St. Patrick’s Day in the Old First Ward and on ‘Meet the Millers’

       By Steve Cichon

It seems like just about every Buffalonian has a story about being nearly frostbitten at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, and Bill and Mildred Miller – the longtime hosts of Channel 4’s “Meet the Millers” – are no different.

“Meet the Millers” was seen live, weekdays at 1 on Channel 4 for more than 20 years. (Buffalo Stories archives)

As they shared a recipe for Irish Soda Bread, they talked about lining up for the parade behind Memorial Auditorium getting ready to march up Main Street.

Karen Maloney’s family has used this recipe clipped from The News for more than 50 years to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

After two hours of waiting as the wind whipped right off the lake and into their faces, it was the coldest they’d ever been for a St. Paddy’s parade.

“Our eyes were so full of tears from the wind that we saw people along the parade route as if they were under water; our smiles were literally frozen to our faces.”

The Millers standing next to the Aud getting ready to join the parade in the late ’50s marks the halfway point in the parade’s long migration from its original route along what is now South Park Avenue up to Main Street, then over to Delaware Avenue in 1981.

Buffalo’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade happened in 1913. Two years later, more than 3,000 Irishmen lined the route.

The 1915 parade route. Parts of Elk Street and Abbott Road became South Park Avenue in 1939.

“Not in 25 years have Buffalo Irishmen exhibited the same degree of enthusiasm for a parade, but this year, the spirit of the green seems to have gotten into their blood and all have put their hands to the plough with the intention of making the celebration one to be remembered,” reported the Buffalo Times in 1915.

The Times also made several mentions about the fact that the 1915 parade was bringing together “all sorts and classes of Irishmen.” It was particularly alarming that “the boys from County Cork” and “the boys from County Clare” would be able to hold an event together peacefully.

“It is now possible for the Clare boys to go any place in ‘The Ward,’ ” reported the Buffalo Times, “including the district of the Corkonians. They’re all working together this year with St. Patrick as the toast, and no one is denying them the joy and pleasure they’ll obtain from the celebration.”

Entry in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, 1915.

As for Bill and Mildred Miller, their idea of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day had more to do with the food, and revolved around corned beef, cabbage and Irish soda bread – all of which they would make on their daily show on Channel 4 during the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.

They started in show business as a Vaudeville dancing act. After settling down on a turkey farm in Colden, they began their daily cooking and interview show on Channel 4 in 1950.

Watching the Millers, especially in the kitchen, reminded most of a favorite aunt and uncle – loving, dedicated to one another, and forever bickering. Mildred was clearly in charge.

“That’s the way with those Millers,” wrote Sturgis Hedrick in the TV Topics in 1959. “Subtle. Blissfully naive, you might better say. Honest, sometimes we wonder if Bill and Mildred Miller actually realize there are people watching.

“They interrupt one another in their anecdotes and often work at cross purposes in their commercials.

“And yet they sail serenely along afternoon after afternoon, happy as any husband and wife, looked in on by an unseen audience. That audience is not only huge, but fiercely loyal. The curiosity lure of ‘what’s going to happen next’ makes ‘Meet the Millers’ a viewing must with the average housewife on the Niagara Frontier.”

They were seen every day at 1 o’clock through the early 1970s. After their retirement from television, Bill served as supervisor of the Town of Colden.

Torn-Down Tuesday: South Park and Louisiana, 1890

By Steve Cichon

Standing in this spot today, you get a good view of a gas station and a Family Dollar in front of you and the Commodore Perry Housing Complex at your left. Today, it’s the corner of South Park Avenue and Louisiana Street.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

In 1890, South Park had not yet been built. Parts of the street now called “South Park Avenue” were then known as Triangle, Abbott and Elk, among others.

This Elk and Louisiana streets intersection was the crossroads of the Old First Ward. A block or two in either direction were canals and the homes of scoopers teeming with the Irish immigrants who were the foundation of Buffalo’s milling and grain industry.

the St. Patrick’s Day parade at the same Elk and Louisiana intersection, in 1925. Buffalo Stories archives
the St. Patrick’s Day parade at the same Elk and Louisiana intersection, in 1925. (Buffalo Stories archives)

While nothing but the streetscape remains today, some of the stories remain.

While half the storefront was replaced by the Marine Trust Company by 1925, the name Charles Lamy is clearly visible in the 1890 photo.

Lamy was a grocer, saloon keeper and state senator. Born in Eden, he opened a small shop at 305 Elk as a teenager in 1873 and stayed in business until his death in 1929.

He was instrumental in helping the people of the First Ward find a unified political voice. Among his accomplishments was to help shatter the “saloon boss” control of the livelihoods of Buffalo’s grain scoopers. Into the first decade of the 1900s,  owners of lake shipping concerns would turn over the wages of scoopers to saloon owners who would make sure the men’s bar bills were paid before there’d be any money left for their families to eat.

Lamy was one of eight trusted men elected by scoopers to speak on their behalf to the shipping companies in Detroit. He’s buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.