The Coyles, McGees, and Gallaghers of Tullaghobegley Parish, County Donegal (and Pennsylvania mine country)

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

County Donegal, along Ireland’s northern coast, is the ancestral home of my branch of the Coyle Family.

Insulated from the rest of the country by mountains and bogs, the specific Tullaghobegley Parish area near Gweedore where the Coyles come from was the poorest and least fertile districts in all of Ireland.

The Coyles in Ireland

The Paddy Coyle who is the head of household on these 1821 and 1841 census abstracts is the father of the John and Patrick who are listed in the 1857 Griffiths Evaluation. He is also the grandfather of the three Coyles who left County Donegal for Pennsylvania coal country in the mid-1800s. Paddy Coyle and Sheelah McGee-Coyle are my fifth-great grandparents.

Patrick and John Coyle, sons of Paddy Coyle and Sheelah McGee-Coyle, and their cousins, Cormack and John McGee, shared plot 4A in the 1857 Griffiths Valuation in Lunniaghbeg, Parish of Tullaghobegly, in 1857.

This Patrick Coyle was married to Cecilia McGee-Coyle. They are my fourth-great grandparents, and the parents of John Coyle, who later left for America.

This map illustrates the Coyle and McGee plots as recorded in Griffith’s Evaluation, 1857.

Three children of the Patrick Coyle from the Griffith Evaluation left Lunniaghbeg, Tullaghobegley Parish, County Donegal through the mid-1800s, coming to America and winding up in Pennsylvania’s coal mines.

Coyles in America

Each of those three Coyles who emigrated to the US may have eventually married spouses with ties to the families left behind in Lunniagh.

Frances “Fanny” Coyle (c.1847-1916) did for sure. She married John Gallagher at St Mary’s in Tullaghobegly near Gweedore in 1870 before they moved to Jermyn, PA. They had two children, Charles and Margaret. John was crushed to death working as a laborer in the Delaware & Hudson mine. She died in Pennsylvania in 1916.

Bridget Coyle (c.1842-1907) was the second wife of John McGee. They married in Pennsylvania in 1866. There were at least six McGee children. It’s not clear whether McGee was a cousin from Lunniaghbeg, but he did come to Audenreid, PA in the 1850s from Ireland. He died in 1903 from “miner’s asthma.” Bridget died in the mine town of McAdoo, PA in 1907.

John Coyle (c.1849-1908) married Mary Dugan in Pennsylvania in 1865. It’s possible—but it’s unclear whether Mary’s mother, Rose Gallagher-Dugan, was related to the Gallaghers of Lunniaghbeg. John and Mary Coyle had eight children, including my great-great grandfather, Patrick Coyle, who was born in 1872. He moved his family from Scranton, PA to Buffalo, NY following the death of his mother in 1916.

Gweedore

Gweedore was one of the most infamous spots in Ireland in the mid-19th century, and was the next town over from the Coyle home of Lunniagh.

Most of the population there were ethnic Irish Catholics who were displaced from more fertile land that was resettled by British Protestants. The soil around Gweedore is rocky, unforgiving, and very difficult to make yield anything edible for people or livestock—except for the places where it is too soft and boggy.

“Although there are signs of human habitation in the Gweedore area, including the remains of a medieval church at Magheragallan, indicating that  the area has long been inhabited,  the population of this ‘remote and inhospitable area’ probably only began expanding ‘during the seventeenth century as a result of population displacements associated with the Ulster Plantation.’” -History of Gweedore, Tim O’Sullivan, 2002. (This history is posted on a great site about the history of this area, http://donegalgenealogy.com/chapter_one.htm)

A mountainous border surrounding the area and the elsewhere marshy earth made for few roads leading in or out. The Irish language was the only language spoken by many, and the land was occupied according to the medieval Rundale system as late as the mid-1800s. Clachan houses of individual families surrounded the larger rundale plots which they farmed together.

