Buffalo in the ’50s: Celebrating 50 years of South Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Sister Mary Sacred Heart is cutting a celebratory cake for some of Mercy Hospital’s youngest patients in this photo from October 1954.

The Sisters of Mercy were among Buffalo’s earliest Catholic teachers, and from their convent on Fulton Street near St. Brigid’s church and school, Sister Martha began dispensing her “famous black salve.”

That’s credited as the start of the sisters’ medical ministry, which grew to include a hospital inside a former home on Tifft Street near Holy Family church and school, and then later the current Mercy Hospital on Abbott Road in South Buffalo.

In 1954, when this photo was taken, Mercy Hospital was described as a “modern, fully-equipped, six story brick structure.” During the first 50 years of the hospital’s existence, Msgr. Francis Growney estimated that the hospital had cared for 148,000 patients.

Buffalo in the 70s: Remembering the smells of South Buffalo – refinery says it’s not polluting

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a tiny boy in South Buffalo, my dad owned a tavern in the Valley. Depending on which stops we’d make first, we’d drive by Republic Steel, Hanna Coke, and a few grain mills on the way to the gin mill via South Park Avenue, or we’d drive by the refinery and chemical plants on Elk Street to get to the bar.

Photos can show people what these smoke- and steam-belching plants looked like at full tilt, and that tells some of the story. I always looked in wonder at the old bricks, miles of pipes and the smoke and often fire shooting out of tall chimneys.

For me, the most stark difference on those rides along South Park and Elk now is the smell – or more accurately, the smells.

The smells coming from Republic Steel changed as you drove along the mammoth set of buildings, until it started to mix with the smell of the Hanna sulfur piles sitting exposed on the other side of the Buffalo River.  That quickly blended with a chemical whiff from National Aniline, until we’d turn down Smith Street. When the wind was right, you’d catch the smells coming from the grain elevators and grain mills in the Valley, including the Purina Mill. Hint – the dog food grain mill didn’t smell like Cheerios.

Each smell was different and distinctly pungent in its own way, but the granddaddy of all nose-searing odors came from the same place with the pyrotechnics display which left me face-planted against the passenger side window of my dad’s AMC Spirit as we drove by.

The piercing smell from the Mobil Refinery on Elk Street was every bit as epic as the flames seemingly lapping out of control from the refinery chimney. Maybe it’s because someone told me when I was very young that they made gasoline there, but I always pictured the smell as looking like the vibrant colors of a little bit of gasoline in a dirty puddle of water.

While the emissions from the chimney may not have been illegal, I’m sure the smells I remember coming from Mobil weren’t exactly a net positive for the surrounding environment and nearby residents.

Forty-five years ago, Mobil said it wasn’t polluting the water. Maybe it wasn’t. But I’ll never forget that smell.

The 1930s South Buffalo vehicular tragedies in my family tree

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

I don’t think we always realize how much better we live these days.

Both Grandpa and Grandma Cichon had little siblings killed when they were hit by cars on the streets of South Buffalo.

The Buffalo Evening News’ morbid coverage of Grandma Cichon’s little sister’s death is incredible. Mary Lou Scurr was about a year-and-a-half old when she was run over while playing in a toy car in the street.

marylou1

marylou2This photo was on the front page, above the fold, May, 1935. Grandma’s little brother Gordon—who was only hours before a witness to the accident which caused the death of his little sister– posed next to the wreckage of the accident. Judging by the description of the scene, it’s fair to assume this mangled car had blood and possibly other remains of his baby sister in it.

Sadly, Gordon Scurr’s next appearance in the news was 11 years later, while in high school, he died of a rare glandular disorder.

gordon

Two years later, Grandpa Cichon’s little brother was killed in a similar fashion.

Roman (also called roman3Raymond) Cichon was five years old and fascinated with trucks. He liked to go to the junk yard at the corner of Fulton and Smith Streets in The Valley to see the trucks in action.

His big brother, my grandfather, used to take him there. The way he told it, while Gramps was stealing an apple off a neighbor’s tree, Raymond was “mangled” by a truck. That word “mangled” was one Gramps often used with us in the hundreds of times we crossed Seneca Street to go from his house to Cazenovia Park.

