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]

 

 

Buffalo in the ’70s: Stan Makowski, Buffalo’s guy-next-door mayor

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Stan Makowski was a pretty good bowler, and even as mayor played in tournaments for Tippie’s Social & Athletic Club.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

At one time or another during his 10 years at Allied Mills, he lost the tip of an index finger in an accident. Even as mayor, when the guys were playing softball and there were two outs on the board, someone would inevitably ask, waiting for him to show off the wound.

“Hey Mack (which is what everyone around The Valley called Makowski, even as mayor) how many outs? One-and-a-half?”

Among the chorus of laughter every time was Makowski’s own laugh.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

A shop steward at Grain Millers Local 110, even as mayor (and until the day he died), he proudly carried his membership card in his wallet. He earned the card unloading hundred-pound sacks in the railyard at the grain mill. Mrs. Makowski used to sew an extra layer or two into the shoulders of his flannel shirts, because the friction of the burlap sacks flying next to his neck would burn holes down to the skin.

“I’m not much of a speaker, but I am a worker,” Makowski said upon becoming mayor.

Buffalo News archives

With Mrs. and Mayor Sedita. Buffalo News archives

He served three years in the Army during World War II, including eight months in Iwo Jima.

So much about Stanley Makowski sounds like it could be ripped from the biography of just about any Buffalo son of Polish immigrants, member of “The Greatest Generation,” a man who never lived more than a block away from the house where he was born.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

He was humble and mostly quiet — not prone to extremes and rarely yelled or swore. Everyone knew he’d been around, that he’d been in a fight or two, that he’d seen some things in the Army. People knew he was tough enough, and he didn’t feel the need to constantly tell people.

Officially opening city pools at Schiller Park, 1973. Buffalo News archives

He was happy to be part of the team, part of the group. He didn’t need to be noticed. Not the kind of guy who filled up a room when he walked in.

He remembered his friends. He remembered where he came from.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

He was that same guy as mayor.

Those triple-shouldered shirts had long gone to the rag man, but when Mayor Stanley Makowski was home on the weekends — every weekend, he’d pull on the same pair of gray flannel work pants he wore when he was unloading grain off boxcars. Like every other man in the neighborhood, the weekend was the time to re-putty the window or paint the fence.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

People he knew his whole life might call him “Mayor,” but just as many still called him Mack. That was true especially at neighborhood places like Ike’s on Van Rensselaer, where plenty of guys in The Valley would walk to get their hair cut. Next door to Ike’s was Tippie’s — where most of those guys, Mack included, would first show off their new haircuts and then catch up with the boys over a beer or two.

He was just a neighborhood guy. It might have been that the thing he liked most about being mayor is being able to help regular folks and make City Hall work for them.

makowski043-1-copy

Buffalo News archives

By the time Makowski had become mayor in 1974, the economic and psychological slide that city leaders had been white-washing for decades were becoming difficult to slough off. Buffalo’s industrial decline seemed to burst out of control.

His first budget as mayor called for belt-tightening that translated into more than 350 jobs cut from City Hall. There was a very tangible impact on those getting pink slips, but there was an emotional impact on Buffalonians across the board.

If anyone saw where Buffalo was heading early on, and worked to avoid it, it was Makowski. His career in elected office began in 1955 when he challenged the endorsed Democrat for a seat on the Erie County Board of Supervisor s— the forerunner of today’s county legislature. He won by four votes with calls for efficiency in government.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

His earliest fights in government — in 1956 — were trying to convince the city and suburbs to begin implementing baby steps towards a far more efficient metropolitan-style government.

“We must think in terms of a metropolitan region when we are making future plans for the county,” Makowski said when speaking of roads, sewers and water. Before the end of the 1950s, he’d become Buffalo’s youngest Councilman.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Joe Crangle, Erie County Sheriff Michael Amico, Makowski, County Comptroller (later Congressman) Henry Nowak, and Mayor Frank Sedita. Buffalo News archives

From left: Erie County Democratic Chairman Joe Crangle, Erie County Sheriff Michael Amico, Makowski, County Comptroller (later Congressman) Henry Nowak and Mayor Frank Sedita. (Buffalo News archives)

In 1957, his calls for a countywide, unified effort in snow removal fell on deaf ears. Twenty years later, Makowski was mayor during one of the seminal moments in Buffalo’s history — The Blizzard of ’77.

Makowski with Governor Carey after the Blizzard of '77. Buffalo News archives

Makowski with Governor Carey after the Blizzard of ’77. Buffalo News archives

A News poll at the time showed that a majority of Western New Yorkers thought Makowski did at least a fair job in handling the unprecedented natural disaster, but others said he was indecisive.