1886 print showing Gweedore from London Illustrated News.

When tax collectors came to Gweedore in the 1830s, they were beaten, their arms confiscated, and they were turned back.

Not only did the people of Gweedore, Lunniagh and surrounding areas not want to pay taxes to the British crown or tithe to the Church of England—they didn’t have much to give.

Patrick McKye, teacher in the National School, wrote a letter to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1837 describing the horrific conditions in the parish that the Coyles called home.

“That the parishioners of this parish of Tullaghobegly… are in the most, needy, hungry, and naked condition of any people that ever came within the precincts of my knowledge, although I have travelled a part of nine counties in Ireland, also a part of England and Scotland, together with a part of British America. I have likewise perambulated 2,253 miles through some of the United States, and never witnessed the tenth part of such hunger, hardships, and nakedness.”

“None of their either married or unmarried women can afford more than one shirt, and the fewest number cannot afford any, and more than half of both men and women cannot afford shoes to their feet; nor can many of them afford a second bed, but whole families of sons and daughters of mature age indiscriminately lying together with their parents, and all in the bare buff.

“Their beds are straw, green and dried rushes, or mountain bent; their bed clothes are either coarse sheets or no sheets, and ragged, filthy blankets.

“And more than all that I have mentioned, there is a general prospect of starvation at the present prevailing among them, and that originating from various causes; but the principal cause is a rot or failure of seed in the last year’s crop, together with a scarcity of winter forage, in consequence of a long continuation of storms since October last in this part of the country.

“So that they, the people, were under the necessity of cutting down their potatoes, and give them to the cattle to keep them alive. All these circumstances connected together have brought hunger to reign among them, in that degree that the generality of the peasantry are on the small allowance of one meal a day, and many families cannot afford more than one meal in two days, and sometimes, one meal in three days. Their children crying and fainting with hunger, and their parents weeping, being full of grief, hunger, debility, and dejection, with glooming aspect looking at their children likely to expire in the pains of starvation.”

Lord George Hill was the British landowner who worked to improve the lives of the people in his care—but at the same time worked to undermine their identity and way of life. He wrote a pamphlet called “Facts from Gweedore,” which made both of those goals easily apparent. He called the people of the area “more deplorable than can well be conceived; famine was periodical, and fever its attendant; wretchedness pervaded the district.”

In the wake of a particularly striking famine in 1858, parish priests in the area wrote an appeal to Queen Victoria and to the people of the world begging for help.

“In the wilds of Donegal, down in the bogs and glens of Gweedore and Cloughaneely, thousands and thousands of human beings, made after the image and likeness of God, are perishing, or next to perishing, amid squalidness and misery, for want of food and clothing, far away from aid and pity. On behalf of these famishing victims of oppression and persecution, we appeal for substantial assistance to enable us to relieve their wretchedness, and rescue them from death and starvation.

“There are at the moment 800 families subsisting on seaweed, crabs, cockles, or any other edible matter they can pick up along the seashore or scrape off the rocks. There are about 600 adults of both sexes, who through sheer poverty are now going barefoot, amid the inclemency of the season, on this bleak northern coast. There are about 700 families that have neither bed nor bedclothes… Thousands of the male population have only one cotton shirt; while thousands have not even one. There are about 600 families who have neither cow, sheep, nor goat and who…hardly know the taste of milk or butter.

“This fine old Celtic race is about being crushed to make room for Scotch and English sheep.”

It was around this time that a teenaged John Coyle left for America to make a new life in coal mines.

The story continues…..

The ancestors of James J. Coyle, Jr.

The Ancestors of June Wargo Coyle

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Jeannette Greiner and Stephen Wargo wedding photo, 1930.

The Wargos

page from Wargo Family Bible.

Julius Wargo was 26 years old when he arrived at the Port of Baltimore in 1904.

He was born Gyula Varga to Janos Varga and Agnes Molnar in Kisbodak, Hungary in 1878.

He married 17 year-old Erszebet Kotis in New York City in 1906. She was born to Istvan Kotis and Maria Revay in Ricsikatanya, Hungary in 1889.

The couple spent the next several years moving from mining job to mining job in Pennsylvania. Their only son, Stephen Julius Wargo, was born in Elizabethtown, PA in 1909.

Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Kotis Wargo and Gyula (Julius) Varga (Wargo) wedding, 1906

The family moved to Abby Street in South Buffalo. It was right behind the Republic Steel plant where Julius worked until he died suddenly in 1919, leaving Elizabeth with six kids between the ages of 10 and four months.

Wargo family after the death of Julius, c.1920

Elizabeth worked as a servant and laundress to support her family. She died in 1962.

Stephen Wargo was 21 when he married 16 year old Jeannette Greiner in 1930.

The Greiners

Grandma Coyle’s mother, Jeannette Greiner-Wargo, belonged to a family which first arrived in Buffalo in 1827.

Casper Greiner was born in Vinningen, Rhineland in 1788. With his wife Maria Anna Goeller and their five children, they boarded the “Catherine” in Le Havre and landed in New York City in 1827.

In the year Buffalo became a city, 1832, the Greiners’ daughter Catherine was among the first children baptized at the original log-hewn St. Louis Church in Buffalo.

Sophie Pirson Greiner

Casper settled in Bush, which is part of the Town of Tonawanda today. He died in 1830, and is buried in the cemetery on Englewood Drive behind St. John’s Church.

Casper’s son Peter was a justice of the peace and Supervisor of the Town of Wheatfield in the 1830s, before he too settled in Tonawanda and married Sophia Pirson in 1837.

The Pirsons
Sophia Pirson-Greiner arrived from France with her parents Johannes and Marie in 1830.

John and Marie Pirson

The Pirsons were one of the major founding families of the Town of Tonawanda, helping to build the chapel that is now the Tonawanda Historical Society. Their graves are prominent just behind the small brick church on Knoche Road.

Peter Greiner briefly served as a Union officer in the Civil War, and then the family moved around— spending time in Ontario and Wisconsin.

Peter Greiner, Company H, 3rd Battalion, US Infantry and son. 1861

Sophia Pirson-Greiner died in Wisconsin in 1879. Peter Greiner died in the Veterans Home in Bath, NY in 1884.

Peter and Sophia’s son Joseph Prentiss Greiner was a sailor and longshoreman, and after several years at sea, made Liverpool, England his home port.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner, Mary Atkinson Greiner and family.

There, he married Mary Atkinson and they had six children. In 1894, they moved from Liverpool to the city Joseph had known as a boy, winding up on Buffalo’s German a East Side in the area today known as the Medical Campus.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner death listing, 1918
Sgt. Fred W. Greiner, US Army Infantry

He was among Bufffalo’s first electricians— a job he learned at sea. He died in 1918, Mary died in 1919.

Joseph and Mary’s son, Fred W. Greiner, was born in Liverpool in 1882. He worked most of his life in Buffalo’s brewing industry as a bottler at Iroquois Brewery.

Fred married Jeanette Loewer in Buffalo in 1905.

The Loewers

The Loewers came to Buffalo from Hesse Cassel Germany in the late 1860s. Jeanette’s grandfather John and her father Conrad were tailors in Germany and then in Buffalo as well.

Conrad Loewer (face obscured) and Josephine Weigand Loewer
Henry Loewer, 1905

Jeanette Loewer was only 10 years old when her father died, and she and her siblings were raised first by their uncle— a Buffalo morning court judge, Henry Loewer, and then by their oldest sister, Kate Loewer Heid.

Fred Greiner and Jeanette Loewer Greiner has seven children, including Jeannette Sarah, in 1914.

Frederick W. Greiner death listing, 1949

Jeannette Sarah Greiner was 16 years old when she married Stephen Julius Wargo in 1930.

