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.)
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.
On Buffalo’s biggest Polish holiday, BN Chronicles looks back on Buffalo’s connections to the most influential Pole in recent memory: Pope Saint John Paul II.
As the cardinal of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla — later Pope Saint John Paul II — visited Buffalo twice. That first visit was in 1969 as he toured the United States and Canada, thanking North Americans for their help in helping Poland and the Polish church rebound after the devastation of World War II.
Buffalo News archives
Described as “solidly-built, handsome man” in The News, Cardinal Wojtyla stayed at St. Stanislaus Church and visited, among other Catholic institutions, St. Adalbert’s Church (above) and Hilbert College (below.)
Buffalo Stories archives
At a reception for Wojtyla at the Statler Hilton, the future pontiff spoke of his admiration for Buffalo and Buffalo’s Polish community in fluent English.
“Remember that your fathers and grandfathers brought Polish souls to this country, and you are continuing in their spirit,” Wojtyla said. He added, after receiving the key to city from Mayor Frank Sedita, “I will always remember Buffalo and take your good wishes back to the Mother Country. And now that I have the keys to the city, I may come back and open it.”
He made good on that promise in 1976 — only two years before being elected pope.
As Krakow’s Cardinal Wojtyla left the Buffalo Airport for St. Casimir’s Church in 1976, the children assembled sang “Sto lat,” the traditional song for birthdays wishing that the honoree might live a hundred years.
Buffalo News archives
This time, he stayed at the rectory of St. Casimir’s in Kaisertown, where 900 people attended a Mass concelebrated by Cardinal Wojtyla and 19 other bishops.
Msgr. Edward Kazmierczak, pastor of St. Casimir, hosted Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1976. (Buffalo News archives)
The Polish saint made no widely known pronouncements on Dyngus Day or any of the other similarly themed happenings on Easter Monday in Poland. But even though the water-throwing and pussy-willow-slapping celebration may have been squashed by Nazi occupation during his formative years, it’s nearly certain that a young Karol Wojtyla would have had some Śmigus-Dyngus experience as a boy growing up in Poland.
In fact, over the last several years, in John Paul’s hometown of Wadowice, the fountain in the town square — which has been renamed in memory of the pope and saint — has been the site of Dyngus Day pranks involving turning the water into suds to fill the square.
There’s also one of Saint John Paul II’s more famous quotes that leads one to believe the first Polish pontiff would have felt at home at many of the parties happening around Western New York this Easter Monday.
“I have a sweet tooth for song and music,” Pope Saint John Paul II once said. “This is my Polish sin.”
BUFFALO, NY- I have had dozens of people ask me what to do and where to go to make the most of Dyngus Day… So I collaborated with a few Polish princes, and came up with a pretty good list of ideas to get your dupa dyngusing:
DYNGUS MORNING (10a-Noon): Start early. The first Dyngus parties in WNY begin at 10am. The Polish Villa 2 (1085 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga) is known for its “Bloody Mary Breakfast” with live polka music.
NOON: Join me as I emcee the kielbasa contest at the Broadway Market…. If you are looking for other family friendly activities, try the Kid’s Smingus Dyngus Day Party at St. Casimir’s Church Social Hall (1388 Clinton Street) or attending Dyngus Day Mass at Corpus Christi Church (199 Clark Street). No kids? Begin Polish tavern hoping in the Polonia District with a stop at the famed R&L Lounge (23 Mills Street) where you can grab a plate of pierogi and a bottle of Polish beer…or Genny Cream Ale!
EARLY AFTERNOON (1-4p): Explore Kaisertown…the fast growing Dyngus area of Buffalo. Experience live polka music at Ray’s Lounge (2070 Clinton Street) and at the Firehouse Bar & Grill (2141 Clinton Street). In walking distance of both venues is Porky’s Tavern (2028 Clinton Street), a wonderfully restored “shot & a beer” gin mill. Just down Clinton Street you’ll find Potts Banquet Hall (41S. Rossler at Clinton) featuring live polkas with John Stevens Doubleshot Band.
PRE-PARADE (3-5p): Head back to the Polonia District, park at the Broadway Market and hit the pre-parade parties at Corpus Christ Athletic Club (165 Sears Street), the Adam Mickiewicz Library (612 Fillmore Ave.) or the Pussy Willow Park Party Tent (Memorial Drive @ Peckham Street). Make sure while you’re there, you head over to the St Mark concession area, and pick up a sausage and support a great parish school. You might also want to stop by the Polish Cadets (927 Grant Street) in Black Rock which will feature live polka music in its legendary upstairs hall.
DYNGUS DAY PARADE (5p): The highlight of the Dyngus Day Buffalo experience. Best places to watch the parade are in front of any Dyngus Day Party venue. For a family friendly spot, grab a curb near the Broadway Market or St. Stanislaus Church on Fillmore. The rowdiest and wettest location to experience the parade is near Arty’s Grill on Peckham Street across from the Pussy Willow Park Party Tent. For a full parade map visit DyngusDay.com
POST-PARADE POLONIA: (6p-8p): Staying in the Old Neighborhood? Head over to the St. Stanislaus Church Social Center (Fillmore @ Peckham) for live polka music and Polish food prepared and served by Nuns.
POST-PARADE SUBURBS: (6p-8p): On Dyngus Day, Buffalo is transformed into the largest polka music festival in the world…and you’ll find some of the greatest bands in America at large, suburban festival halls. The Leonard Post VFW (2450 Walden Ave, Cheektowaga) features Lenny Gomulka & the Chicago Push, Polish Falcons (445 Columbia Ave, Depew) features Phocus and the Millennium Hotel (2040 Walden Avenue, Cheektowaga) features Freeze Dried.
DYNGUS DAY FINALE: (8p): If you never experienced Dyngus Day with the band Those Idiots, than you NEVER experienced Dyngus Day in Buffalo. This year the band will be the headlining act at the Pussy Willow Park Party Tent in the Polonia District. After the Those Idiots Show, stop at the G&T Inn (58 Memorial Drive) to hear Geno, the World’s Only Polka Singing Bartender
DON’T LET THE PARTY END: (10p-3a): Come back to where we began in the morning. The Polish Villa 2 features live polka music with the Piakowski Brothers at 10pm. Historically, the party ends earlyTuesday morning as musicians who have played all day end up at the Villa to finally unwind. It’s a who’s who of polka greats with the occasional jam session breaking out.
CAN’T PARTY ON DYNGUS DAY? (Wednesday-Sunday). You’ll find Dyngus Parties with live polka music every day of the week between April 23rd and April 27th. The best post-Dyngus party? Catch live polka music with Tony Blazonczyk at Potts Banquets on Saturday, April 26th at 6pm.
Of course– keep Dyngus Day safe and select someone as a designated driver.