City Living – Around the Block at Agassiz Circle

City Living – Around the Block at Agassiz Circle

A couple of weeks ago, as I drove on the 198 near Forest Lawn, I lamented to myself (again) about the loss of the once beautiful Humboldt Parkway. Yes, I do have occasion to use the controversial, but also well used highway that split our Delaware Park (and indeed a thriving neighborhood) through the middle. As do, I suspect, a lot of Buffalonians who wish the highway were still a beautiful ‘bridle path’ that ambled through the park and over to MLK Park.

But that’s not what I am writing about today. Suffice it to say that if the Scajaqada were torn out tomorrow, and returned to its former glory, I would rejoice right along with all the principled people who refuse to use it today. But for now, I occassionally need to, and do, use it. Just like I will when it’s returned to a tree lined two lane city street. (Hope!)

But on this day, it was the homes on Agassiz Circle that I was thinking about. Specifically the ones near Medaille College. Who lives along there now? And how does their view differ from the way it was back in the day? Curious, as usual, I decided to take a closer look.

Let’s Begin

As I left the house to head over to Agassiz Circle, I mentioned to my husband that I didn’t think I’d be able to continue my urban hikes posts through the winter because people are generally indoors at this time of the year. And let’s face it, the people I meet along the way are what makes these posts interesting.

Happily, I was wrong. On this hike, I met and spoke with four residents of this neighborhood who were friendly and willing to chat. Take a look.

The Homes on Burbank Terrace and Burbank Drive

I started this urban hike at the corner of Meadowview Place and Burbank Terrace.

Burbank Terrace

As I entered the street, this is the first home I saw. Just my style. Love everything about this house. I always marvel at how some homeowners get the color just right. The color of this house is perfect. Not fussy with the trim – just all one color and it looks like a classic craftsman style home. I especially love that the windows appear to be original. Love it.

As I start to move on, the homeowner comes out on the front porch to talk to me. Her name is Brittney (I apologize if that’s not the correct spelling) and she’s very friendly. I explain why I’m taking pictures on her street. We talk about her home, about the neighborhood, and about the cemetery. She tells me there have only been two owners of this home. And I believe she is correct. Well, two families that is. The first owner was A.J. Brady Jr, who worked for Brady Bros., which was run by his father and uncle, and was a lumber business located in North Tonawanda. His daughter Mary Louise was the previous owner to Brittney and her family. So two families.

Brittney invites me to the backyard to see their view of Forest Lawn and to take photos. The backyards are very small along this stretch. Here, it’s about having the wide open space of the cemetery on your border. Brittney says that her kids know Sarah Jones very well. At my look of confusion, she explains that Sara’s is the closest grave to their backyard. She speaks about Sarah almost affectionately. I find this to be very sweet, but also very realistic. It teaches children that death is a part of life. We’re all going there; am I right? Why shouldn’t we talk to our kids about it?

Moving On

Brittney also tells me that this home, below, was built on a bet. Apparently, the people who built it had it designed to fit into this tiny piece of property, because people bet it couldn’t be done. I think they did it very well. No yard here at all, just the wide expanse of cemetery out back.

I love this neighborhood already. Thanks Brittney!

As I walked away from Brittney’s home I took one more photo of it, and another of this one, below, when I met up with Patrick, who was walking his dogs. I handed him my card, and explained what I was doing. He seemed okay with it, but his dogs were definitely not interested in talking to me, so we continued off in opposite directions.

Patrick later emailed me and we’ve had a few back and forths, discussing the neighborhood and Buffalo in general. He loves living in the neighborhood. And why wouldn’t you?

More Homes

After walking to the end of Burbank Terrace, I turned around to head over to Burbank Drive. It was then that I met up with Jeff, and his super sweet dog, Trixie. She’s 15, but certainly doesn’t act her age! She’s a beautiful girl, isn’t she?

Isn’t she sweet?!

Jeff and I talked about how much he loves living on this street, he’s been here for 23 years. Everyone I meet mentions that everybody knows everybody in the neighborhood. I like that.

Burbank Drive

As I head on to Burbank Drive, I see a lovely Cape Cod. I have never seen this particular use of wrought iron on a porch, but I like it so much, I wonder why it’s not done more. I think this is one of the best Cape Cod style homes I’ve ever seen. It’s larger than it appears in my photo. It’s the kind of home that is grand, without being massive. Does that make sense? If there is such a thing, it’s a grand Cape. This is one that makes me think that I wish it were summer. I’ll have to come back.

There are a few more houses along here, but the owners expressed an interest in privacy, and always wishing to be respectful, I will not share photos of those homes. The homeowners were friendly, mind you. Just private, and I can understand that.

I decided to take a break at this point and head over to Medaille before starting up again on Agassiz Circle.

Medaille

The photo above is the main building of Medaille College, which is the former building that housed Mount St. Joseph’s High School.

As I walked towards Agassiz, the first home I saw was this one, below. This home is gorgeous. I love the little balcony above the front door. And the bay windows are really pretty.

It doesn’t, however, have it’s own address. It is (obviously) the office of admissions for the college though, so it probably shares the address of the college. It’s beautiful.

The Driscoll Home

Then I came to this house.

It was once owned by the Driscoll family. Daniel A. Driscoll was a member of Congress for four terms, beginning in 1908. He went on to serve as postmaster in Buffalo from 1934-1947. To that date, only one had served a longer term, Erastus Granger, who was our first postmaster.

Photo Credit: Unknown

Upon his retirement from government work, Daniel returned to active, full-time management of the family business, the Driscoll Funeral Home at 1337 Main Street, founded by his father in 1861. He was also the president of the Phoenix Brewery Corporation since its organization in 1934.

Driscoll was reportedly quite a character, was known for his quick wit, had a soft spot for Ireland, (his parents both arrived here from Ireland as small children) and was apparently not fond of the mortuary business. He never married, and passed away in the home (above) in 1955, after an illness of several months. He was 80.

Moving Along the Circle

The next few homes are stunners as well. This first one is lovely with that sunroom above the carport! Would love to sit out there on a sunny afternoon.

Here, below, I love the tile roof, and those low slung arched windows that match the arches on the porch.

This home, below, just sold in December of 2020, and interior photos can be seen here. My photo doesn’t do it justice. There is a storage Pod in the driveway presently which I tried to avoid in the photo. It appears to be a well lived in, lovely (large) home.

A Sad Story for Such a Beautiful Home

This home, below, is a quintessential city home, is it not? It’s got a sad story connected with it though. In 1933 the Albert Abendroth, Sr. family lived in the home. Their son, Albert, Jr. (19) attended Canisius College, and because he did well with his studies, his parents gave him a new car.

Shortly thereafter, on May 31, 1933, Al (as he was known) took the car, and along with his friend William (Bill) Shepard Jr. (18) headed over to Long Beach, Ontario, Canada, to a Canisius College class picnic.

At the picnic, the two headed out into Lake Erie in a canoe and were never seen again. The canoe was found during the search for the boys. It is presumed the two drowned. It is unclear whether their bodies were ever found.

In a cruel twist of fate, amid massive search efforts the day after the accident, there were reports that the boys were found alive, and were being brought into Detroit by a freighter. The families, and indeed the whole of Buffalo and Long Beach, Ontario, rejoiced!

But when the freighter arrived, the stunned crew knew nothing of the disappearance of the boys. The freighter did not even have radio equipment on board. (?) It would be June 23, before the obituary for Albert Jr. would show up in the Buffalo Evening News.

Nevertheless…

The home is beautiful and has been very well maintained. There is even a little free library out front, which you know I love. Note the wrought iron and glass crescent moon hanging above the library. Sweet.

Meadowview Place

This street was aptly named. When these homes were built their view was of a beautiful wood that overlooked the meadow side of Delaware Park. In fact, the view was Delaware Park. Let me tell you what I mean.

Before Humboldt Parkway was torn out and the 198 was put in, the Parkway ambled off to the northwest through Agassiz Circle and straight into what is now the Parkside entrance to Delaware Park. The parking lot at that entrance was much the same as it is today. The Parkway then veered off to the left and continued to amble through the park, over Delaware Avenue and along Hoyt Lake.

So, you see, Meadowview Place used to border Delaware Park. Now it is cut off from it. Essentially, all the space between Meadowview Place and Meadow Drive (what we all now call Ring Road) was a thinly wooded area, and meadow. Below is a view from Meadowview over into that parking area I just mentioned. Picture it, without any roads in between.

Must have been lovely.

The Homes

The homes are fantastic. Even with the 198. They’re mostly set back aways from the street, so there’s plenty of room.

Here’s the view from these homes, below. Not too bad in the middle of a Friday afternoon; I only see a couple of cars.

Then I came upon this home, below. It reminded me of one of the Sears homes that I found over on Tillinghast. But the dates don’t match up. This one was built in 1900, and Sears didn’t start selling kit homes until 1908. Boy, it really does look like one!

I keep thinking on this hike, I’ll have to come back to see this neighborhood in the summer when everything is in full bloom!

This one is lovely as well.

Perhaps the Most Interesting Home in the Whole Neighborhood

This home, below, probably has the most interesting story in the neighborhood. It looks like such a nice family home. And I’m sure it is. But it was not always the case, depending on your opinion, of course. I happen to revel in the history of this house. The audacity is awesome! Read on.

Back on January 4, 1933, there were two arrests made here for the illegal possession and manufacturing of, you guessed it, liquor and intoxicants. Remember this was the prohibition era. Harry H. Hall, owner of the home, and Joe Saco, renter of the ‘barn’ were both charged. Federal agents staked out the house for three weeks prior to the arrests and observed the business comings and goings during what was probably the busiest season for sales, the holidays.

Wonder if they waited until after the holidays to raid the place in order to let people have a good holiday (the customers, I mean), or would the charges be ‘greater’ with proof of so many sales? We’ll never know. But the scope of production was incredible. The government estimated that 500 gallons of 150 proof alcohol was being produced here daily. Daily! Moonshine anyone? Wow! That is a lot of booze!

How did they come to know about it, you ask? They smelled the mash while driving by one day. How could you not, with that much in production?

The ‘barn’ was built into the side of a hill. The upper floor held an apartment and lockers for the wealthy Buffalonians who rented riding horses from Mr. Hall. The horses were kept in the basement level where the still was kept and were brought up to the riders. The renters of the horses would have no idea that there was a large still in the lower level, unless they recognized the smell of the cooking mash.

The Operation

It was apparently quite the operation. There were seven vats that held 2,000 gallons each and one 5,000 gallon vat. Wow! The contents of the building, including 12,800 gallons of mash, and 2,000 gallons of syrup, and other distilling equipment were seized and taken to a government warehouse. Wow!

I believe the photo below is the “barn”. The road dead ends at this building. From the 198 a stone wall is visible on the side of a hill, constituting one wall of the lower part of the structure.

It is unclear if either of the two men arrested were found guilty or served any time. Mr. Hall maintained that he merely rented the “barn” to Mr. Saco. But he was the one renting the riding horses. How could he have not known?

Pretty interesting story, eh? Well, read on for another one.

Rock Stars on Agassiz?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this because it’s pretty cool.

In one of my conversations with Patrick, he mentioned that Gregg Allman and Cher stayed on Agassiz Circle back in the mid 70’s. Allman was going through rehab here at BryLin at the time and the couple, along with Chaz (Chastity, at the time) and the couple’s son Elijah Blue, stayed for several months. I knew they were here back then, but I didn’t know they lived on Agassiz Circle while they were here.

On a personal note, the doctor who treated Allman was the brother-in-law of a friend of mine (I am aware that this statement is so Buffalo!). My friend loaned the couple a crib for Elijah Blue, who was a baby at the time. Can you imagine? Loaning a crib to a mega star like Cher?!

You can read a very interesting story about Allman and Cher’s time here in this Buffalo News Article. It confirms they were living on Agassiz, but I still don’t know which house. Anybody?

Also, while reading about it, I found another article about Gregg Allman playing a concert for Canisius High School while the couple was in town. It’s a great story, and is from the Buffalo News as well.

My Impressions

So happy I looked into this area! I’ve been wondering about it for quite a while now, and I ended up meeting some pretty nice people on this urban hike. I saw a lot of beautiful homes, and learned some more about our city.

I love the history here. From the story of a family who lost a beloved son, to an interesting postmaster, to bootleggers!

I’ll admit the story of the Abendroth family hit close to home for me, having lost a family member in a similar way, complete with a 5 day search. I know the devastation a death like this causes a family. So my heart really went out to the Abendroth family while reading about it.

But, I have to also admit that I did not expect bootleggers in this neighborhood. As I said before though, the audacity of that crime was amazing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seemed like a big operation. 500 gallons a day! Literally taking place just steps from the Buffalo Parks Labor Department, which I believe to have been there at the time. And even if it wasn’t there yet, anybody could have wandered up to it from Delaware Park, because remember, there was no 198 at the time! Oh Buffalo.

When I take these urban hikes, I always choose a neighborhood because of the homes. But on every hike, it always ends up being about the people. I met some really nice ones on this hike. And found some great stories about Buffalo as well.

Like I always say, take a walk Buffalo! You’ll see more of our city on foot than in a car any day! And you just may make a friend or two!

The Beck Family Home

The Beck Family Home

After writing and publishing a post about an urban hike I did in the Medical Corridor, I received an email from a reader regarding a home that used to be at 923 Washington Street, now an empty lot (photo above). What a story it turned out to be! 

I had originally reported in the post, that word on the street told me that there was a home on Washington Street at the corner of Carlton. And that the city had tried to take ownership for development. There were two sisters who were in their 90’s living there. They fought the city in court to keep their home. But eventually the sisters and the city came to an agreement to move the house. The person who told me the story didn’t know where the house had supposedly been moved to.

The address at 923 is now a vacant lot. I lamented that the two elderly ladies went through an awful lot of grief to make way for a vacant lot.

After publishing, I received an email from a reader revealing the real story. I did a little research on my own, and decided to write a whole new post about the Beck family home, because I think it’s important that we learn from our mistakes. And I believe that what happened in this case was a mistake. This is what I’ve learned.

The Original Home

The home in question was not moved off of the property on Washington Street, but had been moved to that location. But, let’s go back and start at the beginning.

The home was built sometime around the Civil War, by the grandfather of sisters, Anna and Veronica Beck. It was built on Ralph Street, or Ralph Alley as it was known at the time. Ralph Alley used to run parallel to and one block west of Michigan Avenue near Goodell.

Who Lived There?

Most of the people living on Ralph Alley throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s were either German immigrants or descendants of German immigrants. Most of the men worked in some way, shape or form in Buffalo’s brewing industry.

Homes on Ralph Street (Alley), since torn down. Photo courtesy of Steve Cichon
Torn-Down Tuesday: Ralph Street has been wiped off the map

The occupation of Anna and Veronica’s grandfather is unknown. As is the occupation of their father, Frank Beck. I believe Anna lived in her grandfather’s home and took care of it on a full time basis. Veronica, however, according to census records, worked as a bookkeeper for Marine Bank. All of the family members, including Frank’s wife Lillian (mother of Anna & Veronica) lived in the home at 42 Ralph Alley. They were members of St. Louis Church on the corner of Main and Edward Streets.

Funny to think of that now. But back then, extended family members lived together much more often. Anna and Veronica lived with their parents, and probably their grandparents until the elders passed away. Think about that for a minute. I love my kids and everything, but I’ll admit I’m glad they don’t live with us anymore. And I’m pretty sure they’re happy about it too. Just sayin.

So, What Happened?

In the 1970’s most of the neighborhood around the Beck home at 42 Ralph Alley was razed as part of the Oak Street Urban Renewal Project. The project included the building of the McCarley Gardens apartments. The neighborhood was very densely populated with homes. Over a hundred were torn down. Anna and Veronica took the city to court in order to save theirs.

McCarley Gardens as they appear today at the corner of Michigan and Goodell.

It was a lengthy court battle, roughly two years, but the sisters won. Well, sort of. The city agreed to move the house from its original spot on Ralph Street, to the corner of Washington and Carlton, aka 923 Washington Street. Through tough negotiation, the sisters were deeded the land as well, and it was stipulated (by the sisters) that upon the death of the last family member, the home would be torn down and the city was to be given an option to buy back the land for $100. Both the sisters and officials for the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency signed the agreement.

From a Buffalo News clipping. Original photo by Sharon Cantillon

The sisters were happy with the outcome. And by that I mean I’m sure they would have preferred that none of it had happened, but they didn’t lose their home. And they could still walk to their beloved St. Louis Catholic Church, which was apparently one of the sticking points in the negotiations. They had lived in the shadow of the great spire of St. Louis their whole lives and didn’t want to leave it. Now, they wouldn’t have to.

View of St. Louis Church from the lot where Anna Beck’s home once stood at 923 Washington Street.

The sisters lived out their days in the home (Veronica passed away a number of years before Anna).

Anna Beck Dies

In 1998, Anna Beck, the last surviving family member passed away. Per the agreement entered into with the city, her will stipulated that the home be torn down and the city be given the option to purchase the property for $100.  

Well, guess what?  The city changed its mind.  To be fair, the common council of 1998 were somewhat more preservation minded than those of the 1970s.  The common council felt certain that the home was historic (although it held no such distinction) and so the city took the Estate of Anna Beck to court to block the demolition.

Attorney for Anna Beck, Mary Kennedy Martin, argued that Ms. Beck was adamant the house be demolished.

It seemed the City of Buffalo and the late Anna Beck had unfinished business.

What About the Home Itself?

The home itself was a veritable museum at this point.  It was reported at the time that it appeared that no updates had taken place in the home after the 1930s.  The contents included cooking utensils, an early Hoover vacuum cleaner, a refrigerator that was not much more than an ice box, a wringer washing machine, a treadle sewing machine (run on foot power!) and vintage 1930’s furniture.  All still being used in the 1990s! Anna cooked on the same cast iron stove her mother used before her.  The home was painted the same yellow color with green trim.

Amazing.

The Final Fate of 923 Washington

But, in a court of law, the will stood up to the challenge.  Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina ruled for Ms. Beck, as her will was very clear and ironclad. In what he called a very difficult decision, he had to uphold the letter of the law (as he is charged) and ordered that the executor of Anna’s estate go through with the demolition. The ruling itself is a fascinating read. (Believe me, I know what that sounds like!) Read it here.

Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina examines the cast iron stove Ms. Beck cooked on until her death in 1998. From a Buffalo News clipping. Original photo by Sharon Cantillon.

The executor, by the way, was the Rev. Louis Gonter, who was a parish priest for the Diocese of Buffalo. The bulk of Anna’s estate, amounting to roughly $150,000 was left to St. Louis Catholic Church, which meant so much to Anna and her family.

What Else?

Throughout my research into this topic, I found myself wondering about Anna Beck. Wish I could have met her. She must have been the definition of a complete minimalist. I think I live pretty simply. But not like Anna Beck.

I have so many unanswered questions. Why would she have been so adamant about having the house razed? Was it out of spite because the city forced her and Veronica off Ralph Street and over to Washington Street? Or did she really feel that no one else should live in her family home? Also, the way she never changed or updated anything in the home. If she was really so attached to the stuff of her parents and grandparents, why demolish the house?

The only photo of Anna Beck I could find. From a 1998 Buffalo News Story.

Also, what would cause a person to never update anything in their home at all? I get the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But…geez. A wringer washer? Who knows? It may have been living through the depression that was at the root of Anna and Veronica’s thrift. I don’t think it was money. Anna left a residual estate of $150,000 in 1998. She wasn’t loaded, but she wasn’t poor either.

I guess we’ll never know.

My Impressions

I have mixed feelings about this story. On one hand, I’m a preservationist at heart. To be able to see this home now, as Anna left it in 1998 would be amazing. The fact that we lost a home, much preserved back to the 1930s, is a real shame from a historical standpoint.

I’m sure that all of the items inside, or ones like them, would be able to be gathered to create the museum that was 923 Washington Street. But it wouldn’t be the same, would it? Just the fact that they were all under that roof, being used regularly until 1998 would make it a museum worth seeing.

The sidewalk remains in front of a home that is no longer there.

That’s such a big part of what we history nerds love so much. It’s the stories behind the buildings we so admire. Wondering about the people and the places they inhabited. Where they lived, laughed, cried, and loved.

This simple home told the story of three generations of a Buffalo family. It lasted far longer than most of the mansions on Millionaire’s Row over on Delaware Ave. I’d love to be able to see Anna Beck’s home today, just as it was when she lived there.

Deep breath.

On the other hand, I understand the law, and in this case, it was upheld to the letter. Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina’s ruling was fair, thorough and brilliant. He saw both sides of the argument, and no stone was left unturned in his decision. From the ruling: “Valid contracts cannot be so cavalierly breached.”* The City of Buffalo (Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency) and Anna Beck entered into a binding contract. Anna Beck executed her agreement with her last will and testament. The city of Buffalo was forced to uphold theirs.

And with that, we lost the home at 923 Washington Street, formerly 42 Ralph Alley. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Just One More Thing

There’s no real sense in spending a lot of time on it. What’s done is done. But at the beginning of the post, I said I thought that what happened here was a mistake. By that I mean that back in the late 70s, no one recognized this home for what it was. And in the twenty years following, still no one noticed. No move was made towards preserving the treasure that it was. To have a vernacular home from the 1860s, in the heart of the city, virtually unchanged since 1930…would be incredible.

The judge’s hands were tied in this case though.

We are better at this now than we used to be. We’re moving in the right direction. As a city, let’s not make this mistake again. Let’s move forward.

*Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mettina’s ruling

**Special thanks to Jerome Puma!

***Since the home was demolished, this lot has been owned by both Kaleida Health and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It is now owned by 927-937 Washington Street LLC.

Our Lady of Victory Basilica & the Man Who Built It

Our Lady of Victory Basilica & the Man Who Built It

It’s the holidays, so I thought I’d write about one of Buffalo’s most notable churches, Our Lady of Victory Basilica. I’m writing on the suggestion of my husband, Tim. He’s been suggesting it for a while, and several months ago when I decided it was time to get organized with my schedule, I put the Basilica on for Christmas time. I thought it would be fitting to write about such magnificence during one of the happiest times of the Church calendar, the birth of Christ.

Let’s talk about the history and architecture of this building and the man who built it. It’s a big part of our city’s history.

We’ll Begin with Father Baker

As a Buffalonian, born and raised, I have been hearing about Father Nelson Baker my whole life. But who was he really? That’s a good question. So I did some reading, and he was a pretty interesting guy.

Nelson Baker was born in 1842, in the then growing city of Buffalo. He was one of four sons belonging to Lewis and Caroline Baker. He was baptized as a Lutheran at birth, the faith of his father. But for years Nelson attended daily mass with his mother, a ritual he very much enjoyed. At ten, he was baptized Catholic. That’s important, obviously.

A young Nelson Baker. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

His parents owned a grocery / general store downtown, and the family lived behind the store. Nelson completed high school and began working in the family business. He was good at it. He was smart, good with numbers, and enjoyed getting to know the customers.

When the Civil War broke out, Baker served in the 74th New York Regiment, with distinction.

After the war he went into the seed and grain business with a friend, and did very well for himself. At this time he was very generous with his time and money at a local Catholic orphanage in Limestone Hill (present day Lackawanna). The orphanage had a home for younger boys, and one for older boys on their campus, in addition to a parish church.

That Nagging Feeling

But something was nagging at him. He struggled to discern a priestly vocation. He made many excuses. Too old. Not educated enough.

Eventually he entered the seminary after a long conversation with a priest, Father Hines, at Limestone Hill. Baker was ordained a priest in 1876. His first assignment? The orphanage at Limestone Hill, alongside Father Hines.

Father Nelson Baker. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

Perhaps it was his business experience that frustrated him about this first assignment. Father Hines was no businessman. In fact, the orphanage and parish were deeply in debt. It had grown to $60,000. That’s a lot of money now, but back then it was astronomical.

Out of frustration, Father Baker asked for, and was granted a transfer. After just one year though, Father Hines passed away, and the Bishop summoned Father Baker back to Limestone Hill. There he would stay for the rest of his life.

The Turnaround

Creditors were after him immediately. He tried asking for extensions, to no avail. Not knowing what else to do, he simply withdrew every last penny he himself had from his business days, and paid off the debt.

It was at this point that Baker’s business acumen came into play. This is part of the story is important. He wrote letters to postmasters all over the country asking for the names of charitable Catholic women in their towns. (That certainly wouldn’t fly today!) He then started the Association of Our Lady of Victory, and wrote hundreds of letters to these women asking them to join the Association for twenty five cents a year, to benefit the boys in his care.

It worked! It wasn’t a lot of money (although some gave more) and so thousands across the country joined the Association. In effect, he was pioneering what we call today the direct mail fundraising campaign.

Life Gets In the Way

At this time, the idea for Our Lady of Victory Church was already in his mind, patterned after a church he had seen in Paris during his seminary days. But there were several other projects that took precedence. In addition to the many repairs and renovations to the two homes for boys on the property, there was the church to take care of, which at the time was called St. Patrick’s.

Father Baker at his daily rounds at the OLV Infants Home. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

When Baker heard that young, unwed girls were tossing their babies into the Buffalo River in order to save them from a life of poverty, he was horrified. For the mothers as well as the babies! He opened an Infant Home, which was to become a sanctuary for unwed mothers and their babies. Everyone was welcomed, no questions asked.

Baker spent what some considered too much money drilling on the land for natural gas. It took longer than normal, but they found it, and it was enough to heat all the buildings on the site, and roughly 50 homes that were close by. It is still being used today.

The Association continued to grow through it all. And so did the parish. The congregation outgrew the current church, St. Patrick’s, but everytime Father Baker thought he could begin, another emergency would come up and delay his plans.

Finally…

In 1916 St. Patrick’s Church suffered a fire and there was extensive damage. Many suggested rebuilding immediately. Father Baker ordered repairs done but didn’t initiate a new church. He waited until he thought the time was right.

The Great Dome. Photo courtesy of the OLV website.

Finally, in 1921, at a regularly scheduled church meeting, he announced to stunned church members his intentions to build a new church. He outlined his plan to build a large shrine to his patroness, Our Lady of Victory. He promised to complete the church with no debt, and he kept his word.

Our Lady of Victory is Built

Father Baker engaged a renowned architect, Emile Uhlrich for the design, and a local contractor to do the work. He spelled out plans to use only the finest materials and craftsmen to build a church fitting of his patroness. He hired only the most talented artists in the world to complete the work. Professor Gonippo Raggi, from Italy, and Marion Rzeznik (a Polish born Buffalonian) created the beautiful oil paintings throughout the church, depicting Mary’s life. Otto Andrle, a well known Buffalo artist, created the incredible stained glass throughout the church.

OLV as it was when built. The twin towers were shortened when a lightening storm damaged them in 1941. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

The Best of Materials

Forty-six different marbles were used. The pews are made of very rare African Mohogany. The artwork is exquisite. The stations of the cross were carved by the Italian artist Pepini, and it took him fourteen years to complete the project. The great dome depicting both the Assumption and the Coronation of Mary was the second largest in the country when it was built. The first being the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. There are angels everywhere inside and outside the basilica. It is estimated that there are as many as 2,500! Wow! There are four swirled red marble columns surrounding the Our Lady of Victory statue on the main altar.