They had four children, three survived to adulthood. The only girl, my grandma June, was born in 1931.

June Wargo-Coyle with her grandmothers, Eilzabeth Wargo and Jeanette Greiner, 1944

The ancestors of James J. Coyle, Jr.

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

James Coyle Sr. (center) and Katherine “Sis” Slattery Coyle.

My Grandpa Coyle’s grandparents were all born in North America— two in Pennsylvania, one in Ontario, and one in Buffalo’s First Ward.

All but one of his great-grandparents were born in Ireland, and that one was born to Irish immigrants.

The Coyles

John Coyle was born in utter poverty and landowner-induced famine in County Donegal near Gweedore around 1849.

1841 Irish Census extract for Coyle family in Lunniagh, County Donegal.

He was around 12 years old when he left his parents Paddy Coyle and Cecilia McGee Coyle in Ireland to work in the coal mines of Eastern Pennsylvania.

In 1865, when he was 16, he married Mary Dugan. She was born in the mining camps of Beaver Meadows, PA to Martin Dugan and Rose Gallagher, both of whom came to Pennsylvania from Ireland.

John and Mary Coyle followed mining jobs around Pennsylvania from Janesville near Allentown to Jermyn and Mayfield near Scranton. They had eight children, including Patrick, the oldest.

John Coyle obituary, 1908.

Patrick was probably born around 1869, despite later documents which say 1872. That age change probably came as he left school to work in the mines at a very young age. He married Catherine Kilker at the Sacred Heart Church in Jermyn, PA in 1892.

Patrick Kilker obituary, 1904

Catherine was born in Pennsylvania to Patrick Kilker and Bridget Herrity-Kilker. They were both born in Belmullet, County Mayo, Ireland.

Patrick and Catherine had four children, including James J. Coyle, Sr., in 1897. They lived in the City of Scranton while Patrick was a fireman in the mines.

After the death of Patrick’s parents John Coyle in 1908 and Mary Dugan Coyle in 1916, Patrick’s whole family moved to from Scranton, PA to Wilson Street on Buffalo’s East Side.

Patrick went to work for the Lackawanna (later Bethlehem) Steel Company. The family would move to Lockwood Ave. in South Buffalo, and Patrick would go to work at Maritime Milling on Hopkins St. as a stationary engineer.

Patrick Coyle death listing, Buffalo Courier-Express, 1945.

Catherine died in 1942, Patrick died in 1945.

James J. Coyle’s first job in Buffalo was lineman for the New York Central Railroad. Later, he was an electrician for the Bethlehem Steel plant.

He married Kathryn Slattery in 1927.

The Slatterys 

Captain Thomas J. Slattery

Some time before 1863, Thomas Slattery and his wife Honora Kelley Slattery made the transatlantic voyage from Ireland’s County Tipperary to Prescott, Ontario, along the St. Lawrence River, just south of Ottawa.

Their son Thomas was born in Prescott in 1864. He grew up to be a sailor and worked his way through the ranks to become a Great Lakes captain based in Buffalo.

He married Bridget Norton of Buffalo in 1894. She was the daughter of Miles Norton, a First Ward grain scooper, who emigrated to Buffalo with his wife Catherine Bowe Norton around 1868.

Catherine Bowe Norton, widow of Miles Norton, death listing

Bridget Norton Slattery died suddenly while her husband was on the lakes in 1915. Their daughter Kathryn was only 13 at the time.

Slattery Family, c. 1906

Thomas Slattery died in 1926

Thomas Slattery obituary

Kathryn married James J. Coyle Sr. in 1927. The family moved around North Tonawanda, Seneca-Babcock, and South Buffalo frequently, mostly because of his alcoholism.

They had 5 children, including my grandfather, James J. Coyle, Jr., in 1929.

James Coyle Sr. died in 1957. Kathryn Slattery Coyle died in 1978.

