History’s Garbage Bin: Sharing the Garbage Picked Goodness… Again

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

To save everything because “it’s old” is just silly. To toss everything away because “it’s old” is just silly, too. Somewhere between those two extremes is where most of us try to live.I get both sides. I’m a saver, who wishes sometimes I could live more of a clutter-free life. But a healthy portion of my clutter comes from big piles of important stuff that otherwise would have no home.

Depending on how you look at it, I have been blessed or cursed with the ability to see the possibilities beyond a pile of garbage. My home is a great example. It’s taken over a decade of hard work for my wife and me to make it shine, taking it from a worn-down relic to a stop on the Parkside Home Tour.

Over the last two decades, I have garbage-picked, purchased, been asked to copy, or reluctantly accepted thousands of hours of audio and video, almost always locked away on some sort of format that made it impossible listen to or view. Or even know if there was anything there.

Basically, I’ve been collecting “potential.”

Twice I’ve garbage-picked boxes of old film reels. These boxes were in the garbage for good reason; the film was infected with “vinegar syndrome,” a decomposition of the materials in the film, which renders it unviewable. Worse, one “vinegared” film can jump start the degrading process in other nearby films as well.

The relatively small group of folks who had decided to chuck these boxes has literally thousands of reels of film to worry about. As a member of that group I agreed. But as an individual, I decided that I couldn’t see this film simply thrown away. I garbage picked the film, then spend lots of time and money picking out the few good bits from the mangled messes inside those decaying boxes and film canisters, cleaning those good bits, then properly storing them to avoid more vinegar problems and further degrading.

The same is true of a pile of old video cassettes. The TV station I was working at was taking “the best” of some of the video that was on an old, dying format of videotapes, and dubbing them to the format they were then using. It made sense, as these dubs were being made on the station’s last working machine that played the old format tapes. The old tapes were being hauled to the dumpster. I grabbed as many as I could for “safe keeping.”

In both of these cases, I was holding onto what I knew was great video, but had no means to share it or even watch it. In some cases, this stuff had been in my possession for over a decade. Waiting.

Having been lucky enough to turn a bit of a profit from my book “Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story,” I gathered up most of that film, and many of those video tapes, along with others that I’d copied or recorded myself over the years, and sent them off to be properly and professionally digitized. A painstaking and expensive process, but one that was the end result of saving them from the trash in the first place– whether I knew it at the time or not.

Being able to treat my relatively small collection with a great deal of care and respect has allowed me to begin sharing some interesting moments reported and recorded by Buffalo television journalists over the last 60 years. You’re seeing the fruits of it on YouTube.

A Stan Barron obituary piece was the first item from the hours of “new” old video I shared…


The second was a true Western New York treasure. Who among us in Buffalo hasn’t replied with a sarcastic “Fun? Wow!” when asked a question? The phrase, of course, comes from TV commercials for Fantasy Island, which ran over and over and over and… I can remember asking my parents to go to “Fun Wow,” not realizing the actual name of the place.

The iconic commercial forever ensconced the phrase “Fun… WOW!” in our collective lexicon. Type “Fantasy Island” into Google, and the term “fun wow” follows as a suggested search term. Some how the commercial has eluded the Internet, until uncovered in that pile of tapes that time had forgotten was remastered.

There are two wonderful memories supplied, and there’s plenty more to come as well. Literally hundreds more quick videos to come for all of us to pause and remember for a moment.

Video especially has a great power to transport us back to another time and place like no other medium. That’s why I can honestly say that I don;t think I’ve ever been so excited about a project as the one I’m embarking on here in putting this video online to share with the world.

What it comes down to for me is…. my stuff is useless unless it can be of some use to somebody. I’ve already seen the smiles from these small bits already released that proves the usefulness. I won’t make a million dollars on my finds… In fact, I’m in the red getting them ready to share. But it really hurts my brain to know that many of the wonderful archival videos you’ll see, in fact, much of what is posted at staffannouncer.com, could have just as easily made it’s way to the land fill.

