Audio Flashback: WBEN Newsweek, 1978

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

With the recent passing of Doug Smith, I was reminded of a piece of audio in the Buffalo Stories archives where he was featured as the Courier-Express Film Critic.

The recording is a half-hour feature called “Newsweek,” and was a collection of highlights from WBEN’s “Newsday at Noon.” This particular edition was from what sounds like the last week of 1978.

Doug is being interviewed by Lou Douglas, who also interviews Erie County Legislator William Pauly, Episcopal Bishop Harold Robinson, and Peggy Speranza of the Feingold Association.

The host of the half-hour is newsman Jim McLaughlin, and there is also a Stan Barron sports editorial at the 15:10 mark,

When I started working at WBEN in the early 1990s, running the pre-taped Newsweek– by then hosted by Tim Wenger– very early Sunday morning was one of my first jobs in radio.

 

Remembering “Cheap Gourmet” Doug Smith

Doug & Polly Smith, c. 1985, WIVB-TV

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I got to know Doug Smith while we were both working at Channel 4, but I loved him long before then. Thinking of him makes me think of my grandmother.

Grandma Cichon rounded up us kids and we took the bus from Seneca Street near the city line all the way up to Hertel Avenue for the first Italian Festival in North Buffalo after years on the West Side.

In perfect Grandma Cichon fashion, we prettyquickly walked up and down through the rides and games –it wasn’t much different from the Caz Park Festival we were used to… And then, eschewing the pricier Italian Sausage or ravioli, we ate lunch at the Burger King at the corner of Hertel and Delaware.

And since we were so close to K-Mart, Grandma couldn’t resist running in, which we did (probably for air conditioning, I’d guess, more than anything else.)

In the parking lot leaving K-Mart, heading for the bus stop, I think I spied him first. A real-live celebrity from Channel 4. Doug Smith! Right there! The guy with the convertible Beetle! In the flesh!

As if that wasn’t enough, Grandma– in her breathy, asthmatic voice– started moving toward him shouting, “Doug! Doug! Oh Doug!”

She knew him in her role as the longtime President of the South Buffalo Theatre on South Park Avenue.

“Oh Marie, how are you my darling,” he said, overacting the part, maybe even kissing her hand.

Italian Festival, Burger King, Doug Smith, and Grandma knows him! What a day!

Doug Smith would have made me smile even if I’d never met him… but that he was always great— and that he always makes me think of my grandma is really a bonus.

Then again, I think Doug’s the kind of guy that evokes layers of memories for plenty of people around Buffalo.

He was one of a kind– and warmly touched so many lives. He died today at 81. Rest in Peace, Doug Smith.

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.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner: wiring the City of Light

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hey genealogy lovers… ancestry.com has a free trial for UK records this weekend. I don’t pay for “world access,” so whenever there’s a freebie I go and download all the stuff I’ve been stockpiling— like my Great-Great-Great Grandfather’s signature on an English ship crew manifest.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner was born in Wheatfield, but spent many years at sea with Liverpool as his home port. He returned to Buffalo to live in the area now known as the Medical Campus. Apparently adapting the skills he learned as a sailor– as far as I can tell, he was among the first people whose occupation was listed as “electrician” in the Buffalo City Directory, helping bring “The City of Light” to life.

1898 Buffalo City Directory

My Greiners came to Buffalo in the 1820s… and there are several generations of many children who’ve moved all over the country since then. Most of the DNA matches that I can figure out trace back to Casper Greiner— whose daughter was among the first baptized at St Louis Church in Buffalo… and who himself is buried at the small Tonawanda church founded by St John Neumann behind St John the Baptist on Englewood.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner and his wife, Mary Atkinson Greiner.

Titles in our Bookstore

The Complete History of Parkside

By Steve Cichon

A history of the Frederick Law Olmsted designed neighborhood, from its place in the history of the Seneca Nation, to its role in the War of 1812, to Olmsted’s design and the turn of the century building out of the area, and the neighborhood’s 20th century evolutions.

Read excerpts now

Included are discussions of the area’s earliest colorful settlers, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, Delaware Park, The Buffalo Zoo, and the stories and anecdotes of many more struggles, individuals, and institutions that have made Parkside one of Buffalo’s premier historic neighborhoods today.

Softcover, 135 historic photos, 172 pages. $14.95

ISBN: 978-0-615-32784-6

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about Parkside from Buffalo Stories LLC

St. Mark Parish: The Loving Legacy of Msgr. Francis Braun and Sr. Jeanne Eberle

by Steve Cichon

A BUFFALO SCRAPBOOK history of the North Buffalo, NY parish with a special emphasis on Sr. Jeanne and Fr. Braun’s combined 64 years of service to the community.