Baker spent approximately $3.5 million – but with no debt at completion. He enlisted the help of the Our Lady of Victory Association, which now numbered in the tens of thousands. He ‘sold’ marble blocks for $10 each.

Each and every contributor’s name is listed in a book that was placed under the statue of Our Lady of Victory on the main altar. No matter how much or how little they donated.

The finished church is nothing short of magnificent! Just months after completion, the church was named a Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XI. Father Baker’s greatest dream was realized, his gift to Mary had been made.

Incidentally, OLV was only the second church in the country to be named a basilica at the time. The first was St. Adalbert’s Basilica right here in Buffalo, in 1907. Cool, Buffalo!

For the Pope

Because this church is designated as a basilica, it always stands ready to receive the Pope. Up near the main altar, pictured below, are a tintinnabulum (left), and a canopeum (right). The tintinnabulum is a bell mounted on a pole with a gold frame. It is to be used in any processions the Pope may take part in. And the canopeum serves to symbolically protect the Pope and remains halfway open awaiting the Pope’s arrival. Interesting!

The End of an Era

Father Nelson Baker passed away on July 26, 1936. His Cause for Canonization was approved in 1987. His body was moved from Holy Cross Cemetery and placed in a tomb inside the basilica, at the Grotto Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in 1998. By all accounts, Father Nelson Baker was a humble, quiet man who did great things in a humble, quiet way. The faithful of Lackawanna await his approval for canonization.

Our Lady of Victory Basilica is a thriving parish today, and the Association of Our Lady of Victory lives on in the Spiritual Association of Our Lady of Victory, one of OLV’s Charities, serving children and families in need.

My Impressions

To call Our Lady of Victory Basilica impressive is an understatement. It couldn’t be more impressive! I only wish the lights had been fully on in the church when I was there so that my photos could give you a true feel of the place.

Most Buffalonians at least have heard of Father Baker. How many children back in the day were coerced into behaving with the threat of being dropped off “at Father Baker’s”? A lot I would guess. I know my brothers were. But it was good to get to know this whole story. Sometimes these ‘legends’ become so big in our minds that we forget they were people. People who lived, loved and accomplished great things. And in this case, Father Baker did it humbly, and without fanfare. At least not during his lifetime.

The Millions Spent on Our Lady Of Victory

Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna stands as a testament to Father Baker’s faith in God, and his devotion to the Blessed Mother. And while it may be difficult for us to understand the expenditure of millions of dollars on a building when there are poor people who are in need of the basics, (this is something that I struggle with), it was pointed out to me this week, that it’s easy to think that way today. We already have so many treasured buildings of worship.

And back in the day, people equated sacrificing in order to give, as having true faith in God. And building great churches was seen as a magnificent sacrifice, or offering, if you will, to God. Back then, they felt it would please God to create something so grand in honor of him. If this is the case, then Father Nelson Baker certainly pleased his God, and his patroness, Our Lady of Victory, because this church is unparalleled in Buffalo, and I daresay the country.

I’ve seen OLV a thousand times, but every time I approach, it takes my breath away. It’s awe inspiring. I actually find it difficult to choose the right words to describe it. It’s one of those places that you have to see for yourself. Photos don’t do it justice. Especially mine. Either way, if you haven’t at least seen this church from the outside, make it a point to get over there and check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

I wish you good health, happiness and peace this holiday season and in the coming year!

City Living – The Medical Corridor

City Living – The Medical Corridor

Several months ago, a family member was in Buffalo General Hospital over on High Street in the Medical Campus. For about the one hundredth time, I admired Kevin Guest House as I drove by. But this time I noticed all the other homes around it. I thought, what the heck? How have they survived? I mean, in this little corner of Buffalo, smack dab in the middle of the medical corridor, there are not a lot of homes left. It’s all hospitals, medical labs, the medical school, parking lots and more like it. Buffalo General Hospital, Oishei Children’s Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute are all within view of these homes.

This little block intrigues me. Several houses still stand in the middle of all of this development. It’s time I learned a bit more about them. Come hike with me.

Let’s Get Started with Kevin Guest House

Through the years I’ve wondered about the origins of this house. Who built it? Who’s lived here? What were they like? You know, my usual thoughts as I hike around the city looking at different homes and buildings. So I bought a book about it through the Kevin Guest House website. Very interesting and easy read.

Kevin Guest House

The home was built in 1869 for Jacob B. Fisher, who was a brewer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my reading about Buffalo, it’s that back in the day brewers did very well here. And I think they are again. Just sayin’.

The Speyser Family

In 1904, the home was purchased by Theophil Speyser, a cabinetmaker, for himself and his family. Speyser and his wife, Ernestine, had three children, Louis, Clara and Mathilda, who all lived in the home. Theophil opened a coffin and furniture making company and also purchased a coffin factory. He incorporated in 1906 under the name Buffalo Trunk Manufacturing. The factory building at 127-130 Cherry Street (now Evergreen Lofts) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Cool.

Mathilda married Louis Beer and the home stayed in the Speyser/Beer family until 1971. Interior photos of the home are available at the Kevin Guest House website.

Who Was Kevin?

Kevin Garvey was born in 1958 in Sharon, PA, to Cyril and Claudia Garvey. Kevin was one of eight children, and his family gave him the nickname Heart. Just after his sixth grade year, in July 1970, Kevin arrived at Roswell Park for treatment of Leukemia. Kevin was, by all accounts (in the book), an example and model to everyone who knew him. He never lost his faith in God throughout the 18 months he lived with the disease.

Kevin Garvey. Photo courtesy of Kevin Guest House website

On January 14, 1972, Kevin passed away.

His family soon after founded the Kevin Guest House, a hospitality house for patients and their families who have to travel long distances for medical treatment in one of Buffalo’s hospitals and treatment centers. Through the years, it has grown to a campus of four houses. The family remains somewhat involved in Kevin Guest House today.

A Source of Inspiration

In my humble opinion, Kevin’s family were (and still are) models and examples to everyone as well. The good work they have done across the country and right here in Buffalo is a testament to the love they have for their son and brother.

Incidentally, Kevin Guest House was the inspiration for the first Ronald McDonald House, which was in Philadelphia, and has served as a model for many others across the country as well. Another Buffalo first – by guests of ours back in 1972. Amazing people if you ask me. To take a loss so great, and turn it into something that has helped countless people through the years. Simply incredible.

This home, part of the campus is for bone marrow transplant patients and their families. The carriage house behind it has apartments above also to be used by patients and their families.

766 Ellicott Street

This home too, is part of the Kevin Guest House campus. It is called the Russel J. Salvatore Hospitality House on Kevin Campus. Schroeder, Joseph & Associates sold the property to Kevin Guest House in order that they may expand their services to more families in need.

