Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VI: A Day In Hamburger History – September 18, 1885 – Everything is the Same, Except, “You Are There!”

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(The sixth part in a series of seven)

“What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

– Walter Cronkite, at the conclusion of each episode of the CBS Series You Are There

On this day, September 18th, 1885, the last day of the Erie County Fair, Hiram P. Hopkins woke up to threatening skies. While the weather appeared ominous, he breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t see the clouds as presaging rain. Rather, he saw the southwesterly breeze as ushering in unusually warm temperatures. In exchange, he’d accept the oppressive humidity.

In the early morning, before the expected thousands of fairgoers arrived, Hiram strolled the grounds. Just a day earlier, the place was packed, the crowd so dense it was difficult to move. This morning the only people Hopkins could see were the many vendors prepping their booths for the final day. Popcorn, peanuts and candy sellers had a brisk business the day before. The same was true of those selling lemonade, pop, and sandwiches.

As he passed close to the grandstand, he noticed two young men fretting about. It was Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VI: A Day In Hamburger History – September 18, 1885 – Everything is the Same, Except, “You Are There!””

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part V: CSI: Hamburg(er), N.Y.

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(The fifth part in a series of seven)

“Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk..”

– Henry David Thoreau

And then there was one. Charles and Frank Menches were born in Canton, Ohio. Their father, Jacob Menches, an engineer in Prussia, immigrated to America and became a grocer in Canton. Their mother, Charlotte Hahn Menches, was originally from France. As young men, both boys were quite athletic. Charles as a well-regarded gymnast who travelled with a popular circus as a trapeze artist and high wire walker before he turned twenty.1 Frank, six years younger than Charles, was an award-winning bicycle racer.2,3

While the brothers’ lives contain several amazing stories, our focus here is on only one: Their role as (potentially) the first to sell a hamburg sandwich. How this story became known is itself a story. The brothers’ claim was widely known (the headline of Frank’s 1951 obituary reads “‘Inventor’ of Hamburger Dies.”4 The real story, however, lay hidden for half a century and was published decades after the brothers had passed away.Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part V: CSI: Hamburg(er), N.Y.”

Hamburger Helper – Solving the Greatest WhoDunIt? In Culinary History

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(The first part in a series of seven)

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger today.”

When J. Wellington Wimpy first voiced that phrase on December 28, 1934 in Fleischer Studios short “We Aim to Please,” Popeye’s 17th theatrical cartoon, [http://popeye.wikia.com/wiki/We_Aim_to_Please] the White Castle hamburger chain had already been around for 13 years. By the time E.C. Segar added the character of Wimpy to his King Features Syndicate cartoon Thimble Theatre in 1931, White Castle was well on its way to selling 50 million hamburgers. It would achieve that mark in 1941.

A year earlier, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald moved their father’s food stand from Route 66 in Monrovia, California to the streets of San Bernardino. They rechristened their Continue Reading “Hamburger Helper – Solving the Greatest WhoDunIt? In Culinary History”

Twins Never Part

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This is the second of four parts of an older brother’s eulogy to a beloved younger brother.

I was barely a year old when I first met Kenny. My parents brought this bundle home from the hospital. I saw a small foot poking through the blanket. Elated, I tugged the tiny toes. Still grasping the diminutive digits, I smiled broadly and looked up at my parents. “Goggie!” I said.

Yes, I had thought my parents got me a new puppy. Instead, I got something better – a baby brother. Had I been more eloquent then and as versed in classic cinema as I am today, I might have more aptly said, “Kenny, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

You may know him as “Ken,” “Kenny,” or even, as he signed every greeting card he ever signed beginning at age – I don’t know, 7? – Kenneth P. Carosa. To me, he’ll always be Continue Reading “Twins Never Part”

You’re Never Too Old to Learn

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duck-with-ducklings-1543709For some reason, I never felt part of my high school peers. Actually, I know the reason. I never fully accepted moving from the comfort of the community where I was born to this strange new place. Mind you, the non-acceptance didn’t start with me. It was quite mutual. But that’s another story.