Grandma Cichon’s parents: The Scurrs and the Doyles

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon’s parents and grandparents had a less-than-direct route to Buffalo.

Jim and Peggy Scurr, the parents of Marie T. Scurr-Cichon.

The Scurrs

My great-grandfather, James G. Scurr, 1906-1980

The family of Grandma Cichon’s father, James Gibson Scurr, spent several generations making a living off the sea as sailors and sail makers in North Shields and Tynemouth in Northern England where the Tyne River empties into the North Sea in Northumberland.

James was born in 1906, and was only 11 years old when his older brother George H., a seaman on the SS Hazelwood, was killed when a German U-boat planted mines that destroyed the ship.

Only 13 weeks later, another brother, William Gordon, a Merchantile Marine- Second Engineer on the SS Trocas, was also killed by a German U-boat.

James was a 15 year-old clerk when he joined his aunt, Sarah Scurr Wilkinson, and her family in Hamilton, Ontario in 1922.

James’ parents, George Henry Scurr and Mary Alice Pilmer Scurr, followed him to Canada a year later. George got a job at Bethlehem Steel in 1924, and the family moved to 5th Avenue in Lackawanna.

George and Mary Alice eventually moved to Hamburg. She died in 1947, he died in 1952.

Mary Alice Pilmer Scurr death notice from Buffalo Courier-Express, 1944.

The Doyles

My great grandmother, Margaret Cecilia “Peggy” Doyle Scurr, 1902-1988.

Marie Scurr Cichon’s mother, Margaret “Peggy” Doyle Scurr, was Irish, but she was born in Scotland.

Her parents, William Doyle and Mary Ann Vallely Doyle moved from what is today Northern Ireland to Coatbridge, just outside Glasgow in the 1880s.

It’s not entirely clear what precipitated the move, but being Catholic in Northern Ireland has been challenging for generations. William was born in 1860 in Bainbridge, County Down. Mary Ann was born in 1864 in nearby Armagh, County Armagh. The third youngest of their 11 children, Peggy Doyle was born in Coatbridge in 1902.

The Doyle family, 1915

In 1923, Peggy Doyle, then a 20-year-old housekeeper, arrived at the port of Boston from Coatbridge, Scotland aboard the SS Megantic.

The SS Megantic

She had $25 with her when she travelled directly to Buffalo to live with her sister, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Doyle-Anderson (later Fox). She lived on the corner of Seneca and Geary Street, raising two boys on her own after her husband was killed in France World War I.

William Doyle died in 1920. Six years later, his widow Mary Ann and youngest daughter Agnes also came to Buffalo through St. John, New Brunswick aboard the SS Montcalm of the Canadian Pacific line. They moved in with another daughter, Mary Doyle Sands, who lived on Weyand Street off Seneca.

During the last year of Mary Ann Vallely Doyle’s life, four generations of her family lived on Seneca Street with the birth of my father’s older (half) brother, Michael Doyle (1945-2006.)

Jim Scurr and Peggy Doyle were married in 1927, and moved around the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood, on Orlando and Lester streets, Melvin Street, and then in an apartment above the storefronts at Seneca and Kingston for decades.

James G. Scurr died in 1980, Margaret A. Doyle Scurr died in 1987.

Cool Whip Jell-O, aka “I made the Jell-O”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Despite it’s revered place at every major family dinner, there’s no real name for it except “the Jell-O.”

Just like her mother before her, my mother-in-law made this delicious side dish for each of the holy trinity of family “eating holidays”— Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In 2010, Pam Martyna Huxley has newspapers spread to catch the spatter from mixing the Jell-O and Cool Whip. She was probably mad later when she found some spatter on her shirt.

Grandma Martyna probably found the recipe in the coupon section of the paper or on the back of a box of Jell-O some time in the 70s, and it’s been a beloved part of my wife’s family’s holidays ever since.

