It was 50 Years Ago Tonight I Decided to Become an Astronomer

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Ever since I can remember I loved science. All sorts of science. My mother was a substitute teacher. Before I went to kindergarten she would bring home books from her third grade class and teach me to read. My favorite book was the science text book. I particular enjoyed reading about dinosaurs. When you like dinosaurs, you tend to like fossils and rocks. When you like fossils and rocks, you tend to like volcanoes and earthquakes. When you like volcanoes and earthquakes, you tend to like hurricanes and tornadoes. When you like hurricanes and tornadoes you tend to like weather and atmospheric phenomenon. When you like weather and atmospheric phenomenon, you tend to like planets and stars.

Yep, I liked science. But of all the flavors of science, I liked astronomy the best. Growing up in Buffalo, I just happened to be in luck. In 1966, SUNY launched a pioneer program in what could only be described as one of the first distance learning experiments in the country. Called University of the Air, the pilot program contained only two courses with credite and was available only to the Buffalo and Albany campuses. The courses would be aired on the local PBS station. Now here’s the twist: one of those courses was an Continue Reading “It was 50 Years Ago Tonight I Decided to Become an Astronomer”

Why I Can No Longer Stand the Buffalo Bills

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After living above the Pizzeria on South Park Avenue in Blasdell, my grandparents moved to Lake Avenue in Orchard Park. It wasn’t more than three miles away, but they decided to go to a new parish, one closer to their new home. Our Lady of Sacred Heart sits on Abbott Road just north of the intersection with Lake Avenue, about a mile away from what would soon become Rich Stadium, home of Western New York’s National Football league team the Buffalo Bills.

At the time the Bills still played their games in downtown Buffalo on a field lovingly referred to as “The Rockpile,” (it was officially known as War Memorial Stadium). However, the team Continue Reading “Why I Can No Longer Stand the Buffalo Bills”

A Christmas Postcard

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classic-christmas-postcardThere’s something about this season that evokes bygone memories. These aren’t sepia toned memories – I’m not that old – they’re more like a mix of warm vibrant colors filmed with a soft lens. In other words, they bring forth feelings both nostalgic and pleasant. Think of a classic Christmas postcard, its snow covered landscape offering the perfect contrast to the brilliant but somehow muted colors surrounding a heartfelt home filled with love and the joy of expectation. This paints the picture of the memories I’m writing about.

Except my memories aren’t make believe. They are very real, although the distant years sometimes make me wonder if the soft lens distorts more than the crisp definitions we’ve become all too accustomed to in the digitized world in which we live. No matter. The price of a slight distortion here and there is well worth the comfort of the inner smile they bring.

Of course these memories, as they do for everyone and almost by definition, come from Continue Reading “A Christmas Postcard”

Wisconsin Wins This One

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If you’re so inclined to take a stroll through Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo and you happen to find yourself by Mirror Lake, look around at the tombstones. If you’re lucky (it ought to be easy to find, it’s the only one IMG_8669with the huge flagpole), you’ll find one that reads:

Sara M. Hinson
Dedicated Teacher
Who with Others
Gave Us Flag Day
1841 – 1926

On February 25, 1841, George Hinson’s wife gave birth to a baby girl. The parents named her Sara. Sara Hinson would go through the Buffalo School System before being sent to finishing school. Upon completion of her education, she began teaching at Buffalo PS 13 before being moved to School #4. In 1864, as the Civil War was ending, Hinson was 23 and she transferred to School #31, where she taught the fourth grade for thirty years before spending the next twenty as principal.

Hinson is credited with being one of the first to advocate the celebration of Flag Day. Although Continue Reading “Wisconsin Wins This One”

A Civil War Memorial

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America’s Civil War left nearly a million casualties and a national wound that would take generations to heal. Heal it did and the process began almost immediately. IMG_8721_Memorial_Day_Museum_300While a small hamlet in Greater Western New York was busy forgetting its recent past, another of our villages became the first to keep from forgetting. If we travel east of Town Line on Route 20, we pass through the heart of our region. Just past Geneva and before we reach Seneca Falls, we come to the not-so-small Village of Waterloo in Seneca County. Waterloo’s a big village, reaching into three towns – Waterloo, Seneca and Fayette.

