny guy. We need more like him in the world (and especially in politics), and his passing leaves a sad void.

Steve Cichon and Mike LoCurto, cutting the ribbon on Parkside’s Little Libraries, 2013.

This is Mike and me cutting the ribbon on Parkside’s Little Library project a few years ago… It’s a rare photo because he was more about taking action than taking credit. He ALWAYS had what was best for the people of his district and our city at heart… never himself or some outside influence. Thank you to a true public servant and a great friend.

May perpetual light shine upon him, and may God descend upon the hearts of his family and all all those who loved him, bringing peace, love, and warmth.

The Ol’man & Fruitcake

By Steve Cichon

As I continue to evolve into my father, with great anticipation, I bought a fruitcake today.

My ol’man would excitedly exclaim, “Man, cut that up! I LOVE fruitcake!” to no one in particular, because no one else would eat what I assumed was rotten dreck.

He probably did share the fruitcake with the dog– especially if it was Casey.

Well just now, I ate a quarter of this thing between taking the photo and writing this. Dad would be proud of my broadened holiday palette… but if I ever get a taste for that shrinkwrapped Hickory Farms sausage he also loved— please just put me out of my misery.

Fruitcake is plenty tasty. I think my distrust for it stemmed from its resemblance to another of one of my dad’s favorite processed meat products– olive loaf.


A soup can is a ticket to a journey back in time

By Steve Cichon

The best part of opening up an old newspaper to look for something specific… is taking your time to get there. Yesterday, in a 1979 edition of The Buffalo Evening News, I had a memory flashback as I quickly scanned a Tops ad.
Hy-Top Chicken Noodle Soup, 1979.
When I was at Holy Family grammar school, we went home for lunch… But a couple of days a week, when mom was working, I walked the extra block to my Great-Grandpa Wargo’s house with a can of Hy-Top chicken noodle soup in tow for Grandpa W to heat up for both of us.
In the side door and up a few steps to the kitchen, where everything was ancient– but pristine. The giant gleaming white stove with chrome accents was in newer shape than our stove at home, even though it was 30 years older. The same could be said of the also gleaming white counter tops, laminate with gold flecks, in full-1950s style.

The table where we ate the soup was even older, enamel but sturdy. My mother and grandmother likely ate soup for lunch in the same spot at the same table where I sat on those early 80s afternoons.

We had to be on our best behavior around Grandpa W, and there was certainly a “get-off-my-lawn” air about him, with his wiry gray hair, glasses like Dennis the Menace’s dad, and clothes that were a bit worn and a bit too big on the man after whom I was named.
He was a notorious curmudgeon, but I can’t conjure up an image of him without a smile on his lips and happiness in his eyes. I have another 40 years to work on it, but that’s the kind of curmudgeon I’m aiming to become.
I wish I knew how to describe the smell at Grandpa W’s house… I’ve asked and nobody knows what I’m talking about. It was slightly sweet, and maybe a bit like licorice, but not quite so pungent.
The thought of that smell makes me feel tucked in with a kiss on the forehead without a worry in the world.
Olfactory memories ignited by the grainy image of this can– the exact red-and-gold labeled can I remember from those special meals.
As a first grader, the soup produced from that can was enough for Gramps and me to have lunch– but then there was also enough left for him to have some soup for dinner, too.
I think ol’gramps would be happy with the nearly-threadbare shirt I’m wearing at the moment, but I’m afraid he might be disappointed if he thinks his namesake would eat a third of a can of soup for dinner.
Anyway, all of this swelled up in my eyes and my smile in a brief moment as I pushed forward flipping through the pages of that 40 year old newspaper. I eventually got the article I set out to find, but that’s not nearly as thrilling as finding what I didn’t know I was looking for.