In the early 80s, the Martyna family gathers for a holiday meal– with a giant Corningware dish of Cool Whip Jell-O in front of Grandma Martyna.

Since my mother-in-law passed away, I have made it for every holiday, and it warms my heart to see that pink blob on just about every plate.

It can probably be served as a dessert, but at any Martyna family dinner, it’s always served as a side dish as a part of the main course.

Cool Whip Jell-O

2 packages of Strawberry Jell-O
8oz Cool Whip
2 cups boiling water
1.5 cups cold water

In a large bowl, add boiling water to Jell-O packets, stir until Jell-O is dissolved. Add cold water.

Refrigerate until 80-90% jelled. (Completely jelled is ok, but slightly less firm makes for a more thorough mix in the next step.)

In the largest bowl you have, combine Jell-O and Cool Whip. Use hand mixer on low, then high, until thoroughly blended. Be ready for this step to make a spattering mess.

My mother-in-law had a box she’d place around the mixing bowl.

Pour combined mixture into a heavy Corningware or Pyrex serving dish, and refrigerate to reset the mixture. Keep refrigerated until serving.

The ships that brought the Cichons to America, 1913

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Jan Cichon and Maryanna Pochec met at backyard party in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood in 1913.

Jan and Maryanna Cichon, from two separate 1940s photos on Fulton Street.

All within a few blocks of that first meeting, John and Mary would get married, buy a house, have ten children, and work– he at Schoellkopf Chemical/National Aniline, and she as a bootlegger, boarding house matron, and homemaker.

Jan Cichoń and Marianna Pocheć-Ganabaszyński were married by Fr. Peter Pitass at Holy Apostles Sts. Peter & Paul Church, Smith & Clinton, on August 19, 1914.

Both arrived in Buffalo after long transatlantic journeys aboard giant ships.

Jan Cichon left Poland in February, 1913, aboard the German postal ship The Wittekind, which sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Portland, Maine.

The only surviving story of any of my ancestors journeys from their homelands comes from Great-Grandpa Cichon. He carried his cobbler’s tools with him, although shoe repair was never his primary work here. He also suffered from seasickness, which was helped tremendously by a Jewish man who had brought along garlic for just that purpose.

He was born near Sandomierz in Glazow, Swietokrzyskie, Poland in 1893 to Jozef Cichon and Agnieszka Korona. Jozef died when Jan was 7 years old in 1901, and Agnieszka married Szczepan Bryla in 1910.

Jan was 20 when he left Poland for Germany to start the transatlantic voyage which would take him to the home of his brother-in-law, Stanislaw Kaczmarski in Welland, Ontario.

After a few months in Ontario, he crossed the border at the Port of Buffalo and never looked back.

The SS Wittenkind

The Wittekind was seized by the USA during World War I, and was used to bring American soldiers back and forth from France. It was decommissioned after the war in 1919 and scrapped in 1924.

The SS President Grant, later seized by the Navy and recommissioned the USS President Grant.

Maryanna Pochec, Grandpa Cichon’s mother, was my only ancestor to pass through Ellis Island.

She came to America aboard the President Grant a few months after her future husband in 1913.

Originally an ocean liner, the German-owned ship was seized by the US government during World War I. Used as a transport ship, more than 37,000 Americans returned home on the Grant after the Armistice was signed ending the war.

After further service in World War II, the ship was sold to Bethlehem Steel for scrap in 1952.

Babcia was born to Wojciech Pochec and Marianna Kubicka in Wanacja, Swietokrzyskie, Poland near Ostrowiec in 1892.

When she was 13, in 1905, she married Alexander Ganabaszynski in Ostrowiec. He went to Canada to work in the logging industry– and its unclear what happened to him from there. Maryanna traveled as a single woman, and told both the City of Buffalo and Fr. Pitass at Sts. Peter & Paul church on Smith Street that her marriage to Jan Cichon was her first.