When the Union veterans began returning to Waterloo, a forty-five year old druggist took note. He noted how the residents greeted all those who returned with honors and celebrations. What bothered him, though, were the ones that didn’t return. Who would honor their memories? Perhaps he was compelled by his own personal experience. He Continue Reading “A Civil War Memorial”

I’ll Have One for the Road and Two for the Sea

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And let me the canakin clink, clink,
And let me the canakin clink.
A soldier’s a man;
A life’s but a span;
Why, then, let a soldier drink.
– Othello

The reason James Fenimore Cooper strode into Hustler’s Tavern has disappeared into the hazy mists of history. By 1821, his life had been less than pristine. Kicked out of
IMG_3230_violin_cocktail_300
Yale after three years as a trouble-maker (he blew up a classmate’s door), the son of a (probably embarrassed) Congressman who founded the City of Cooperstown did what any other lost teenager trying to find himself did in the early eighteenth century – he joined the Merchant Marine.1

Perhaps he remembered his earlier, albeit brief, stay in the Niagara Frontier just before the War of 1812.2 Serving mostly overseas, he saw some of his best crewmates taken from their ships and forced to serve aboard British warships against Napoleonic France. Like the rest of America, he detested Continue Reading “I’ll Have One for the Road and Two for the Sea”

A Model of Christian Spirit

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Ever since John Winthrop’s famous “city upon a hill” sermon aboard the Arbella in 1630, it’s been tough to separate religion from the spirit of America’s founding. Indeed, IMG_2733_Spiritual_Out-of_Focus_300some say the evangelical movement of the mid-eighteenth century known as The First Great Awakening played a key role in America’s strive for independence.1 And don’t think the whole “separation of Church and State” thing in the Constitution came about because the Founding Fathers felt the First Great Awakening was a tad too much. I’ll remind you the whole purpose of the First Great Awakening was to rebel against the Church of England and to recognize broader religious freedom. This is the very philosophy embodied by our constitution.

Our focus in this chapter, though, isn’t the First Great Awakening, but the Second Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening began in 1790 and lasted for about 50 years. It featured traveling preachers leading revival camps where “hundreds and sometimes thousands of people would gather for miles around in wilderness encampment for four days to a week.”2 One such preacher was Charles Finney, who, from September 1830, through June 1831, led various revival campaigns3 in Rochester, Buffalo and “the intermediate towns between there.”4 And what facilitated this travel? Why, none other Continue Reading “A Model of Christian Spirit”

The Miracle of Limestone Hill

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To anyone born and raised in Lackawanna, the stern threat, “You better behave or I’ll send you to Father Baker’s” remains forever burned into one’s ears. It turns out, IMG_2524_OLV_Dome_300chances are that same phrase remains forever burned in the ears of a child raised by someone born in Lackawanna. Like mine.

I can definitely see my grandmother shouting this phrase at my uncles when they were kids. The effect was no doubt the same on them as it was on me when my mother tried using it. Actually, it probably wasn’t the same. By the time I was old enough to realize the truth behind “Father Baker’s,” it looked just like the school it was. The orphanage of my uncles’ youth had been torn down before I was born.

To me, though, Father Baker’s wasn’t the school, it was the church and the amazing story Continue Reading “The Miracle of Limestone Hill”

Seeds of a New Movement

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The Erie Canal made Buffalo. Joseph Dart made Buffalo memorable.

Through Joseph Ellicott and the establishment of Greater Western New York west of the Genesee River, we’ve seen the importance of the canal from before it was even drawn up. We’ve witnessed how its opening paved the way for the creation of America’s first tourist destination – Niagara Falls. We’ll discover in a few chapters how it allowed our region to become ground zero for Continue Reading “Seeds of a New Movement”

A Bridge Too Quiet

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I never understood the lure of trains. Don’t get me wrong. I love trains. I just can’t figure out why. I mean, I was born at the dawn of the Space Age, watched Star Trek when it was still on the air and followed NASA’s lunar program with diligent pride. Heck, I even majored in physics and astronomy, served on the Strasenburgh Planetarium’s 40th Anniversary Task Force and created an official astronomy outreach project (AstronomyTop100.com) that received the official endorsement of the United Nations during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.

Many were the times when I thought I was finally done with trains. But, like the mob to Continue Reading “A Bridge Too Quiet”