Particularly since it was shortly after the storm he decided not to seek re-election, Makowski’s name gets tossed around like one of those hundred-pound sacks of grain as somehow “responsible” for the unpredicted, unparalleled onslaught of Mother Nature and the negative attention Buffalo received afterwards.

It seems to be human nature to need a culprit, or to boil history down to a sentence or a simple idea, but it bothers most of those who were closest to him to hear Makowski being “blamed for the blizzard,” mostly because there were few Western New Yorkers who took the inability to get people the help they needed more personally than Makowski.

Makowski won't seek reelection. 1977. Buffalo News archives

Makowski won’t seek re-election. 1977. Buffalo News archives

The blizzard hurt him personally. He struggled with the fact that there was no more he could do. Fire engines were frozen and even the National Guard could only work in half-hour shifts in the cold, but that people were suffering and he couldn’t end it affected him deeply. He openly admitted he was probably a little too sensitive to criticism and any inability to meet the needs of the people.

It weighed on him to the point where he was ready to walk away from City Hall, and go back full time to that simpler life he never really left in the first place.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

A final straw might have been a picket line set up outside a fundraiser.

As a union man himself, Makowski never begrudged any worker the right to picket — but as a family man, wanted to protect his small children from any abuse that might be sent his way. When the mayor, his wife, and their eight kids entered the Statler by a side door, several protestors saw it — and lobbed some choice words at the mayor in ear shot of the smallest of the brood.

Mayor Makowski with his two youngest children at a Hotel Statler fundraiser, 1977. Buffalo News archives

Mayor Makowski with his two youngest children at a Hotel Statler fundraiser, 1977. Buffalo News archives

At the end of his time as mayor, a News editorial said Makowski had “been hurt by his own nice guy” image, but it wasn’t an image. It was the man, in City Hall, in the grain mill, at Tippie’s Social Club, in the home he lived in when he died, which was next door to the home in which he was born.

WBEN’s calm, steady voice of intelligence and reason: Lou Douglas 1930-2015

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Pioneer announcer and journalist Lou Douglas has died. He was 85.

loudouglasheadshotThe Korean War vet came to WBEN-AM/FM/TV in 1957 and his unflappable, smart, level-headed approach to news anchoring and interviewing was part of the fabric of  the station for 30 years. Douglas was considered by most as the dean of broadcast journalists.

In his early years as a junior announcer at The Buffalo Evening News stations, television still played second fiddle to AM radio. Many of his early assignments were on Channel 4, including regular 6pm walks from WBEN’s Statler studios to The Buffalo Evening News’ building near the foot of Main Street. There, he’d read the 6 o’clock news as prepared by The News’ staff,  broadcast–as was announced at the beginning of each newscast– “From the Editorial Floor of the Buffalo Evening News.”

LouDouglas1971ch4

Douglas would continue to appear as a reporter, host, and announcer on TV through the 1970s, but he is best remembered for his work at WBEN Radio.

It was his voice that anchored coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Buffalo in 1962. He broadcast from inside the prison complex during the Attica uprising. Living in Kenmore, his home was closest to the WBEN’s Elmwood Avenue studios– which meant extended duty for Lou during the Blizzard of 1977.

newsbooth

He always sounded even-keeled on the air, and was the same way in the newsroom, where he was remembered for reading the Wall Street Journal and never being afraid to pick up the phone to calmly make the most outlandish and seemingly impossible interview requests for his afternoon and evening interview spots.

In spanning three decades, Douglas really had two separate careers; one as a staff announcer, and one as a journalist. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the people you saw on Channel 4 and heard on WBEN were announcers– and only announcers. Union rules dictated that they could not and would not write their own news scripts or conduct news interviews or gather information.

WBEN's staff announcers of the late 1950s. Douglas is second from the left, standing between Jack Ogilvie and Van Miller.
WBEN’s staff announcers of the late 1950s. Douglas is second from the left, standing between Jack Ogilvie and Van Miller.

By the mid-1970s, those rules had changed, and most of the “announcers” who had been bringing Buffalo news and weather since the ’40s and ’50s were gone. Not Douglas, though– his abilities as a staff announcer complimented his ability to gather the news, interview the newsmakers, and write his own newscasts.

Lou with the WBEN newsteam of the mid 1980s.
Lou with the WBEN newsteam of the mid 1980s.

He retired from WBEN in 1987, and spent a brief period at WWKB Radio a few years later before retiring for good.

LouToWBEN1957
The Courier-Express welcomes Lou in 1957.