No matter where you fall on the “saver/saves-nothing” scale, I ask you to join me in finding good use for your saved stuff, or finding a good home for the stuff you want to get rid of.

One man’s trash can become an entire community’s treasure.

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

Remembering the Courier: Thirty years since the last Courier-Express rolled off the presses

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

This page first appeared on staffannouncer.com on September 19, 2012.

BUFFALO, NY – It was thirty years ago today, September 19, 1982. I was in my second week of kindergarten, and the last editions of the Courier-Express were hitting Western New York front stoops with a thud. It was a thick Sunday edition, and most of the “A” section was dedicated to the forever silenced presses of the liberal morning newspaper.

masthead

This is page is simply that A section, presented one page at a time. Click on each page for a larger, easier to read version. I photographed, then edited each page. If anyone has a better idea for “scanning” newspapers, I’d love to hear it… and maybe would do more.

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

 

Buffalo in the 80’s: 400 photos of pre-MetroRail Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY  – At the time when these photos were taken, Buffalo needed the song “Talking Proud” to remind us to talk proudly about our city because everything seemed to be spiraling out of control.

Area industry was hemorrhaging the good paying blue collar jobs that were the back bone of “who Buffalo was;” so many plants were being left idle.

The city itself had seen better days, too. A once proud downtown was looking sad but hopeful for what the MetroRail might bring. Neighborhoods were slowly being abandoned… or worse, quickly being abandoned.

Bad things were happening all over, and even the calm, cool, and collected types were running out of fingers to plug the holes in the dyke.

That’s the scene in the Buffalo of these photos. Late 70s through the 80s. It wasn’t cool or hip or trendy or interesting to love this place for what it was. Many people focused their love on a single building, like Shea’s or the Darwin Martin House. Many people focused on their love of the people of this city.

But as a whole, the Buffalo that we loved was disappearing. The capital of glitz and glamour, the big city between Chicago and New York, the true Queen City of the Lakes was gone. It was hard to love the remnants of those days gone by, the city we have today. It took us some time to appreciate what we had and have, and we’re there now.

When someone makes a crack about snow or chicken wings, we’re ready to tell them what’s truly great about our city. We talk about our great history, and how we’re moulding that into our promising future.

But as you look at these photos, I hope you don’t simply curse the mistakes that were made. Many of these neat and interesting places no longer exist. But many were taken down in the hopes of replacing the old with something to be proud of tomorrow. No one knew how to do it. Boston made mistakes. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago. Each made choices now lamented about city planning, or lack of it.

Looking through these, quite a few times I said, “Damn.” Sometimes as in, damn, I wish that building was still here. But also, damn as in, look at how much better Chippewa looks. Damn, I’m glad there are no more porn shops on Main Street.

It’s a mixed bag for sure, but it is a mixed bag. If you through these photos, and see nothing but negative, you might be part of the problem with Buffalo today. You can’t change the past, and you can’t blame people who were trying, for the most part, to make our city a better place.

An early 80s billboard near City Hall asked the last person leaving Buffalo to turn out the light. Luckily, despite umpteen decisions that we wish we had back, it looks like that light will shine brightly for quite a while now.

About these photos:

A tremendous Buffalonian with a great eye for history rescued these amazing photos from certain peril. Yes, Derik Kane garbage picked them, scanned them, and put them up on Facebook.

The photos are popping up piecemeal all over Facebook, but I thought it was important to put them in a single, public place together on the web, so that they could be viewed as a single collection, and Derik was kind enough to oblige.

Personally, this is the earliest Buffalo I remember. Taking the Seneca bus downtown to Main Street with my mom or one of my grandmothers just before the MetroRail went in.

I’d like to gather as much info on these photos as possible. If you have any information or stories about any of the buildings, or neighborhoods, or times spent, or even the great array of vehicles, please note the number of the photo(s) and drop me an e-mail and we’ll update the page.