As of 2016, Kevin Guest House was serving roughly 1200 families every year, but 400 more were being turned away. This home is already going a long way toward helping these families. To date, in 2020, 2,000 families have been sheltered during their time of need.

Being a history nerd, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the history of this home. This beautiful Second Empire home was built for Albert Ziegler, who was also a brewer.

Zeigler’s story is well known in Buffalo brewing circles. When his brewery on Genesee Street burned to the ground, it was resurrected on Washington Street as the Phoenix Brewery. Ziegler named it for the Egyptian mythological figure that rose from the ashes. That second building has now been redeveloped by Sinatra & Company as residential units.

The home was eventually owned by August Feine, who was a talented craftsman working with iron. He embellished the home in several places with his hand forged ironwork. This home is magnificent!

Moving Right Along

As I move down the block and turn onto High Street I see this building.

I wonder what’s going on inside, looks like construction. So I called Ciminelli Real Estate and spoke to Denise Juron-Borgese, Vice-President of Development & Planning, who tells me that the building was aquired by Ciminelli during their work on the Conventus Building across the street and adjacent to Oishei Children’s Hospital. It was used as a sort of headquarters during construction.

Ciminelli has no immediate plans for 33 High Street at this time. I’m no expert, but I would guess there’s a lot of potential here.

Denise and I also had a very interesting discussion about the Conventus Building. Look for a post about it in the new year. Thank you, Denise.

The Homes Along Washington Street

As I turn left on Washington Street, I see the UB Jacobs School of Medicine on the right. But what I’m interested in are the homes on the left. They appear to be from the 1850’s and are beautiful to my eye, with lots of little details that you wouldn’t necessarily notice if you were just driving by. And they’ve got quite a bit of wrought iron, which makes me wonder if August Feine did some iron work for his neighbors back in the day. This is not your run of the mill ironwork. Some of it is exquisite.

The homes are owned by the Medical Campus (927-937 Washington Street LLC). Word on the street has it that there are asbestos issues that will need to be taken care of, but when I was there the other day, new roofs were being put on all of them, so that’s a good sign. Nice to know we won’t be losing them.

The St. Jude Center

As I continue east on Carlton Street, I come upon the St. Jude Center.

I have never heard of it. I have, however, passed it many times though, on the northwest corner of Carlton and Ellicott Streets.

So, here’s what I’ve learned since then.

The St. Jude Center was started by Msgr. Edward J. Ulaszeski in 1969, in response to the need for better pastoral care for people experiencing the pain and suffering of illnesses, by either themselves or a family member. It is easy to see why the center is located where it is, in the heart of Buffalo’s medical campus.

The director now, Fr. Richard Augustyn, tells me that when he came here to work as a chaplain at Buffalo General Hospital, in 1975, the neighborhood was so rough that they had police escorts for emergency visits to the hospital. One block away! He also tells me that the neighborhood has done a one-eighty. It’s now very safe. Patrolled regularly by police. I know I feel safe when I’m in the area.

The Center serves the community in several ways. Fr. Richard is a full time chaplain at Buff Gen. The center offers mass twice a day on weekdays, twice a day on the weekends. And mass every day at Buff Gen too. This is in addition to the regular chaplain duties of offering emotional and spiritual support to patients and their families in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

There are several programs offered in the St. Jude Center as well, including bereavement programs, prosthetic support, and wellness support. They also train all chaplains who work at the hospitals in the medical corridor.

The Home Itself

The home is an old Victorian era house with a carriage house behind. The City of Buffalo lists the house as being built in 1890, but Fr. Richard tells me it was built in 1856 for the Hock family, who lived in the home while running the Victoria Hotel Bed & Breakfast out of it. Interesting story.

The home sat abandoned for quite some time and was pretty rough when Msgr. Ulaszeski bought it in 1969 for the St. Jude Center. A lot of the interior details are still there, although most of the woodwork has been painted. Fr. Richard graciously invited me into his home for some photos.

Check out these chandeliers, which were there when Msgr. Ulaszeski purchased the home, although I’m pretty sure they don’t date to 1856. They are different from any other lighting fixtures I have ever seen! Note that the home is decorated for Christmas, so the ornaments are not normally on the one fixture.

And the living room. This archway and pocket doors are the only woodwork that is not currently painted. And this chandelier (below) was added by Fr. Richard. There are five marble fireplaces intact in the home.

The Carriage House

The day I went to see Fr. Richard was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, so I attended mass at the Shrine to St. Jude which is in the old carriage house, and we met immediately following the mass.

Now, I’ve been to mass in more churches and chapels than I can count, and literally all over the world. I wouldn’t say that I’ve traveled extensively, but I have traveled. And when I travel, I still attend mass. So I’ve been in some really different churches. Like the church in Puerto Rico that didn’t have any windows, just hurricane shutters which are almost always thrown open.

But I have to say that this chapel is different from anything I’ve ever seen. I first walked through the brand new, modern vestibule, which, I admit seems out of place here. But immediately, I saw these doors, and forgot all about that. Note the carriage kicks at the bottom on either side of the door frame. These would prevent carriages from losing wheels if they bumped the door frames. I love it that they’re still there.

And one from the inside.

That Feeling…

When I walked into the chapel I immediately felt an overwhelming feeling of peace. If you read my blog, it was akin to the feeling I get at Corpus Christi Church. There were more people there than I expected (don’t worry they’re following all the Covid rules), one of them said hello to me from her pew and another smiled at me through her mask. I felt comfortable immediately. I don’t know if it’s the lighting in there, or the immediate acceptance of the people when I walked in, but I got a good feeling in this chapel.

Take a look. Note the openings in the upper wall, covered now with wrought iron, this was the hay loft. The brick work on the walls here has been repaired over and over. But it’s beautiful. Through the wrought iron doors is where the Sanctuary Lamp and the Tabernacle are kept. It is where the horses were stabled. I absolutely love the humbleness of this chapel. It’s very real.

More Wrought Iron!

And the wrought iron. It’s everywhere on this property. It is so beautiful and so appropriate here. It just works.

A Quick Story

While I perused the St. Jude Center website I noticed they have a Hungarian mass on Sundays. When I asked Fr. Richard about it, he told me a little story.

A woman he knows through his work at Buffalo General seemed a little down in the dumps, and when Fr. Richard asked her about it, she told him that her home parish church was closing. She is a first generation Hungarian immigrant, and would miss her Hungarian language mass every Sunday. Fr. Richard told the woman to invite her priest in to St. Jude’s on Sunday for mass. As he says, he “squeezed them in” between the 8:45am and the 11:15am masses. And so, the 10am Hungarian mass was born at St. Jude’s.

When, sadly, the Hungarian speaking priest passed away, Fr. Richard learned to say the mass in Hungarian so the congregation could continue with their Hungarian masses. When I expressed amazement that he would do this, Fr. Richard downplayed it. He explained that he doesn’t say his homilies in Hungarian, and that he cannot speak Hungarian. He merely learned to say the mass in that language. Still. It was an awesome thing for him to do.