Parishioner Steve Cichon traces the history of the storied parish back to the beginning in 1908, when one early parishioner remembers being able to see the street cars through the trees on Hertel while standing on Russell Avenue.

With 224 paperback pages and nearly 300 images and period news articles, the book takes the reader up to the present day with Fr. Joe Rogliano’s pastorate and the parish’s linking with St. Rose of Lima.

Softcover, 300 images, 224 pages. $24.95

ISBN: 978-0-982-32392-2

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about the book and service of Msgr. Braun and Sr. Jeanne

 

Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story

By Steve Cichon

The story of a TV anchorman so universally loved in Western New York that only one name is necessary… Irv. From the 1950s through the 1990s, Irv Weinstein informed and entertained generations of Buffalonians with his unmistakable style of writing and delivering the news. Together with Rick Azar and Tom Jolls, Irv was a part of the longest running anchor team in history, and their story is the story of Buffalo over the last half century.

From the time long ago… When our TV picture looked like it came from the bottom of a Coke bottle in fuzzy black and white, to today’s electronically augmented color; one man in Buffalo television has been the leading presence. As Clint Beuhlman once dominated Buffalo radio, as Walter Cronkite dominated network news, so Irv, through his intuition, aggressive style, his personality, has dominated the local news scene. -Phil Beuth

Softcover, 74 historic photos, 148 pages.

ISBN: 978-0-9828739-0-8

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about Eyewitness News and Irv Weinstein from Buffalo Stories 

 

A Buffalo Scrapbook: Gimme Jimmy!
Mayor James D. Griffin in His Own Words and Pictures

By Steve Cichon, with a Forward by the Griffin Children.

Through his unequaled 16 years in office, Jimmy Griffin was the bigger-than-life, most talked about mayor in the history of Buffalo. Author Steve Cichon and Mayor Griffin’s children have selected nearly 200 photos from the personal and mayoral archives of the Griffin family. The images are interspersed with the stories, quotes, and wisdom of James D. Griffin himself, recorded in print, audio, and video over a nearly half-century in public service.

Paperback, 140 pages, $16.95

ISBN 978-0-9828739-1-5

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about Mayor Griffin from Buffalo Stories LLC

 

The Real Steve Cichon: A Tribute to My Relationship with My Ol’Man

by Steve Cichon

My ol’man, Steven P. Cichon, died Palm Sunday, 2010 at the age of 58. Losing a parent is unimaginable, even when you spend the decade up until the death imagining it over and over again.

My dad was a very sick man the last 8 years or so of his life. He lost a leg to diabetes, and had a very serious heart condition. He made regular trips to the hospital by ambulance, and spent weeks at a time in the hospital.

During those times when he was very sick, I tried to prepare myself for his death. Tried to think it through; imagine what it might be like, so it would all be easier to deal with.

No dice. You’ll read that it’s all unimaginable. An extension of yourself is gone. There’s a hole in your heart. All sorts of vital information is gone. It’s like somebody lit the reference book you’ve used your whole life on fire. You’ll read, too, about quite a few things I’d do just for dad, that I sadly have stopped doing.

He’s been gone about two months as I write this, and it’s still hard. I have no doubt that it always will be. But putting all the swirling emotions I’ve felt into writing this has been wonderful.

It’s the story of my dad’s last week on this planet, and the story of his life on this planet, and, mostly, the 32 years he spent on this planet as my Dad, and Dad to Greg and Lynne.

46 photos, 56 pages. Paperback. $10.00

READ THE FULL BOOK ONLINE

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about my ol’man from Buffalo Stories LLC

 

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.

 

January 28, 1977: 40 years ago today, a new identity for Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.

Trains being loaded with snow to be taken south to melt, a week after the storm first hit.

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.

Buffalonians welcoming the world to our annual celebration of winter. (canalsidebuffalo.com photo)

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.

When the snow really wallops us, take care of each other and have fun. During the “Snowmegeddon” storm of 2014, firefighters carried a patient a mile up Abbott Road to Mercy Hospital. We also make beer fridges out of the snow drifts blown against our doors.

In the days following the Blizzard of ’77, both Tops and Bells ran ads telling Buffalo they had food left.

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:

Newspaper, radio & TV broadcasts bring the storm back to life…

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:

[termposts]

 

 

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.”