In 2010, I spoke to Lou about his days in radio, and the possibility of the Statler building facing the wrecking ball. This interview wasn’t meant for broadcast, but is wonderful none the less. That interview, along with some career highlights, are listed for playback below. Please feel free to use any of the audio or photos in the celebration of Lou’s life in any media.

Steve with Lou Douglas, 2010:

LouOnThePhone
in the WBEN newsroom, 1986

WBEN’s Election 85 coverage: Kevin Keenan, Lou Douglas, Brian Meyer, Mark Hamrick, and John Murphy

Election coverage, mid 1970s with Kevin Gordon
Election coverage, mid 1970s with Kevin Gordon

WBEN News with Lou Douglas, 1973. Attica uprising, will Mayor Sedita resign?

Lou-Douglas-Jim-McLaughlin-
Lou Douglas (back) and Jim McLaughlin (through the window) hosting WBEN’s Newsday. Both covered the Attica uprising as radio reporters, Lou for WBEN and Jim for WKBW before coming to WBEN in the late 70s.

WBEN News with Lou Douglas, January 1977. The Blizzard of ’77.

louChannel4
Hosting on Channel 4

WBEN’s Coverage of JFK’s Visit to Buffalo, 1962. Lou Douglas live from Niagara Square.


interview2interview1

For immediate release

 

Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77: Newspaper, radio & TV broadcasts bring the storm back to life…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – It was the benchmark storm by which we measure all storms in Western New York. In killing 29 of our Western New York neighbors and cutting us off from the world (and heat, and food) for a week, this storm also gave Buffalo a greater dose of respect for the power and cruelty of what winter can bring; it’s a lesson that has become a part of our DNA. While we scoff at snow and predictions of snow, deep down, we know what’s possible.

We haven’t had an event like the Blizzard of ’77 since, and we are nearly certain to never repeat it.

While we’ve been hit with weather that had elements of that watershed snow storm– a blizzard in 1985, 7 feet of snow in 2000, The October Surprise storm– we as a people and a society learned from that first one and each successive one. Our civil authorities, police, fire, road crews, public weather forecasters, commercial forecasters– everyone is ready to make sure that we remain safe during potentially deadly winter weather events.

This page is being published as the snow is beginning to fall during “Winter Storm Vulcan,” which has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Blizzard Warning for Western New York. We don’t use the “b-word” lightly here. While it’s the second blizzard warning of this unusually snowy and extremely cold winter of 2013-14, this winter marks the first blizzard warnings in 20 years.

With today’s snowfall in mind, if Jimmy Griffin were with us today, he might modify that famous advice he gave during the Blizzard of ’85. Sure, he’d still encourage us to stay home and grab a six-pack, but he might also encourage us to enjoy some time online, remember some long-gone names, faces and names, and remember that it could be much worse that what we’re experiencing today.

From the Audio Vault…

For this tremendous collection we are indebted to longtime radio enthusiast Tom Taber, who spent the night of January 29, 1977, tuning around the radio dial at his home in Albion, NY. Much of the audio is scratchy and fades in and out, but I think that helps paint a better picture of sitting in your bedrooom, playing with the radio while watching the snow pile up outside the window.

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

Old Blizzards, The Comet, and Staying Warm, Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY- So sure, it’s freezing. This is a prolonged cold snap like many of us in Buffalo can’t remember, especially in light of a couple of really mild winters.

Now you’re thinking, so what does Cichon have for us today? More on the anniversary of the Blizzard of ’77?

Well, if you want that, here’s a copy of a Channel 4 newscast from just after the Blizzard. When I worked at Channel 4, I garbage-picked a 1977 copy of this tape when a newer copy was dubbed in the late 90s. This tape is very interesting, if you want to wallow in cold.

But me, I’m wishing for warmth. So instead of the 37th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’77, I’d rather talk about another upcoming anniversary: It was 25 years ago this year that the last cars groaned and creaked along the shores of Lake Erie on the Comet.

It’s been a quarter of a century since we spilled across the Peace Bridge to be greeted by delicious all-day suckers, Paul Bunyan, and that creepy piano playing guy in Laff-in-the-Dark.

If the thought of a quick PSSSSHT of air up your shorts in the Magic Palace or the sound of the talking garbage can thanking you for keeping the park clean doesn’t warm you up today, there might not be anything that will.
If you’re old enough to remember, watching this 30 second TV spot will warm your heart if not your skin today…

It’s the 25th anniversary of Crystal Beach closing this year, and it’s also the 10th anniversary of my Buffalo pop culture website, staffannouncer.com. All year long, I’ll be sprucing up some of the pages that have been there for a while, and creating a bunch of new ones that I’ve been meaning to create for years.

This post first appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com