I have a feeling a lot of things like this Hungarian Mass story goes on here at St. Jude’s.

My Impressions

First of all, I don’t think I have ever seen so much incredible wrought iron within one city block! So beautiful! I still wonder about the August Feine thing. Whether he did wrought iron for his neighbors…I guess we’ll never know.

The homes are gorgeous and historic. Wish I could have seen this block a hundred years ago, when there were more homes just like these. And wish I could meet the people who lived in them. To hear their stories.

But I remain grateful that these few still stand, for a glimpse of the past in our midst.

Seen on the back the the St. Jude Center sign. It’s a framed icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Sweet! You’re not going to notice that when you’re driving!

Secondly, I want to convey to you how blown away I was by both the Kevin Guest House story, and the story of the St. Jude Center. Here are two awe-inspiring entities, sitting quietly in an unlikely, but very fitting, setting. As the medical corridor grows up around them, they remain. Continuing their quiet, but oh so important work. Forever tied to the medical community, and the people they both serve.

Humble is the word that comes to mind. And when people are humble, they often achieve great things for their fellow human beings. This is happening here in Buffalo, on this little block in the middle of the Medical Corridor.

Next time you’re in the area, take a closer look.

And if you can, and you’re looking for a way to give back, or pay it forward this holiday season, I bet they’d both appreciate a donation. 😉

Gratitude

*Special thanks to Fr. Richard Augustyn, The St. Jude Center; Denise Juron-Borgese, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.; and Betsy Stone, Kevin Guest House.

p.s. Somebody at the St. Jude Center is a Bill’s fan! Go Bills!

How to Celebrate the Holidays in Buffalo, 2020

How to Celebrate the Holidays in Buffalo, 2020

A year ago, I wrote a post about Holiday Traditions. Here I am a year later writing about how to celebrate the holidays in 2020. What a difference a year makes. 2020 has been challenging to say the least. It’s been downright awful for some people, and that can make the looming holidays seem like they’re going to be another challenge to ‘get through’ this year. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can face another ‘zoom’ holiday.

So, in preparation for today’s post I went back and re-read last year’s post. Some of my ideas back then still apply in this pandemic year of social distancing. Some, obviously, do not. Take, for instance, the idea to invite friends over for weeknight parties. Who would have thought that something as simple as that would be considered taboo just one year later? Are people still doing it? Sure they are. Should they? Hmmmmm….not so much.

And just one year ago, I encouraged everyone to invite family and friends over to cook and/or bake together. This year, I’ve got other ideas about that. And inviting a casual friend that might otherwise be alone for the holidays? Not a good idea.

So what is there to do? Lots. There are a lot of great ideas for ‘social distance’ celebrating with just the people in your “bubble”, or your close circle. Some are my ideas, some I’ve heard about from other people. Some of these ideas are Buffalo specific, but most you can do from anywhere. Let’s take a look.

The Holiday Baking/Cooking Thing

The other day on social media, I saw a post by an acquaintance of mine saying that she had made 242 perogies, and that the first 16 people to comment would get a bag of perogies delivered to their door the next day, with the stipulation that they would then pay it forward. The timing was right, so sure enough, the next day, she showed up at my house, with a bag of perogies, and the request to ‘pay it forward’. Which I will do.

That got me thinking about this holiday season, and how we cannot get together with family and friends to cook and/or bake this year. But why does that have to stop us? I mean, would it be more fun to do it with loved ones? Yes, of course. But, my plan is to bake alone this year, but for other people. I’m going to put on some Christmas music, fire up the oven, and go to town, baking some of my Mother’s best cookie recipes. Mom’s cookies are legendary in my family. Recently one of my sons was asked what his favorite holiday cookie is. His answer? “Anything baked by Grandma Mika.” Good answer.

Mom poses with her “Rocks” cookies. Filled with fall spices, raisins and walnuts, (spoiler alert) they do not taste like rocks.

Mom baked with recipes, but she also made up her own. I remember her showing up at my house one day saying she had an idea for a new cookie and had brought some over for us to test taste. When I tried the cookie, it practically melted in my mouth. She had a gift, my mother.

Paying It Forward

And now, I’m sad to say I have my Mother’s handwritten recipe book. When considering what to do to ‘pay it forward’ for the perogies I received, I will be consulting the book. I don’t share my mother’s gift for baking, but using her recipes gives me the best possible chance to show love to the people I pay it forward to.

Here’s my idea for you. You don’t need to receive perogies from someone to be able to pay it forward. We all have something to be thankful for. No matter how insignificant it may seem. Without all the parties, gift exchanges and running around shopping for extended family and friends, we have time this year to do stuff like this. Do it alone, or with the few people in your “bubble”. Whatever works.

And, it doesn’t necessarily have to be homemade baked goods, or enough for 16 people! Could be two people. Could be bakery bought cookies. Make a pot roast or a spaghetti dinner for a neighbor. Or bake a cake. Or anything your heart desires. Pay it forward your way! You decide.

Come to think of it. This doesn’t have to be a cooking/baking thing. If you knit or crochet, and can make scarves or hats, do that! Deliver them to the city mission. Contact your church, synagogue or mosque and ask if they know a family in need, (they usually do) and send them some anonymous gift certificates, or gently used clothing. Whatever you can do. Just pay it forward.

Thank you Ann, for the perogies, and for the inspiration.

Doing something like this, that takes a little planning and effort on your part, will get you into the holiday spirit!

Send Out Cards This Year

Since we have so much time at home during Covid, why not send out holiday cards this year? No matter what you’re celebrating: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice…wouldn’t it be a great idea to spread some cheer?

Sending out cards for the holidays has fallen out of fashion. I myself sent out cards much longer than a lot of my friends and family. But even I stopped quite a few years ago. What better year to pick it back up again? At a time when we cannot easily go see friends and family, to me it makes sense to spread some holiday cheer by sending greeting cards.

I know the postal service sometimes gets a bad rap, but look at it this way, what other delivery service will pick up right from your home, and send an envelope clear across the country for you, for 55 cents? It might not be what we used to pay, but it’s still a good deal. And it’s a small price to pay to make someone happy.

Also, be thoughtful about it. Along with your family, be sure to send cards to people you think might be surprised to receive one from you. Or someone you know who has lost a loved one this year. Or someone who lives alone, or is lonely (not necessarily the same person). If you have the time, personalize it by writing a note inside.

You get what I mean here. Send out some holiday cheer in the form of greeting cards. It’ll get you in the holiday spirit. And you might just make someone’s day!

Get Outside

This is one that still applies from last year. If you can, get outside into the fresh (cold!) air. Take a walk, or an urban hike. If you have kids, take them with you! Bundle up, of course, and stay out only as long as it’s safe. But do it. And do it often. You’ll feel better, less stressed, and you’ll sleep better at night.

Where to go? Just about anywhere you want. Not sure? Here are a few suggestions.

