Heritage Moments

Heritage Moments: The Firebrand in Buffalo, the Rebellion in Canada

Dec 4, 2017
Lithograph by George Tattersall c. 1837-40; Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Buffalo used to be a mustering ground for invading armies, both official and unofficial. The target was always Canada: several times during the War of 1812; ahead of the Fenian Invasion in 1866; and – least remembered by Americans but no less important – during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 and its aftermath.


Heritage Moments: Dart, Dunbar and the Colossus in the Harbor

Nov 20, 2017
Detroit Publishing Co., Copyright Claimant, and Publisher Detroit Publishing Co. “River and elevators, Buffalo, foot of Main St.” Buffalo New York, ca. 1900. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

For more than 150 years they have loomed over the river, gigantic and monstrous. Silent gray canyons lining the waterway, they form a concrete Atlantis, whispering of the wealth they once generated, the ships, the throngs of workers, the noise and traffic and bustle. Long ago, they were made of wood.


Heritage Moments: How Jay Silverheels, the man who played Tonto, got his name

Oct 24, 2016
ABC Television, copyright 1956

Tonto is one of the most famous and enduring characters ever to come out of American television. He is the Lone Ranger’s faithful sidekick, brave, loyal and just, variously described as Potawatomi or Comanche. And the actor who made Tonto come alive during the entire TV run of The Lone Ranger (1949-57) was a handsome, dark-haired, sometimes-Buffalonian named Jay Silverheels.


Heritage Moments: Rick James and ‘the city that has led me to my thang’

Oct 10, 2016

Rick James belongs to the world: the hit funk anthems, infectious grooves, lyrics celebrating sex and drugs, wildly entertaining videos and stage act, tales of bizarre excess, self-destructive binges that finally tipped over into crime and jail time -- but most of all, the great music that, even today, still gets people to dancing across oceans and continents.


Heritage Moments: Land of newcomers, always arriving

Sep 26, 2016
Album pamiatkow: A Guide to Buffalo’s Polonia from 1906, Digital Collections, University Libraries, University at Buffalo.

Grant Street -- a Buffalo that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago: women dressed in head-to-toe robes, men in long shirts, children speaking a Babel of languages. After English and Spanish, the most spoken languages in Buffalo’s public schools are Karen, Arabic, Nepali, Burmese and Somali; at Lafayette High School, students speak 42 different languages.


Heritage Moments: Buffalo picks a polka

Sep 12, 2016
Still frame from YouTube

There is no “Buffalo Sound,” but if there were, it might well be the lively, happy rhythms of a polka band – music that has provided the region a continuous soundtrack for the better part of a century.


Heritage Moments: Mean streets, rock ’n’ roll and the underground genius of Spain Rodriguez

Aug 29, 2016
Courtesy of the Burchfield Penney Art Center and the estate of the artist

Buffalo in the late ’50s and early ’60s: motorcycle gangs, factory jobs, Deco’s all-night coffee shops, rhythm-and-blues clubs on William Street, record hops, tire-iron rumbles, cruising down Fillmore to the howling sounds of WKBW’s Hound Dog Lorenz. The city was a menacing but vibrant place, churchgoing yet beer-soaked, seething with racial antipathies yet alive with more interaction between white and black than at any time before or since.

Audio Pending...

Heritage Moments: Love Canal and the Niagara Falls 'housewives' who shook the world

Aug 15, 2016
Photo by Penelope D. Ploughman, ©1980, all rights reserved. Courtesy, University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

Some 40 years after chemicals were first observed bubbling from the ground at Love Canal, the health risks resulting from the poisoning of the Niagara Falls, N.Y., neighborhood are still making headlines today. Yet we sometimes forget that the Love Canal disaster might have amounted to little more than a footnote, were it not for the relentless defiance of a group of average citizens. Without the efforts of those citizens – most of them housewives -- the modern environmental movement as we know it today might not exist.