It’d also be great if anyone thinks to grab a “now” photo from a similar vantage point of any of these photos… Especially places that look drastically different.

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

Family History Mystery: Either ‘Truth Uncovered’ or ‘Stunning Coincidence’

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Every time I visit my grandpa in the nursing home, he wants to know if I’ve tracked down the “Cichons in Brazil” yet.The family legend is that three Cichon brothers eventually came to America, my great-grandfather and his two older brothers. My great grandfather stayed, his two brothers went on to Brazil.

For decades worth of research and genealogical digging, I’ve have found out exactly NOTHING about the Cichons. We have great family stories, mostly from my grandpa and his sister Mary, but no records, no documents. Don’t know which Polish towns my great-grandparents are from. Don’t know what their parents’ names are. Don’t have anything like the ship manifest that took my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother separately to the New World around 1913. The trail ends cold in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood.

Cichon isn’t the most common name, but it’s common enough. Especially when you are looking for information on John and Mary Cichon.

The story is, they met and fell in love in Buffalo on Fulton Street, both having just arrived from Poland, and then got married. As far as I can tell, there is no record of their marriage. Not in the likely several churches I checked, not at Buffalo City Hall.

Great-Grandma Cichon’s maiden name is Pochec, a very unusual name. I contacted a guy in Canada with the last name Pochec and an obviously Polish first name. He says all the records of his family’s existence were destroyed in war… The world wars and any other number of wars that have marred that part of Eastern Europe for centuries. Pochec has been a dead end. She was half Polish, “half Turk,” as my grandpa says. Her dad was a baker in the Turkish army.

Great-Grandpa worked as a laborer for National Aniline in their railroad yard for about 40 years. Back in Poland, he was a cobbler. Gramps said his pa always kept the shoe making tools he brought with him from Poland, just in case.

This is about all I have to go on, so when I see some bit of information with potential, I get excited.

My great-grandfather told 3 or 4 different census takers and the World War I draft board that he came here in 1913, so that seems legit. Around 1913, there were no fewer than 8 or 9 guys named Jan or John Cichon taking boats to North America. Anyone of them could be my great grandfather, or none of them could be. One of those ship’s manifests really has set my mind to wonder, though.

It shows 20 year-old Jan Cichon from “Kurowa?,” son of Tomasz, sailing from Holland to meet up with a friend in Connecticut in October 1913. This has the right date, the right name, and this Jan is the right age, but there’s nothing for certain that points to “steerage passenger 13” on the SS Nieuw Amsterdam as being my great-grandfather.

But in going over this two page document, having to shift back and forth between two jpgs of this horizontally long ledger, something that’s just too odd to overlook caught my eye yesterday.

Passenger 21 is a 19 year old German young lady of Polish decent who is on her way to the New World as well. According to the ship manifest, Emilie Rakowska told Immigration officials that she’s on her way to rendez-vous with her brother Heinrich. Heinrich Rawkoski lived in Buffalo at 909 Perry Street. That’s about 10 houses away from the house that the Jan Cichon who is my great grandfather would buy and spent the next 60 years living in.

It’s either an amazing, colossal coincidence, that some other 20 year old guy named Jan Cichon from Poland got on a ship in Holland headed for the US in 1913, and just happened to be on a ship with a woman who was bound for the exact block where another Jan Cichon would arrive in the same year… or Great-Grandpa Cichon wound up in Buffalo chasing a single chick, his age, that he met on the boat ride over here.

I’m just about convinced that this is my dziadzia. How could it not be? I’m going to do some more research on the decent amount of information provided on the John Cichon who was on the New Amsterdam that day, and see if it fits into some of the family stories and lore.

History and genealogy really are cool. Sweeping the cobwebs off the front door is going to have to wait.