In his 88 year life, the death of Raymond may have been what caused him the most sadness; even worse in some ways than the unbearable loss of 4 of his own children. As he talked about it, I could feel his guilt in not being right there to save his little brother. His use of the word mangle is the only hint of what the scene looked like—but frankly it’s enough.

roman1 roman2

roman4

In the end, it certainly wasn’t Gramps’ fault– and the truck driver lost his license. Raymond was killed when that truck bolted onto the sidewalk ran him over.

He was buried at St. Stanislaus cemetery near where another baby Cichon, Czeslaw (aka Chester ) was buried after he died from cancer as a baby.

Great Grandma Wargo: South Buffalo’s hard working washer woman

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

Grandma Coyle and her grandma
The caption was written by Grandma Coyle’s father… my Great-Grandpa Steve Wargo.

My great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Wargo, holds my grandmother, June Coyle. Lizzie came to America from Hungary in 1906… 10 years and six kids later, she was widowed in a foreign land. Working as a wash woman, she earned enough money to feed her kids and buy the home she’s standing in front of– 527 Hopkins Street in South Buffalo.

I’ve been looking at this photo pretty much my entire life. It was in the big blue photo album that grandma had in her sewing room.

I remember the awe I felt when grandma said something along the lines of “that’s me with my grandma.”

For all the time I spent studying this photo and a few others which were probably taken the same day almost 85 years ago, I never once noticed the outfit– the uniform– my great-great grandmother is wearing.

Wargo Elizabeth 1930 census

She was a domestic servant. The 1930 census says she was a “laundress” with a “private family.”

daisy downtonIn essence, she was one of the downstairs people on Downton Abbey. Right down to the shoes, her dress looks like something you might see Daisy wear on Downton.

Looking at this photo of my grandmother and her grandmother, and thinking about her hard work and sacrifice swells me with thanks.

All that is beautiful in our lives is the result of so much sacrifice by generations of people who couldn’t even imagine us… It’s really humbling. This tough little immigrant woman fought through life for me.

When you get to know your ancestors, it’s hard to take credit for anything. Realizing the generations of sacrifice offered so that I had the opportunity to live the life I do is the ultimate exercise in modesty.

Buffalo in the ’40s: Orphans & eye strain

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Most of what was written in the paper in 1944 had to do, in some way, with World War II. Even if not directly about the fighting, the backdrop of the war was apparent in every day-to-day task in Buffalo and around the country.

Thomas Webster was an orphan of the London air raids, and he moved into his uncle’s home on Weyand Street off Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

April 28, 1944: Boy who lost parents in raid likes new home

“Deprived of parents by the Germans’ ruthless bombing of London …”

Sattler’s, meanwhile, was offering ideas for helping those with eye strain brought on by second jobs for the war effort.

April 28, 1944: A second front for your eyes!

“If your eyes are feeling the results of extra wartime use …”

Buffalo in the ’60s: Buffalo gets ready for spring

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Everyday Buffalonians, groundskeepers at War Memorial Stadium, and the mayor (helped by a future mayor) were featured getting outdoor spaces ready for summer in The Buffalo Evening News on April 25, 1969.

War Memorial was the home of the Bisons from 1960 to ’69 and from 1979 to ’87.

Mayor Frank Sedita and the man who followed him as mayor, Stanley Makowski, planted a tree in front of City Hall in celebration of Arbor Day.

Remembering WWI Vets: Uncle Gordon, Uncle George, & ‘Pops’

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

It got me to thinking as this piece of news crossed the wires:

America’s last surviving veteran of World War I has died. Frank Buckles was 110. A family spokesman says Buckles died peacefully of natural causes at his home in Charles Town, Va.

There have been three World War veterans in my life. The first two I never knew personally, one I did.

The first two were my Great-Grandpa Scurr’s older brothers– Merchant Marine men who died at sea four months apart during The Great War.

