Maybe it was right up until January 27, 1977 that Buffalo was known as a blue collar town. A hardscrabble steel making town. A simple, shot-and-a-beer, look-a- guy-in-the-eye town. It was known as a place with long winters and a string of rotten luck— getting hit hard by the changes in the world through the 1970s.
You knew that OJ Simpson played football in Buffalo and Howdy Doody’s pal Buffalo Bob Smith was from there– but you probably didn’t know about chicken wings yet, because it was a 1980 article in the New Yorker that really put the Buffalo wing in the national spotlight.
Then, starting on January 28, 1977, Buffalo began appearing on the national TV news every night for weeks as the city dug out from The Blizzard of ’77.
The first question of Buffalonians at conventions or in airports was no longer about OJ or Niagara Falls or steel.
“Did the snow melt yet?”
It was always one of the things Buffalo was known for, but 40 years ago today, it became the thing. Even losing four straight Super Bowls and having the longest playoff drought in major league sports hasn’t been able to shake the Blizzard of ’77’s stranglehold on our national identity.
Here it is, 40 years later, and we’re just starting to wholly embrace this wintry identity which Mother Nature foisted on us, and hopefully making more and more people aware that making the best of the cold, snow, and ice is something we’re great at.
Even though a few winters have really kicked us in the teeth, we sure know how to do winter in Buffalo.. and we even do the winters that have done us.
Having the Blizzard of ’77 notched in our belts makes us bad ass. We’ve seen the worst of it and know that we mostly survived. But our hearts often turn to those whose death in 1977 made us more careful as a people.
We’ll never forget the ten people who froze to death in their cars– their awful fate is our permanent warning.
We learned lessons of neighborliness and what it truly means to be a Buffalonian. One tragic example of a the kind of Buffalo guy we all strive to be was Officer Carl O. Reese.
Officer Reese worked for 25 straight hours at the beginning of the blizzard, pushing cars to get people on their way and bringing people stranded just south of downtown medicine and food, putting their health and comfort before his own. After more than a full day on his feet, he went back out to help free cars stuck on the Skyway.
Officer Reese collapsed of exhaustion and suffered a heart attack upon arriving home after that marathon shift– he was only 38 years old, and survived by a wife and small child.
From the pages of the Courier-Express: a day-by-day recap of the Blizzard of ’77:
Coming this week with BN Chronicles’ look back at The Blizzard of ’77:
Johnny Carson and how Buffalo became a permanent punchline:
More on Monday at BN Chronicles
Tuesday at BN Chronicles:
Separating the fact from the fiction:
A look at how the Buffalo Zoo made it through The Blizzard, which animals escaped and were caught, and which one animal escaped and was never heard from again.
A classic page updated with new information and photos:
See the front pages of the Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express, watch a full-half-hour broadcast of the WBEN-TV Channel 4 news, and listen to radio around the dial in Buffalo at the height of the Blizzard.
More Blizzard Memories: