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Long Story Short: a scary scow, a stylish list, and ice cream


It was a dark and stormy night

This Halloween, the gales of November came early. Trick or treating was hampered by intermittent torrential downpours—upwards of two inches overall for the wettest Halloween on record—but soaked children persisted, until about 7:30, when the 65 mph gusts began. At that point, kids scurried home and homeowners hastily gathered in their most vulnerable decorations. This was a night when lawn ghosts could actually fly.


It really blows
The powerful storm raged through Western New York, taking down trees and power lines, leaving thousands without power. Flooding occurred near area shores and under city viaducts; one woman had to be rescued from the roof of her car via an inflatable rubber raft. About sixty homes in Hoover Beach, Hamburg were badly damaged by floodwater.


More than a hundred trees blew down in the city alone, hitting numerous parked vehicles and about fifty houses—in one case causing a home to be condemned. In Tonawanda, a trampoline became airborne, flying over a fence, across the street, and landing upright in a neighbor’s front lawn five doors down.


Buffalo’s north breakwall and Bird Island Pier sustained major damage. The city is asking for federal emergency assistance to restore the vital barriers.


A moving legend

Perhaps strangest of all, an iron scow that has been grounded 838 yards from the brink of the Canadian Falls for the past 101 years became dislodged and turned on its side, spinning around and sticking again about 164 feet closer to the falls. How many storms have occurred in the century since it first ran aground in the river? Why was this storm the one to break it free? The scow is gradually rusting and experts say it will eventually collapse and be dragged over the falls. It may be that this Halloween shift was the start of that process.


Fun fact

Since 1897, it has snowed on Halloween more than ten percent of the time, but, aside from the wind and rain, at least this one had moderate temperatures, near 60 degrees.


Back story: how the scow got there

One of the greatest rescues in Niagara Falls history occurred 101 years ago. An eighty-by-thirty-feet iron scow schooner was dredging sand from the banks of the Niagara River, while being towed by the tugboat Hassayampa, operated by Captain John Wallace. Niagara Falls Power Company employees, Gustave Lofberg—a Swedish immigrant—and Frank Harris—local father of five—were aboard. Wallace was hauling the powerless boat to shore when the tug became grounded about a half-mile from the falls. The steel towline tethering the scow snapped "like a thin string," and the steel barge rapidly headed downriver toward the Horseshoe Falls. The scene was pure chaos, as tugs—their horns blasting continuously—tried and failed to rescue the scow and citizens lined the riverbanks to watch. Lofberg and Harris believed they were goners.


A stroke of luck

The scow became lodged on a rock shoal 838 yards from the falls, and Lofberg and Harris threw a one-ton concrete anchor into the river to further secure the boat. The men worked for hours readying the boat for an anticipated rescue attempt, and improvised a makeshift winch, hoping that a rope from shore could somehow reach them and be reeled in.


The witnessing crowd grew larger, filling neighboring buildings from which the harrowing scene could be viewed. From atop the roof of the Toronto Power House, the Niagara Falls Ontario Fire Department tried using a grappling gun to shoot a line to the barge, but it kept falling short. The Youngstown US Coast Guard made a mad dash to Niagara with a larger gun and longer ropes. Their first shot was successful, and the stranded men attached the light rope to their improvised winch and began pulling it in, while at the other end a larger rope was being attached. A hundred more men pulled the heavier rope taut from the rooftop, keeping it out of the river to prevent it, and the scow, from being dragged downstream. The summer sun was stifling, and the huge power house generators added to the unbearably hot conditions.


Darkness sets in

Day turned to night, and a first attempt to send a breeches buoy to the men failed when it became tangled. Search lights were set up, to let the men know they had not been abandoned. Later, cardboard letters were attached to make improvised instruction signs, reading "PULL IN ON THE SMALL LINE," "HOLD FAST," and "REST."


Famous Falls daredevil riverman, William “Red” Hill Sr., climbed hand-over-hand along the rope as the rapids tugged at him from below. He attempted to untangle the breeches buoy, which was then withdrawn, but it still wouldn’t work. At midnight, rescue efforts were suspended for the night. At dawn, a second line was sent out, and Hill climbed out again. From 130 feet away, he instructed Lofberg and Harris to untangle a smaller rope from the larger one. Hill made his way back to the power house roof and the rescue commenced. Harris came first, and was reeled in painfully slowly, being submerged several times in the rapids along the way. When Lofberg went, he managed to avoid the same dunking.


The recued men were tired, but neither were injured. Both were back on the job the next day. William "Red" Hill Sr. was awarded a Carnegie Life Saving Medal. He is still celebrated as a hero today.



Another Buffalo list

There was a time when Buffalo was rarely mentioned in a positive light anywhere but in Buffalo, and even then, it was rare. But lately we find ourselves in heavy rotation among national publications, as the latest hot new underrecognized tourist city. The most recent attention comes from Architectural Digest magazine, with an article titled What Design Lovers Will Be Surprised to Find in Buffalo, New York.


As is almost always the case with these stories, it starts with a recounting of the city’s glory days. The Olmsted park system, the strategic ports, manufacturing, shipping, the usual condensed rustbelt chronicle. Then it gets down to business: what exactly will design lovers find surprising about Buffalo? Most will not be a revelation to locals, but a couple seem odd for their inclusion and specificity.


The obvious

•Martin House and Graycliff
•Silo City
•Hotel Henry
•Elmwood Village

Great architectural design, reused industrial relics, and a village that’s still known for charming Victorian buildings and houses, despite the recent addition of some decidedly unsurprising and oversized new development. Anyway, the article is all about the shopping. 


But then there’s …

•Albright-Knox Northland

This one is interesting, because it doesn’t exist yet. The new Northland campus on Buffalo’s East Side will open in January, housing art installations from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. But it’s doubtful that anyone will find the design of this industrial space at 612 Northland surprising. It’s what happens inside that will likely excite and, yes, surprise.


Two oddballs

The final items on the magazine’s list are especially odd, because out of the hundreds of restaurants in Buffalo, the author selects two—seemingly at random—to label as surprising to lovers of design. Presumably, people who are indifferent to design will find these restaurants unsurprising. But will design lovers be surprised because the food is good or because the restaurants are well designed? It turns out it’s the eats that surprise, which, again, makes you wonder, why design lovers? Nevertheless, here they are:  

•Las Puertas

The article correctly asserts that a “bevy of new and exciting culinary venues” have sprung up in Buffalo, but gives much of the credit to Las Puertas, which has been open for three years. It fails to mention that many other great local venues have also been serving exciting food for as long or much longer: Oliver’s, Sun, Kuni’s, Dapper Goose, Black Sheep, and many more.

•Waxlight Bar a Vin
This one was not slated to open until three days after the article was published, but why not? This small, quirky, new restaurant on hot-as-hell Chandler Street sounds like a lot of fun. But again, why single out this eatery for design lovers? (Okay, the blue velvet couches, gas lamp fixtures, and tropical plants look interesting, but there’s plenty of other restaurants with noteworthy design in town.)


Better alternatives

Things that might actually surprise design lovers visiting for the first time, would include Buffalo’s City Hall, the Art Deco masterpiece influenced by the visionary drawings of Hugh Ferriss. Ferriss inspired the look of Batman’s Gotham City, and showed us what the metropolis of the future world look like (in early sci-fi movies anyway). Or how about Kleinhans Music Hall? Designed by the father-son team of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, it is based on the shape of a violin, combining modernist practice with Arts and Crafts elements. Design lovers might certainly be surprised to find one of Louis Sullivan’s greatest architectural achievements right here in Buffalo: the Guaranty Building.


You get the idea.


So why?
Why include a soon-to-be-launched temporary art museum and two restaurants—one barely opened—on a list of design lover’s surprises in Buffalo? Magazines need material to fill their pages, and readers love lists. Doesn’t much matter what you put in the lists apparently, as long as there’s an intriguing title and nice pictures. So, cobble together an assortment of unrelated attractions, and notify design lovers of their impending surprise when they visit Buffalo.


Works for me.



The ice cream dude cameth

Just before the winds of November walloped the region, while the days were still mild, James Karagiannis completed his summer-long quest to deliver ice cream treats to every street in Buffalo: residential, commercial, and industrial. He finally completed the self-appointed task last Tuesday, but it was a much bigger job than he first imagined.  Riding his custom-built ice cream tricycle, he peddled something over 700 miles to cover 1,708 city streets.


There were many challenges along the way. Going up hills for instance, was difficult, because the trike he rides weighs 400 pounds. He also battled potholes and streets absorbed by downtown parking lots. Dogs found him irresistible too, sometimes ferociously barking to announce his arrival.  When the price of his goods went up, he absorbed the increase to keep the cost at one dollar (and didn’t need to repaint the yellow $1 printed on his icebox).


Serving the underserved
Karagiannis started his business in 2007 and currently has a crew of seven trike-riding ice cream purveyors, who also sell prank toys and magic tricks. Eventually he began to focus on underserved neighborhoods, where he became known as Ice Cream Dude. In 2016, his story went viral, when he began giving the frozen treats for free to children who couldn’t afford the cost. He did, however, require them to answer a math or history question, or pick up some litter as “payment.” Other customers began to make donations of $5 and $10 to help the cause. Eventually this evolved into a “Pay It Forward” campaign, where donors funded the free ice cream and the requirement for recipients became to write thank-you notes, which were then sent to donors. Since 2016, a total of $36,000 in donations have come from places as far as Australia and the Virgin Islands. Now Karagiannis is done for the summer.


Sometime in 2020: the ice cream dude cometh again.



Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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