Either way, after nine years of living and working around Elk and Smith Streets, the Cichons had saved enough money to by 608 Fulton St, which remained in the family until Mary Cichon died in 1980. John Cichon died in 1967.

Grandma Coyle, the saint, died on All Saints Day

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

June Marie Wargo Coyle
Jan. 14, 1931- Nov. 1, 2005

Her love for all of us was unconditional and ever flowing… And that love just made her so happy. I loved watching her on holidays– that love filled smile would fill her face every time one of her kids or grandkids or their spouses walked through the door. The radiance of her heart made the world a better place for the time she was here, and it continues now– Her heart lives on in all of us who she loved.

The love that radiated from her smile every time any of us walked in the room left no question that there was a beautiful woman who loved you with every fiber of her being. I’m blessed in that just the thought of that smile fills my heart with love enough to share in the way she taught me.

Here are Grandma and Grandpa Coyle outside of their new home on Hayden Street, South Buffalo, in the late 50s.

 

Ticket taker Gramps let us into Rich Stadium with a matchbook ticket

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My “new” old Bills sweater is the exact same one Gramps used to wear as a ticket taker at the stadium. Gramps would let us into Bills games— I remember going to a Baltimore Colts game during the 1982 strike.

We weren’t allowed to acknowledge or say hi to Grandpa, and we had to give him a matchbook to rip and hand back to us in case the bosses were watching. 

Paid attendance at Rich Stadium: 80,080. Non-paying Cichons: 3,347. Hahaha

Grandma Cichon’s BBQ Hamburgers

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s not a Polish dish, but it is a sacred and beloved meal of Buffalo Polonia: the Barbequed Hamburger.

This is my version of Grandma Cichon’s version, which was her version of the BBQ hamburgers my great aunts used to serve at the family gin mill, The Sport Den, on Walden Avenue near the city line.

Grandma Cichon’s BBQ Hamburgers

2lbs ground beef
Envelope of onion soup mix (which Grandma Cichon put in EVERYTHING)
Bottle of BBQ sauce (Kraft would have been more Grandma Cichon authentic, but a generic version of Sweet Baby Rays was all I had.)

Thoroughly mix meat and soup mix with hands, shape into burgers on the small side.

Heat up a big pan, let the burgers brown on one side, then flip to brown the other. Add bottle of BBQ sauce, and then half a bottle of water.

Cover and simmer until they look done. Cut one in half if you’re not sure.

These were really good… Grandma Cichon was right— onion soup mix makes any crap delicious!

The July 4th Birthdays of Grandpa Coyle and Grandma Cichon

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandpa Coyle was born 90 years ago today. This is him on the diving board on his 57th or so birthday.

He was born on the 4th of July and created for himself the American dream: He was raised in utter poverty in a broken alcoholic home, but persevered to learn a trade, become a professional, and along with my grandmother, create a beautiful family that honors his story by our very existence.

Of course, if he was here with us, I’d have to sum that all up with, “Happy Birthday, Gramps… can I get you a beer?”

Can’t say for sure this is her birthday, but we spent quite a few of Grandma Cichon’s birthdays at the cottage she’d rent every year at Sunset Bay.
(L to R that’s me, my ol’man, cousin Tracy, Aunt Sue, and Grandma.)

Grandma Cichon was born on July 4, 1928– which was a shock to my dad to hear after she died… he always thought she was born in 1926.

She was only 16 when my uncle Mike was born, and apparently what you did then was make yourself older to make it less scandalous (or to get a better job to help feed your kids).

I think a lot about what had to have been a beaten up heart behind a tough as nails exterior. I think about the personal sacrifices she swallowed for her 11 children, including putting the second of those kids up for adoption and keeping that pain and sacrifice alone inside her heart.

I used to think it was funny or weird that she would refuse to say goodbye– it was always happy, and it was always , “Toodleoo!” and, of course, she was right. She knew the people you loved never leave you, so there’s no reason to ever say goodbye.