Here are the difficult to read documents (edited to make it a little easier):

cichonnieuwamsterdamedit1 cichonnieuwamsterdamedit2

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

The Grass is Greener With A Splendid Hat: My 80 Year Old Twin

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Not to be a downer, but it’s true. There have been a number of heavy questions soggying down my brain lately. Some of those questions are being pondered and explored necessarily as part of life, some are likely just a part of some minor level (I hope) of insanity and mental disease.

white-fedora

I’m trying to be amusing, but physical health issues are always troublesome, and waiting months for tests starts to play with my mind.

As someone who has dealt with chronic pain in my joints and gastrointestinal tract for decades now, I can tell you that it’s been my experience that they can’t get rid of pain. Some medications can change the nature of pain, but filling my bloodstream with otherwise toxic chemicals to change a sharp, throbbing pain to a warm, intermittent pain just isn’t worth it. (I’ve probably been on 15 different arthritis meds since elementary school. More harm than good so far.)

There are also changes in diet which can help mitigate pain or terrible symptoms or potential outcomes. Depending on how much a part of your life this food you’re forced to abandon is, the physical pain that’s relieved by abstaining from it can lead to similarly toll-taking mental anguish. (I’m in the sixth year of eating gluten-free, and I’m just starting to accept it.)

Exercise is a great way to get rid of pain caused my not moving around as much as I should, and “knocking the rust off” actually feels pretty good. But it’s by nature, working out is accompanied by the “good pain” of exercising. “Good pain” is still pain. (I should exercise more, but I am lazy. When I do hit then gym, I don’t pussyfoot around. I get a good workout and hurt afterwards. Like ya should.)

Having dealt with and thought about these ideas most of my life, it shapes my thoughts on the other big issues also sloshing around in the stormy seas between my ears. I’ve learned through years of personal experience and shattered notions, that any measure of the “grass is greener” philosophy is a fairy tale.

Pain can’t be eliminated, but it can be changed. Sometimes for the better. So too can the nature of the grass be changed.

To stretch the metaphor too far, a different shade of green doesn’t make it any more green. To stretch the metaphor to the point where a reader might want to cause physical harm to the writer, you might have to mow that species of grass over there half as much, but you might not realize you have to water it twice as often.

Desired change always begets unanticipated change. And while sometimes overall change is needed, it kills me bracing for those unanticipated changes and deciding if those as-yet-unknown changes are worth it.

None of this is any kind of breaking news flash; it’s what most of us face on a daily basis. But it seems a little more weighty on this end lately. We all get bogged down from time to time. Maybe I just need to find some gluten-free fiber supplements.

But today, as I took a quick walk to knock out the cobwebs and get refocused, my countenance improved greatly just by the sight of a guy walking my way.

Now my wife can probably just about picture the guy I’m talking about. When we’re people watching, I can’t help but make comments about happy-go-lucky, smiling little old guys. It’s really what I want to be when I grow up: a white-haired smiling man, walking a bit slowly, taking in and loving life.

From 100 yards away, looking at this guy today I knew he had it all going on. His gait was a bit slow, but cool. He was wearing a beige straw fedora; a dapper, perfectly fitting-yet 20 year old navy blue suit, a fresh flower on his lapel, and a handkerchief in his breast pocket. He was also carrying a leather briefcase.

As he got closer, it was obvious this gentleman was likely around 80, and I got the impression that this was an important day out, and that he was quite pleased with having the occasion to have an important day out. I’ll bet the briefcase hadn’t left the closet shelf in a few years, but was a necessary accessory today.

Just as I was about to say, “Good morning, sir,” as this fine fellow approached, his smiling face beat me to the punch with an identical “Good morning, sir.” Not only the same words I was about to use, but even the same cadence and inflection. I was like I was talking to myself 50 years into the future.

“Good morning to you, sir,” I responded, “and how are you?”

“Splendid,” said the man in the straw hat and lapel flower, as he strolled on to his day’s affairs.