Heritage Moments: Farm girl at the Lockport library, 7-year-old Joyce Carol Oates discovers books

Aug 1, 2016
Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0

In all of world literature, few authors are as highly esteemed and abundantly prolific as Joyce Carol Oates. Several of her more than 40 novels and numerous short stories, essays, and poetry collections have won honors including the National Book Award, the O. Henry Award and the Pushcart Prize, and she herself was awarded the National Humanities Medal. From the early ’60s to today, her works have often been dark, brooding, even Gothic – but always revelatory and ineffably beautiful.


Heritage Moments: America’s first spymaster and what Buffalo taught him about secrecy

Jul 18, 2016
National Archives and Records Administration

Wild Bill Donovan he was called, the most famous son of Buffalo’s Old First Ward. He was the man who basically invented America’s intelligence apparatus, having founded and directed the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, the spy agency that eventually became the CIA.


Heritage Moments: The Shunning of Millard Fillmore

Jul 5, 2016
Lithograph c. 1850 by Francis D’Avignon, after a daguerreotype by Matthew Brady. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

It seems hard to believe now, but Millard Fillmore, 13th president of the United States, was one of the most respected statesmen of his time, widely celebrated for his ability to find compromise. Yet that very quality would ultimately ruin his reputation -- both in the eyes of history and, long before that, in the eyes of his fellow Buffalonians.


Heritage Moments: Harold Arlen, from Pine Street to Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Jun 20, 2016
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection.

For one brief era, Buffalo, or at least one part of it, was an integrated place where people of different races and ethnicities mixed freely and comfortably. The time was the turn of the 20th century, the place was the Near East Side, and the environment that flourished there produced some of the greatest music America has ever heard.


Heritage Moments: Harriet Tubman crosses the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge

Jun 6, 2016
Tubman c. 1871-76, photographed by Harvey B. Lindsley; Library of Congress Print and Photographs Division

In 2015, the Secretary of the Treasury announced that a woman would be featured on U.S. paper currency for the first time. Even though several women were under consideration, it was immediately clear who it should be — Harriet Tubman.


Heritage Moments: Buffalo, the Fenian Invasion and the Making of Canada

May 23, 2016
Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-03244

Depending on what side of the border you’re on, the story of the Fenian Invasion of June 1, 1866, is told differently. In Western New York it’s remembered as a brave fight for Irish independence against British oppression. On the Niagara Peninsula it’s a brave fight for self-defense against a surprise attack from a warlike America.


Heritage Moments: Why do people in the Midwest sound like Buffalonians? Blame it on the Erie Canal

May 9, 2016
W. Roberts, from Marco Paul's Voyages & Travels, Erie Canal by Jacob Abbott, 1852

The  19th century engineering marvel called the Erie Canal is celebrated for many things: carrying settlers out to populate the Upper Midwest and rich harvests back to nourish the East; transforming Buffalo, Rochester and other tiny villages into thriving cities; and making New York the biggest, wealthiest, mightiest city of them all.


Heritage Moments: Northeastern Ohio, Western New York, Paradise—The World of Charles Burchfield

Apr 25, 2016
Charles E. Burchfield, 1941. Photograph by Sally Burchfield (1925-2002). Burchfield Penney Art Center. Courtesy of Charlie Ferris.

“Get yourself to a vantage point of seclusion and view the world with your eyes alone. Think of the infinite spaces of the skies and the world beneath.” – Charles Burchfield’s Journals


Heritage Moments: Tesla at Niagara — the weird genius who powered the world

Apr 11, 2016
Library of Congress; photograph by Napoleon Sarony

He was always an odd boy given to strange obsessions, but the fevered vision that came to Nikola Tesla at 15 stuck with him for years. Bedridden with malaria, the young Serb opened a book to an engraving of Niagara Falls and, in his delirium, had a shimmering apparition: the rushing waters were turning a gigantic wheel, powering great factories and entire cities.


