Heritage Moments

Heritage Moments: That’s why we call it Buffalo. Maybe.

Nov 5, 2018

We know why most cities have their names, but not Buffalo. New York City is named after York, England; Los Angeles is the city of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels; Philadelphia is named for the Greek word for brotherly love; Toronto, for the Mohawk word for a place where trees stand in the water; Detroit and Quebec, respectively, for the French and Algonquin words for narrows; Rochester and Hamilton, for founders of those cities; and so on.

Heritage Moments: Annie Edson Taylor, Falls daredevil and a widow’s hard choices

Oct 22, 2018
Photo courtesy Niagara Falls, Ont., Public Library

In the days before death benefits, pensions and social security, an aging widow had to fend for herself, even one who was a trained, experienced professional. Self-sufficiency or destitution. Sink or swim.

Heritage Moments: Mary Jemison of the Seneca Nation, the ‘White Woman of the Genesee’

Oct 8, 2018
Statue by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, Letchworth State Park, 1910; photo by Steven Tryon, pearwood

In 1823 along the Genesee River there lived an old woman who was quite famous in the region. She was Seneca, yet her features were European and her complexion was fair, and she spoke both the Seneca language and English fluently. Her children, grandchildren and other Senecas called her Dehgewanus. The settlers called her Mary Jemison, the White Woman of the Genesee.

Heritage Moments: Mortally wounded, William McKinley thinks of his assassin - and his wife

Sep 24, 2018
Illustration by Walker T. Dart, c. 1905; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The Pan-American Exposition of 1901, a world’s fair that marked Buffalo’s arrival as a major city — it should have left a legacy of joy. Instead, it left one of sorrow. President William McKinley was assassinated there.

Heritage Moments: The Attica Prison Uprising — 43 dead and a four-decade cover-up

Sep 10, 2018
Still image from the documentary “William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe”, POV on PBS

The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 is one of the most disturbing episodes in the history of New York State and, indeed, the nation as a whole. It lasted four days, cost the lives of 43 persons and damaged the lives of hundreds of others, and what happened in the weeks before and the decades after only magnifies the horror. The repercussions of the uprising, the brutality the state used to put it down, the cover-up that followed – all of it continues to reverberate today.

Heritage Moments: Marilyn Bell, the teenager who conquered eels, exhaustion and Lake Ontario

Aug 27, 2018

Overnight sensation — that term gets bandied about from time to time. But Marilyn Bell literally was one. At 11:07 p.m. on Sept. 8, 1954, when she dove into chilly Lake Ontario by the U.S. Coast Guard station at Youngstown, Bell was a little-known teenage long-distance swimmer. At 8:06 p.m. on Sept. 9, when she came ashore off Toronto’s West End, she was quite literally a national hero.

Heritage Moments: Frederick Law Olmsted and the stroll that saved Niagara

Aug 13, 2018
Photo from “Review of Reviews and World’s Work,” 1890

Niagara Falls in the 1800s was an industrialist’s dreamland and a huckster’s paradise. Cheap waterpower abounded­ — all you had to do was build a channel to divert a small portion of the mighty Niagara past your mill, and you were all set. And an enterprising “entrepreneur” need only buy a small parcel of land with a view, erect a tall fence and charge visitors from far and wide exorbitant fees to get a glimpse of the thunderous cataract — the Eighth Wonder of the World, once you paid enough to see it.

Heritage Moments: In an ocean of horror, Father Conway’s courage

Jul 30, 2018
Diocese of Buffalo Archives

The sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in the early morning hours of July 30, 1945, is the worst disaster to befall a single ship in the history of the US Navy. Some 300 men lost their lives when the heavy cruiser was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and went down, and almost 600 more died over the next four days, floating without food or water in the shark-infested Pacific, their distress signals unheard or ignored.

Heritage Moments: Mark Twain, Buffalonian

Jul 16, 2018
Mathew Brady / Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division

Samuel L. Clemens’s time in Buffalo was short. But it was also by turns pivotal, tragic and, of course, funny. The young man who would go on to become America’s greatest humorist was just barely on the cusp of national fame when, armed with a loan from his fiancée’s industrialist father, he rolled into town and bought a one-third share of the Buffalo Express newspaper. 

Heritage Moments: Stanley Spisiak, LBJ and a bucket of Buffalo River sludge

Jul 2, 2018
Buffalo History Museum

It’s the early 1960s, and you’re summering at Crystal Beach. You walk across the sands to take a dip in the warm waves of Lake Erie. But before you get to the water, you’ve got to step gingerly through a dozen yards of dead fish, a solid mass of rotting flesh washed up on the sand amid swarms of flies, already stinking in the morning sun.

Heritage Moments: An Ode to Bridges

Jun 18, 2018
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Sawyer

The Niagara Frontier is a land of bridges. And if the bridges themselves are not particularly spectacular, the places they span are — rushing waterways and international borders, vertiginous gorges and ship-choked canals, great lakes and thundering cataracts. The wind-swept geography of a vast inland sea, linked improbably by leaping ribbons of steel.

Heritage Moments: Grover the Good, in a time before #MeToo

Jun 4, 2018
Painting by Eastman Johnson, hallofgovernors.ny.gov

In a mere four years Grover Cleveland skyrocketed from Buffalo lawyer with a penchant for hanging out in beer halls to president of the United States, renowned for his scrupulous honesty. Yet Cleveland’s fabulous rise also had a dark side. Everyone heard the rumors of how he grossly mistreated a local widow named Maria Halpin — but in those days, no one believed a woman when it was her word against a prominent man’s.