I want that kind of splendor. To hope to be as splendid as this man appeared is like hoping to win the lottery. Or for me, like hoping to eat normal bread someday. It’s not a healthy thing to be fixated with, but it’s something nice to daydream about from time to time.

While I know the grass isn’t always greener, it’s all worth the effort to pay it forward; to aim to be splendid enough to have my splendidity spill over, to share with people who might need a little bit. Just like this gentleman did today.

Splendid thought, isn’t it?

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

Buffalo in the 50’s: Ted’s Charcoal broiled Red Hots, Sheridan Drive

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

teds

Who feels like cooking in this heat… Let’s go to Teds! Sheridan Drive, late 40s, early 50s.

Give me a well done (aka burnt) loaded footlong with a toasted roll and a loganberry.

And when asked, “Fries or rings?,” the only worthy answer is both.

It’s an internet column, not a blog

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – There are few things in life which give me more pleasure than translating into the written word the oddities which are constantly percolating through my brain.

I guess writing is now my hands-down top creative outlet, which is only pretty recently the case.

For many years, radio production was a creative outlet. As a producer of talk radio, you heard my audio fingerprints in the shows I helped put together. Small nuances helped set the mood of the show, made it a smidge more interesting. I did what I could with the limited role I played.

Back then, creativity was manifest in finding the right music beds, or sound bites, or editing together production pieces like show opens and station promos. The intent was to make it all a little more fun and interesting.

In my current job, that’s what I like to think my writing does for the news, as well. Make it a bit more fun and interesting. I’ve become more adept at writing in a style that’s all my own, be it for broadcast or print.

And in my world, writing is special. It’s something that’s all me; purely my voice, sharing my own thoughts in a way I’ve come up with myself.

No one ever showed me how to write, I never actively apprenticed myself to someone. That’s unique for me. I learned how to be a radio producer from John Demerle. Period. I took what I learned from him and made it my own, but it was him at the core of it.

Even way I sound on the radio, my delivery, is actually little pieces of other people. As I was learning to be an announcer, I’d like the way Ed Little or Mark Leitner or George Richert or Susan Rose or Van Miller or Dan Neaverth said something, and I copied that piece, and it became mine. It became part of who I am when my voice is coming out of your car’s dashboard.

Even after 20 years in radio, I listen to myself and know that I said something like George Richert. You wouldn’t know it. George wouldn’t know it. But I know it. And it’s why I think I am so proud of the written aspect of what I do. It’s more purely me.

People enjoy my “unique style” on the radio. And its often admittedly unique. But again, in a dangerous glimpse into my own mind, to me its little more than the sewn together pieces of my interpretation of what someone else has done before. It’s a quilt. There is beauty in a quilt, but there’s also that mutt, leftover scraps facet of a quilt, too.

True artistry isn’t about copying someone else’s style, it’s about reaching deep inside yourself to show the world something that is uniquely your own. That’s what writing is for me. I won’t call it artistry, but I am doing my best to give you a peek inside the chasm that is my brain.

So anyway, I’m writing. But what am I writing? There are certain things implied, I think, when one says, “I’m blogging.”

To me, most blogs, however literary and well constructed, feel like 30 years ago, they would have been written in beautiful long hand, probably in a nicely bound journal or diary.

Others would be lovingly crafted, mimeographed, and mailed out to the few hundred “subscribers” who read about the “newsletter” in the classified section of a magazine.

I imagine that 30 years ago, I would have been clanking away at a typewriter, maybe just putting what I’ve written in a box under my bed. Or trying to get the occasional piece printed in the newspaper’s Sunday magazine.

Its probably all the same thing. I don’t think what I write is any better than a blog, in my mind, it’s just different is all.

And at the end of the day, what I’ve got here is a blog. And I guess that makes me a blogger. I’d just kindly prefer you don’t remind me. Just remember, though, that its just that which is what this blog is about: The almost always different, and admittedly often stupid way my brain works, and the completely ridiculous things I waste my time thinking about. Self-introspection of my looney tune self.

