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As Niagara Falls / Tales of the strange but true

>Known far and wide

Chinese visitors flock to Niagara Falls by the thousands every year, but for the many millions who can't make it, the movers and shakers of one city bring the falls to them.

For 22 years, the city of Harbin in northeastern China has staged an Ice and Snow Festival that runs from Jan. 5 into mid-February.

The centerpiece at this year's festival is a towering snow sculpture made to resemble the falls. At its base, ice skaters and dancers perform in frigid weather in a celebration of winter.

The snow sculpture is shaped like a horseshoe. That, of course, would be the Canadian Falls.

When tourist officials in Niagara Falls, N.Y., learned of this, they said they would politely ask Harbin officials to consider including a smaller snow sculpture of the American Falls for their next festival.

Can wax museums, Hard Rock Cafes and gambling casinos be far behind?

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>Military improvisation

The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station picked one of the coldest days of the year for a groundbreaking ceremony Friday for a new $8 million crash, fire and rescue station.

The ground was frozen hard and covered with snow.

Undaunted, Col. James B. Roberts, commander of the base, and a phalanx of elected officials, local leaders and media boarded a shuttle bus and headed out to the flight line for the ceremony.

Once at the site of the new firehouse, they donned hard hats, grabbed their ceremonial gold shovels and lo and behold, found a neat patch of fresh brown soil, prime for turning.

Maj. Charlotte H. Rhee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, who flew up from New York City to coordinate the groundbreaking, was asked how the unfrozen pile got there.

"It was put here," she said.

When the media grew suspicious, she promptly assured that it was soil from the base. "That's a relief," said a reporter. "We thought it might have come from one of the many hazardous waste sites in the area."

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>Feel the burn

Mayor Vince Anello told the City Council recently that it was going to take some time to remove all the branches and brush that fell during the ice storm in January.

The problem was being compounded when residents would drag large branches into the road after city crews had already come through, he said.

Council Chairman Robert Anderson had a unique suggestion on how to solve the problem: "Let's have a marshmallow and meat roast," he said. "I'm sure the fire chief can get some guys to start a controlled fire."

"If a weenie roast makes the Council happy I'll be glad to bring the marshmallows," Anello responded.

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>An alarming presentation1

Niagara County Legislature Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster had just begun his State of the County speech at a Niagara USA Chamber breakfast last Tuesday when a shrill series of three beeps echoed through the banquet room at Antonio's Restaurant in Niagara Falls.

It was a fire alarm, apparently a malfunction.

As soon as the first beep was heard, Burmaster cracked, "Is that three minutes?"

That was a reference to the three-minute time limit imposed on public speakers at Legislature meetings.

The alarm kept going off intermittently during Burmaster's 20-minute speech, but he took no further notice and just kept on plowing through his text.

Afterward, Burmaster said, "I thought it was the applause meter going off."

With contributions from Bill Michelmore, Gail Franklin and Thomas J. Prohaska of the News Niagara Bureau.

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