Right in Your Own Neighborhood

Walk out your front door, make a left (or a right) at the sidewalk and follow it all the way around the block until you’re back to your house. Sounds crazy, but it could be that simple! The point is, that it doesn’t have to be complicated. I have several different walks in my neighborhood that I take regularly. Which one I take depends on how much time I have, which way the wind is blowing (some routes are more windy than others) and how much snow is on the ground!

Aoife on one of our walks, 2019

Be sure to head out occasionally in the early evening when everyone’s lights are on. People have really gone all out this year with their displays. It’ll lift your spirits to see what some people have done! You’ll be amazed!

Or Someone Else’s Neighborhood

Do like I sometimes do. Drive to a neighborhood that interests you, and take an urban hike. Pick one of Olmsted’s parkways, Lincoln, Chapin, Bidwell, Richmond or Porter. Or check out the Parkside neighborhood. The Darwin Martin House is not the only impressive home in that area. There are lots more! Check out Tillinghast Place (one of my favorites!).

Or explore any street in the Elmwood Village too! While you’re there, do some holiday shopping at one of our locally owned shops. Or try one of the residential parks over in Allentown and beyond. Arlington Park, Days Park or Johnson Park.

The point is to get out and do a little urban exploration. You’ll fall in love with our city!

The Waterfront

Or for a change of scenery, head over to the waterfront. I do this all the time. Park near the Swannie House and walk past the Edward M. Cotter, and make your way along the Buffalo River all the way to the lookout at the Erie Basin Marina. Climb the lookout – the views are gorgeous – even in the winter! Head back and get some wings to-go at Swannie House. Yum! (Support our local businesses!) Or if you prefer, head home for some hot cocoa and cookies. Either will hit the spot after a winter walk. During the holidays though, plan for the after party, especially if you’ve got kids. It’ll extend the adventure and make it more memorable.

I’ve heard that some places in Buffalo are selling Tom & Jerry drinks to-go this year. Another thing to be thankful for!

Hit A Park During the Holidays

Live near a park? Even if you don’t, head out to one of Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks, and walk. Park behind the Art Gallery at Delaware Park for instance, and walk around Hoyt Lake. You won’t get lost. There’s a paved path for some of it and a well trodden path for some of it, but if you keep the lake in view, you can’t get lost. This is one of my go to walks during summer and winter alike. It’s so beautiful and peaceful there. And you’ll see plenty of other folks out too! Don’t forget the after party!

A couple of years ago, my sister and I headed over to Delaware Park the morning after getting about 14 inches of snow overnight. It was early, it hadn’t yet been plowed and was it ever gorgeous! The sun wasn’t even shining, but the snow! It looked so beautiful, and peaceful! If you can time one of these walks just after a snowfall, or during a calm snowfall, the whole world will feel different. Quieter, more insulated…peaceful. Try it, you’ll see what I mean.

Plan Ahead for Your Holiday Walks

Plan ahead for a few walks during the holidays, and get creative with the after parties. Get the crock pot going before you go out, and come home to the wonderful smells and tastes that await! Got kids? Finish off the day with one of your family’s favorite board games! Make the game an event! Talk it up to the kids, and they’ll get excited!

Get Creative this Holiday Season

Go Christmas caroling. Seriously. Get the people in your “bubble” to do it with you. You don’t have to get very close to the homes you visit. Get creative by traveling to people’s homes that you know could use a pick me up! Maybe they’ve lost a loved one this year, or have been sick. Maybe you happen to know they’re feeling lonely. Super easy to do, and you could bring some of those cookies to drop off while you’re there! Again, you might just make someone’s day!

Watch some Christmas movies! Now, this sounds like something that we’ve always done to get in the spirit. But this year, make it an event. Cook a special meal to eat while watching. Maybe homemade pizzas with everyone helping and using their favorite toppings. Or make cookies to eat, and cocoa to drink during the movie. Watch the classics, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas and Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus. And ‘new’ classics too! Elf, Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, This Christmas and A Christmas Story. Or whatever your favorites are! Your choice!

Check this Out!

I know a family who, during quarantine last spring, started their own family Olympics! They got really creative and made up silly events and competed with each other! I believe there were upwards of 30 events in all! They did it over several weeks. I, along with many others, followed their progress on social media, including closing ceremonies etc. It was fun to watch, and must have been a blast for them!

The video below is from the Telesco Family Quarantine Olympics – The following quote is the intro to this particular event from facebook.

“Event #2 – Whipped Cream Flip Challenge. The rules: Spray whipped cream on your hand. Flip it up and catch it in your mouth. Top two move on to finals. In the finals, you must flip it up, do a 360 and then catch it. After 4 attempts, if there is a tie, it goes to sudden death in a regular (non-spinning) flip.” I love it.

See how much fun we all could be having with this?! Haha! Now, you don’t have to video your own Olympics and share to social media. But why not plan your own? I thought this was a really creative way to break up the monotony of quarantine. Add a holiday theme, and you might just have fun with it!

Wrap it Up!

Now, I could continue with ideas like getting all of your neighbors to go out on their front steps at 6pm on Christmas Eve to ring bells together to celebrate separately-together this year. Or having a family board game night tournament style (this is not just for kids – keep it to your “bubble” though) with prizes for the winners etc. But I think you get the idea!

Any one of these would surely get you into the holiday spirit.

My Impressions

Sometimes, getting creative can mean stepping back and relaxing a bit. Staying away from the hustle and bustle of the season. Keeping it simple.

The other day I saw someone on TV make an old fashioned paper chain to decorate for Christmas. Always looking for things to do with my grandkids, the next time one of them was over, I pulled out the construction paper, some scissors, and a glue stick. My granddaughter Aoife, my daughter-in-law Kristen and I cut and glued for an hour. Okay, Kristen did almost all of it (thank you!). But Aoife is only three.

But even at three, we were able to convey to her that we were doing something important to get ready for Christmas! When our tree goes up mid-month, as is our tradition, that chain will go on it. And I’ll make it a big deal that Aoife made it, and that it makes our tree perfect this year. I can picture her now, bursting with pride!

That’s what it’s all about if you have kids. YOU have the power to make or break this holiday season for them. Kids will pick up on whatever attitude you project. You will too. If you keep positive with the simple things, this year could turn out to make some of the best holiday memories ever!

It’s The Simple Things

Take some walks in some of Buffalo’s parks. Give to others in a simple way. Have family fun nights. Send greeting cards. Drive around to see the Christmas lights (Buffalo has really gone above and beyond this year!). You get the idea, and most of you are more creative than I am, so have fun with it!

Focus on the positive, even if you have to keep re-focusing on it (I know sometimes I do!). We are all human, and need interaction with others. Perhaps in Buffalo, we have a little more of this than in other cities, in keeping with our ‘Friendliest City in America’ status. But we are creative and can figure out ways to be social while maintaining social distance and staying safe through these unprecedented times. We got this, Buffalo.

Do us all a favor and share your creative holiday ideas in the comments below!

*Special thanks to the Telesco family for allowing me to share that super fun video!

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