George & Gordon Scurr
George & Gordon Scurr

George Scurr was an ordinary seaman on the SS Hazelwood, which was mined by German U-boat UC-62 on October 18, 1917. William Gordon Scurr was killed by a German U-Boat in 1918.He was a British sailor in the Merchantile Marine, a Second Engineer on the SS Trocas, and was 26 years old when the steamer was torpedoed by German U-boat UC-23 on January 19, 1918 in the Agean Sea.

I heard stories about their sacrifice growing up, and remember my grandma showing me photos of her uncles who had died in the Great War. The photos were in the box underneath the couch, right next to where grandpa used to hide his coupons under the cushion of the couch. (It was always an adventure as a little kid at Grandma Cichon’s house.) My grandma was a wonderful story teller, and I’m glad that I listened closely and listened often. I just wish that I had taken better notes. I am proud of the sacrifice made by my forebarers, and will make sure its remembered as long as I’m around.

I have a personal, very strong recollection of another World War I vet. “Pops” is how we knew him. He lived with his son a few doors down from us on Allegany Street in South Buffalo.

He was very tiny and very old. He wore the same sort of big plastic VA glasses that my dad did in the early 80s, and wore very old working man’s clothes, including suspenders to hold up pants that were a bit loose on him. His skin was blotchy with age spots, and he was probably at least 80, but for all I knew, he could have been 150.

Like so many of the characters on that street growing up, there was a warmth about him that made us kids want to talk with him and listen to his stories. I don’t remember any of the stories he told, but I remember him standing in the driveway telling the stories, and us standing in the driveway listening.

pops house allegany

Pops would stand in this driveway, a few doors down from where I lived. The trees weren’t as big then, and the street was much more bright.It seems in my recollection that he was almost immobile, standing in the driveway; just out for some fresh air, hoping one of the neighborhood kids would give him a “Hi, pops.”

The only other thing I remember about him, and perhaps this also leads to why he was standing in the driveway, was that he chewed tobacco. It was usually wadded up into a lump in a paper towel. He’d pull it out of his pocket and take a bite, then stand there and spit out the juice. Come to think of it, this had to be why he was standing there all the time.

I’m not sure why we called him Pops, or what his name actually was, or anything about him, really. As I think about this more than I have in 30 years, maybe he told us something about “gas,” like the mustard gas Germans used against US troops in France. Maybe that’s just my brain playing tricks on me. I can’t even really be certain that he was a World War I vet, but I know I’ve thought that my whole life, and will continue to do so until I find out otherwise.

In thinking about Pops, and growing up on Allegany Street from 1980-1984, I visited Google Street View and took a look at what Allegany looks like now, and it brought back a few more memories. We were at 45 Allegany Street, a house so much smaller than I remember. Next door was the phone company, or at least that’s what we called it. Its apparently still an answering service. I remember very pretty disco-era women working in there.

45 Allegany, the house in the middle here, where I lived 1980-84.
45 Allegany, the house in the middle here, where I lived 1980-84.

As a matter of fact, when I think of ‘generic disco-era women,’ this one woman who worked there is who pops into my mind. Long blond hair, lots of eye makeup, lots of perfume, high heels, and she drove a blue Chevelle. The boss there drove an faux-wood panelled AMC Pacer, and used to make Donald Duck noises to us.

Next door to the phone company, two doors from our house, was Art. Art owned Toby the Dancing Dog, which was some sort of terrier, or maybe a small poodle. The dog would jump, his paws on our shoulders, and dance with us. One time my brother mouthed off to Art, who knew my great-grandfather.

“I’m telling your grandfather on you, you little bastard,” Art said. I’m sure my brother laughed, which only enraged poor ol’Art even more. He drove a big green early 70s Buick.

Then there was a nice older lady named Kay, and then I think was Pops’ house. Mr. Walsh lived next door to Pops, and the only reason I mention it, is because he was friends with Noodles the Mailman. Sometimes Mr. Walsh and Noodles would sit for a while on the porch in the cool ‘ultra-mod’ orange cloth folding chairs that looked like they’d have fit in perfectly on an episode of Laugh-In.

Anyway, sad the the last solider left standing from the ‘war to end all wars’ has died.