Heritage Moments: A Clarence engineer and the invention that saved millions of lives

Mar 28, 2016
University at Buffalo

One day in 1956, Wilson Greatbatch, a 37-year-old assistant professor of electrical engineering at UB, was working on an oscilloscope at a chronic disease research center on Main Street. He reached to get a brown-black-orange resistor out of a box of tiny components but accidentally pulled out a brown-black-green one instead. Not noticing that he had a 1,000-kiloohm resistor rather than a 10-kiloohm, he installed it. The oscilloscope started pulsing to an astonishingly specific rhythm.


New York Power Authority

Seeing, hearing and feeling Niagara Falls for the first time is an awe-inspiring experience, even for visitors today who have viewed images of the mighty cataract all their lives before finally setting eyes on it. Multiply that sense of awe a thousand times and we can only begin to know what Father Louis Hennepin felt in the winter of 1678-79 when he stumbled through the woods and stood at the brink of Niagara.


freenet.buffalo.edu/bah via Wikipedia Commons

Buffalonians often talk about famous architects like H.H. Richardson, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright who came to town, executed a commission or three, then left. They say little about such accomplished home-grown architects as Richard A. Waite, who designed the Ontario provincial parliament building in Toronto; James A. Johnson and E.B. Green, who designed many of Buffalo’s civic landmarks; or John Wade, designer of Buffalo’s greatest building, City Hall.


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library

The early history of Buffalo’s gay and lesbian community is lost, mainly because same-sex affection was so thoroughly stigmatized by society at large. It was, in the famous phrase of the 19th century, the love that dare not speak its name. But luckily, the city’s later LGBTQ history is known to us – largely through the remarkable efforts of two scholars who reconstructed what queer life was like in Buffalo from the 1930s to the early ’60s.


Portrait of Francis Johnson. Music Division, The New York Public Library.

Black history on the Niagara Frontier is long, rich and varied, a story that stretches from Joe Hodge, the trapper and trader who lived on Cattaraugus Creek and Buffalo Creek in the 1790s, to the Coloured Corps, the company of black soldiers who defended Upper Canada against the American invaders in the War of 1812, to William Wells Brown and the black Buffalonians who fought off So

Library of Congress; c. 1838 lithograph, based on a c. 1828 painting by Charles King Bird

During the American Revolution, the Seneca Nation’s lands covered practically the entire Niagara Frontier. But by 1819, their territory had dwindled to five tracts covering only about 130 square miles. All along, the Seneca clan chief Red Jacket opposed the sales, as well as what he saw as other encroachments on Indian self-determination.


The Buffalo Bills

The 1965 AFL All-Star Game boycott by black players was a landmark moment in American sports. The previous generation of African-American athletes had all it could do to break the color barrier and secure footholds on professional rosters. But in 1965, the AFL’s new generation of black players upped the ante considerably, taking direct political action against racism for the first time -- and several Buffalo Bills helped lead the way.


The New York Public Library Digital Collections

The lands along the Niagara River are serene and peaceful today, but two centuries ago, during the War of 1812, they were awash in blood as neighbors fought neighbors and brothers fought brothers.


Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy

In the 1950s, when she was a famous comedienne with the most popular show on television, Lucille Ball liked to say she was from Jamestown. But for much of her youth she lived in Celoron, the little village next door to Jamestown on the shores of Chautauqua Lake.


Courtesy of WNED-TV/"Buffalo's First Ward"

The Blizzard of 1977 took 31 lives in Western New York and the Niagara Peninsula, the most vicious, relentless and paralyzing storm in the living memory of a place often battered by brutal winter weather.


Portrait in “Three Years in Europe: Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met,” via Project Gutenberg

In his 1847 memoir, “Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave,” the abolitionist William Wells Brown recalled the years he spent in Buffalo as a worker on lake boats. He remembered one dramatic episode from his Buffalo years in gripping detail.

 

Niagara Falls, Ontario Public Library

On Oct. 5, 1960, an enormous explosion and fire broke out in the Maple Leaf Mills grain elevator, the largest in Canada, at the entrance to the Welland Canal in Port Colborne. Two days later the catastrophic blaze was still out of control when the city of Port Colborne, which did not have a fireboat of its own, requested assistance from the Buffalo Fire Department.