Polish Buffalo in the 1930s: Gramps on Easter & Dyngus Day

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.)

Grandma & Grandpa Cichon. Edward V. Cichon and Marie T. Scurr-Cichon.

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.

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.

Buffalo in the ’60s: Our city smelled like Cheerios … and dog food

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

What a wonderful idea that our city has smelled like Cheerios for more than 75 years now, and it’s even luckier than just the soul-warming smell of baking cereal.

General Mills, 1964 (Buffalo News archives)

The fact that sweet delicious Cheerios are the sole survivor in our odoriferous industry category is really a reason to celebrate, and it’s just another one of those strokes of luck that has helped us feel better about the city so many of us hated for so long. It’s tough to hate a place that smells like Lucky Charms, which is how I’ve described that sweet oat smell for decades.

Even before Buffalo smelled like Cheerios, the smells of other cereals made by General Mills here wafted through the air.

My grandfather — who later worked at General Mills for a few years — grew up during the Depression walking over to the dumps across Fuhrmann Boulevard from the plant with his friends to pick through the trash for unopened boxes of cereal that, for one reason or another, got tossed.

Eddie Cichon worked at half a dozen plants in the Buffalo area, including General Mills, but he worked more than 40 years at National Aniline/Buffalo Color. (Buffalo Stories archives)

They might have eaten a handful or two of the cereal — this was the Depression, after all — but the main purpose for these trips to the dump was to bust open the boxes to get their hands on the toys and trinkets that were included as premiums with the cereal.

The Fuhrmann Boulevard dumps in 1935. (Buffalo News archives)

There’s no doubt Gramps would have noticed the smell of Cheerios in the air, but he might not have been impressed with it, having lived the first 41 years of his life across the street from a grain elevator and malting house on Fulton Street in “The Valley” neighborhood. (That neighborhood is often lumped into the First Ward or South Buffalo by outsiders — but usually not by the folks who live there.)

A few blocks away from his house near Fulton and Smith, Ralston Purina had an elevator and mill similar to General Mills’, near Prenatt and Smith.

Purina Mill, Prenatt Street, 1972. (Buffalo News archives)

It was the same sort of operation. Grain was hauled in and milled, and the smell of processing and baking filled the air for miles around. Just like the smell of Cheerios is inescapable as you traverse Canalside at the right times, for the people of the Valley and miles around, the smells of Purina were inescapable.

The only difference was, Purina made dog food. The smell wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but not something you’d want to celebrate on a T-shirt. One longtime resident said the dog food operation smelled like sweet but slightly rancid grain: Like maybe someone spilled a cheap beer on the carpet last week, and it had been baking in the sun. The odor on its own wasn’t heartwarming, but knowing it was dog food baking didn’t necessarily inspire folks to delight in long pulls of air into their nostrils and down into their lungs.

Even when the wind turned and it was Cheerios in the air, could you be sure? Just another sweet, grainy smell that might be cereal from a few miles that way, beer a mile that way, or dog food a few blocks that way.

That was when you were lucky enough to have any grainy essence in the air. It was far more likely that the atmosphere of the Valley and surrounding neighborhoods would be filled with the smells of heavy industry from places like chemical manufacturer National Aniline, the Mobil refinery, Republic Steel and Hanna Coke. Just like Purina, these places were all within a short walk of the Valley. And just like Purina, these places stopped churning out smells — and paychecks — decades ago.

The Purina Mill turned out animal feed for 55 years until it was closed in 1970. The building was torn down in the early ’80s.

So for anyone who has wondered how it’s only been for the last decade or two we’ve celebrated that “our city smells like Cheerios” when it’s smelled that way for 75 years … it’s much easier to get excited when the last smell standing is such a great one.

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.)