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MOST OF THE 'HERD' CONTINUES TO ROAM WNY

The Buffalo Yacht Club crawled way out on a bowsprit to hang onto "Directions of Buffalo," the fiberglass bison it sponsored during last summer's "Herd About Buffalo" public art project.

The winning offer: $5,600.

The narrow victory over a mystery bidder assured "Directions of Buffalo," a bronze-colored critter bisected by a vertical flagpole with a copper sail on top, will remain on clubhouse property at the foot of Porter Avenue. It was part of an extraordinary effort by individuals and organizations to make sure the popular "Herd" stayed home.

And stay the critters have -- with few exceptions.

"I'd say that out of the 154 bisons, 140 are going to remain in Western New York. Only a handful were shipped out," said Kim Venti, marketing and promotions director of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which shared auction proceeds with the Burchfield-Penney Art Center.

One bison was carted off to Georgia, where it will be displayed in a chicken wing restaurant owned by a former Buffalo resident. Three more were bought by a businessman who plans to display them in his New York City-area stores. Others are bound for Virginia, New Jersey and other distant pastures.

Only one left the country, but it is still within snorting distance -- at the duty-free store just over the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont.

The large majority are scattered throughout the region, though many have left their original locations and may or may not be displayed publicly by the new owners.

One that will definitely stay put is "Directions of Buffalo," designed by artist Michael Bosworth as a nautical weather-vane-on-the-hoof.

As "Herd About Buffalo's" popularity snowballed with every painted bison that left artists' studios, Yacht Club members fell in love with Bosworth's creation, which was hoisted on a 10-foot pole near the boat slips.

"It became a pet," said Katie Johnson-Hoffman, a club member and sailor who, with board member Claudette Ewing, led the campaign to keep "Directions of Buffalo." "People got attached -- especially the ones who worked on it. Guys were going up on ladders all the time to shore it up. They became its protectors."

Once the club decided to cling to its mascot at any cost, fund-raising went full speed ahead. Polo shirts and T-shirts depicting "Directions of Buffalo" with the city skyline in the background were made up for the Queen City Regatta. A bright pink copy was presented to Patricia Capstraw Wilkins, co-chairwoman of "Herd About Buffalo." It hung behind her bed in Roswell Park until she died of colon cancer two months before the auction.

The Yacht Club shirt sale brought in $3,000. Letters went out urging members to contribute to the online purchase. An Oktoberfest party at the club brought in more checks and cash, raising the pot to about $6,500.

After the lot containing "Directions of Buffalo" was posted on the Buffalo.com Web site, however, it became apparent the Yacht Club was not going to get its bison without a fight.

"Every time we increased our bid, someone would top us by several hundred dollars," Johnson-Hoffman said. The suspicion was that a competing club or a sailor not affiliated with the Buffalo Yacht Club was trying to rustle "Directions of Buffalo." To throw off the unknown competitor, board member Tom Doran borrowed a friend's credit card to enter the bidding via his home computer, using a separate code name.

As the online auction neared closing time, members huddled around the computer in the clubhouse. The tension was palpable.

"The other bidder slipped in and tried to block us but couldn't," Johnson-Hoffman recalled. "I thought, 'Uh-oh, we've really got to time this right.' "

And then, as the online action neared its frenzied climax, the Web site crashed.

"We didn't know if we had gotten our buffalo or not," she said. "When the site came back up, we thought somebody else had won. But the final bid had our credit card number."

Johnson-Hoffman added: "I've never seen that kind of excitement in one room. People were cheering and buying rounds (of drinks)."

"Directions of Buffalo" was taken down before rough weather set in and strung with lights for the club's holiday festivities. It will be back near the water, functioning as a working weather vane, by the time navigation opens this spring.

The Yacht Club's involvement with Roswell Park won't end there. It is planning a party for young cancer patients, with proceeds benefiting the hospital's pediatric unit.

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