Welcome.

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

Buffalo in the 20’s: Booze Bust in The Valley

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

dryraidelkst

BUFFALO BOOZE BUST… Wouldn’t it have been great if Irv Weinstein would have been around to write Prohibition stories? The papers were filled with them almost every day.

I like this one in particular– because it took place in a bar my ol’man would buy 55 years later.

The text is a bit hard to read:

The Buffalo Sunday Express Sunday December 27, 1925

Cleverly concealed caches of liquor were found hidden under the floor of the barroom in the saloon at no. 807 Elk street, owned by John Doty. A large copper tank, to which were attached two spigots and a siphon, was hiding places for two dozen quarts of rare old whisky.Under the floor and on the stairway were 100 quarts of alleged liquor. Doty will be arraigned on Monday.

In the late 1930s, the path of Elk Street changed as South Park Avenue was created out of several South Buffalo and First Ward streets. What was number 807 Elk –at the corner of Smith Street– in 1925, is now 207 Elk (sadly, a vacant lot.)

Let’s Display Some Cool Looking History: Hey! Wanna hang up WBEN’s old board?

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

boardtodayI spent this 4th of July morning trying to figure out how to hang this classic WBS/Ward Beck Systems audio console from the wall of my garage, where it’s lived for most of the last 11 years or so. This was WBEN’s newsbooth board from the time of the 1974 remodel of the WBEN Radio studios until 2000, when WBEN moved to Amherst.

Over on Facebook, in posting this blog, I’d love to come up with a comprehensive list of the great WBEN personalities and newspeople who’ve regularly sat at this board. Just in the time I worked there from 1993-98, there was Kevin Keenan, Mark Leitner, Susan Rose, Tim Wenger, George Richert, Claudine Ewing, Kathleen Donovan, Brian Meyer, Mark Webster, Mike McKay, Howard Simon, Rick Maloney, Dave Kerner, Kevin Sylvester, Marty Biniasz, Joe Sviatko, Dave Debo, Michael Mroziak, my wife Monica Huxley, and of course Ed Little, who made the final WBEN broadcast from the Elmwood studios sitting at that board (See 1980s photo of Ed at the board below.)

Before my time there, great broadcasters like Jack Ogilvie, Jim McLaughlin, Lou Douglas, Virgil Booth, Fran Lucca, Marty Gleason, Stan Barron, Mark Hamrick, and a one-time WBEN radio newsman named John Murphy.

There are dozens that haven’t leapt to my mind, but believe me, this boat anchor has some history.

edboothI got it from a friend… who bought it from a guy who garbage picked it (or maybe stole it?) when WBEN left its Elmwood Avenue studios for Corporate Parkway in 2000. The friend had hoped to use it in recording his band, but the truth is, the thing barely worked when it was in service. When he realized it was little more than a momento, he called me and I put it in my garage.

It’s been in the back of the garage, on the floor behind the snow blower and infamous Pepsi machine. It deserves better than that. And I got to thinking, that if there is some place better than my garage wall where it can be displayed, it should be.

I’m asking for ideas that you can help make happen. Where can we put this piece of Buffalo’s broadcast history for all to enjoy? To hang from the wall, you’d need a space four feet wide by 5 feet long. (Less than that, but I forget to measure.)

If we can find a legit public place, willing to hang it like the artwork it is… I’ll fix it so the lights light, the VU meters move, and maybe even the small cue speakers could play a loop of an old Clint Buehlman broadcast which people up close would be able to hear (optional). I would also work out any signage of addition display items that need to accompnay the piece.

It’s more than history… Its a cool retro art piece, really. I’m willing to permenantly or temporarily loan it to an appropriate place that wants to display it. It’ll be cool in my garage, but again, it really deserves better. Any takers?