Heritage Moments: The Kinzua Dam and the broken treaty with the Seneca Nation

May 21, 2018
Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, Salamanca

It was nothing less than the forced displacement of almost 700 people, and more than 50 years later the memory of it still haunts those families and their descendants.

Heritage Moments: The immense constructions of the 20th century, and the workers who toiled within

May 7, 2018
Library and Archives Canada / PA-043427

We take it for granted, but here on the Niagara Frontier we are surrounded by vast industrial projects of almost unimaginable scale — monstrous factories, massive powerhouses, enormous tunnels, gigantic canals — all crisscrossing around and beneath us. We don’t even remember they’re there, these relics of a bygone era, but when we finally notice them and look, their sheer size is intimidating, overpowering, frightening.

Heritage Moments: Frank Grant, the Buffalo Bisons and the drawing of baseball’s color line

Apr 23, 2018

The chronicle of baseball’s color line usually focuses on the triumphant story of its breaking by Jackie Robinson in the 1940s. Rarely told is the bitter story of how the color line was established, way back in the 1880s — in places like Buffalo, at the expense of black men like Frank Grant, the star second baseman of the Buffalo Bisons.

Heritage Moments: Father Baker’s miracle at Our Lady of Victory

Apr 9, 2018
Photo courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo

Father Nelson Baker — the “padre of the poor,” the man who built the Our Lady of Victory complex in Lackawanna into an astonishing city of charity that featured an orphanage, a boys’ protectory, a home for unwed mothers and their infants, a hospital, a grade school and high school, a nurses’ home, a farm to help feed the hungry, a soup kitchen that served more 450,000 meals during the first three years of the Great Depression, and finally the great basilica that has become a national shrine and pilgrimage site.

Heritage Moments: For those lost in the Cleveland Hill School fire, the bell tolls 15 times

Mar 26, 2018
Life Magazine, April 19, 1954

Even today, more than 60 years after it took place, the Cleveland Hill School fire still haunts the memories of those who lived through it, and all the generations that have followed.

Heritage Moments: A boy leaves home and crosses the ocean, with no idea he’ll become a hockey star

Mar 12, 2018
St. Catharines Museum

As a little boy growing up in Sokolče, a small village in postwar Czechoslovakia, Stanislav Gvoth didn’t know anything about hockey. He didn’t even know how to skate, and he didn’t particularly care. He was just a kid, with an older brother and recent wartime memories of German soldiers bivouacking in the small family house. Young Stanislav had no inkling he would grow up to be Stan Mikita, one of the greatest hockey players of all time.

Heritage Moments: The Buffalo congresswoman and the fight for equal pay

Feb 26, 2018
Library of Congress

The World War II homefront was a special time and place for American women. With some 16 million men off to fight in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific, the war effort at home depended on women, who rolled up their sleeves and went to work in factories in unprecedented numbers — a mighty army of Rosie the Riveters. For the first time, the societal strictures that tethered women to unpaid work at home were loosening — and yet it was understood that when the men returned, the women would go back to being second-class citizens.

Heritage Moments: W.E.B. Du Bois, the Niagara Movement and the ‘mighty current’ of black protest

Feb 12, 2018
Photo retrieved from the Library of Congress

For black people at the turn of the 20th century, America was a harrowing place to be. It was a land of legally sanctioned discrimination, widespread lynchings, enforced poverty and open, constant insult. Black leaders tried different strategies to help African-Americans cope with these conditions.

Heritage Moments: The night they invented chicken wings

Jan 29, 2018
Omar Fetouh / WBFO News

We’re not entirely sure how the Buffalo chicken wing was invented, but there are some good tales, and they tend to revolve around what happened one night in 1964 at the Anchor Bar, Frank and Teressa Bellissimo’s restaurant and jazz club on Main Street. However wings were invented, their fame spread so far and fast that by 1980 The New Yorker magazine had dispatched to Buffalo its venerable reporter at-large, Calvin Trillin, to unravel the mystery.

Heritage Moments: From a cubicle on Swan Street to the presidency of Somalia

Jan 15, 2018
Ilyas Ahmed/AMISOM

Three world leaders have called Western New York their home. The first two, the American presidents Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland, are well known to people living in the region. The third is less celebrated here.

But the story of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed — the Buffalonian better known as Farmaajo, elected president of Somalia in February 2017 — is every bit as incredible, and momentous, as that of practically any leader anywhere.

Heritage Moments: For the Tuscarora, an end to wandering, at Niagara

Jan 2, 2018
Princeton University Library

Before there were the Six Nations, there were only the Five – the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca, who all lived between the Hudson and Genesee rivers in what is now New York State. The Five Nations knew little of the Tuscarora people, who lived far to the south, in what is today North Carolina.

Bruce Jackson

Robert Creeley (1926-2005), one of the most important American postmodern poets of his era, belongs to the world. But he also was ­— and continues to be ­— a Buffalo treasure.

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. Military forces attacked from Buffalo several times during the War of 1812; in the Fenian Raid of 1866; and — least remembered by Americans but no less important — during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837-38.

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.