This story is about psychology. I can’t remember what interested me in the subject, but it had to be something very early in my life. By ninth grade, I had psycho-analyzed the entire high school population, separating them into nine distinct demographic groups based on their psychological profile as determined by their observed behavior. I never showed it to anyone, but I’m pretty sure I Continue Reading “You’re Never Too Old to Learn”

Life is a (Small Town) Carnival

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Like any kid growing up in the snowbelt otherwise known as Blasdell, I looked forward to three things each summer. The beginning of summer would signal going to IMG_0016_Mendon_Carnival_Twilight_300Fantasy Island to celebrate a good report card, ride the steamboat and watch the live shootouts. The end of summer meant going to the Erie County Fair to see the vast array of other-worldly side shows on the Midway, the acrid smell of burnt oil and rubber at the demolition derby and the taste of my grandfather’s sumptuous pizza. Sandwiched in between, both chronologically and geographically was the Big Tree Fireman’s Carnival. I think it was actually called the Big Tree Firemen’s Annual Field Days. But for kids (and headline writers short on space) it was the Big Tree Carnival.

Here’s the real difference between Fantasy Island, the Erie County Fair and the Big Tree Continue Reading “Life is a (Small Town) Carnival”

The Magician Reveals His Real Trick

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One by one the hockey heroes skate up towards the camera from the far blue line, stop with a spray of ice just missing the lens, then announce their name and team. Finally, the last professional pumps his legs forward with the smooth motion of the others and stops in the same controlled fashion. But when he announces his name, I’m shocked to discover he’s no hockey player.

“Bill Shatner. Loblaws,” states the confident former Captain Kirk.

For those not familiar, Loblaws is a Canadian grocery chain. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s they had stores in Buffalo (primarily) and Rochester (maybe just one, but I lived next to it). It was an era before Wegmans went on supermarket steroids and totally dominated the market. Loblaws was Canada’s pride but eventually sold out to Bells Markets.

In 1975 Loblaws was a player – at least in my neighborhood – and no more so because Continue Reading “The Magician Reveals His Real Trick”

Back at the Old Pizza Stand

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In the opening scene of 1962’s The Music Man, Harold Hill, con man extraordinaire, unexpectedly bumps into his old friend and accomplice Marcellus Washburn. Marcellus has since married a “nice comfortable girl” and settled down in the idyllic Midwestern town of River City (“Gone legitimate, huh? I knew you’d come to no good,” laments Hill). When he asks Harold if he’s still pitching steam automobiles, Hill shakes his head “No” and says, “I’m back at the old stand” whereupon he pantomimes conducting a band.

I can’t say Hamburg had the stubbornness of River City, Iowa, (after all, Hamburg is the “Town that Friendship built”), but I can attest to an idyllic feeling growing up off South Park when it had only two lanes. And like the magical concluding scene of The Music Man, my brother and I (and maybe even my mother and father, too), couldn’t wait to Continue Reading “Back at the Old Pizza Stand”

Size Doesn’t Matter

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It may have been my father’s greatest embarrassment, but it was my greatest loss, a loss erased only by 25 years and a chance plumbing mishap.

How my family sees my long lost 1970 trophy.

It all started on a day which lives in “famy” (as opposed to“infamy”). No, I’m not exaggerating. It really was a famous day. On Saturday, March 7, 1970, I found myself bowling three games at Leisure Lanes in Hamburg, New York, among several dozen participants in the first Bowling Tournament my Cub Scout Pack ever had. The rest of the Northern Hemisphere spent the bulk of that sunny midday experiencing the greatest total eclipse of the sun our corner of the Earth will have until April 8, 2024.

I had won the Cub Scout Pack Bowling Tournament that day. My father, the Pack’s Cubmaster, bought a nice bowling trophy and a brass plate to etch the name of the winner. He didn’t expect Continue Reading “Size Doesn’t Matter”

What Popular Fast Food Item was Invented In Western New York?

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Here’s a quick question: What popular fast food was invented right here in Western New York? Think you know the answer? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not chicken wings. OK, smarty-pants, with apologies to Frank and Teresa, “chicken wings” Erie_County_Fair_Historical_Trolley_Head_On_300is a correct answer, but too obvious and not the correct answer. I’ll give you another hint – it was invented at the Erie County Fair in the mid-1880’s. If you know Western New York, then you may think you already know the answer. If you’re not sure, you’ll have to read on.

On Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of making my annual visit to “America’s Fair” – the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York. I can tell you stories about the Fair dating from my youthful days when I helped my grandparents hawk slices from the family’s pizza stand, but I’ll save that for later. Suffice it to say, all I ever needed to know in life I learned while working in my grandfather’s pizza Continue Reading “What Popular Fast Food Item was Invented In Western New York?”