This was a celebration, not a somber memorial, for an old friend who passed from the scene 25 years ago this fall:
The Buffalo Courier-Express.
And during the quarter-century since the last press run at the old Main Street home of the newspaper, none of the old-timers' stories has gotten any worse in the telling.
They gathered, almost 100 strong, for their 25th anniversary picnic Monday afternoon at the Sheridan Park clubhouse in the Town of Tonawanda -- former reporters, editors, printers, composing room workers and anyone who kept the old newspaper running until its last edition, on Sept. 19, 1982.
"We want to keep the Courier alive," said Larry Hughes, a former dispatch manager and one of the organizers of Monday's event. "The Courier was like a family over the years. As long as we're alive, we're going to keep the Courier alive."
The reunion was part storytelling, part renewing of acquaintances and very little mourning over the morning newspaper that, through its predecessors, the Buffalo Courier, the Express and others, dated back to 1828.
"It's more a celebration than a wake," said former investigative reporter John Pauly, now a media consultant.
As retired reporter Dave Condren put it, "It's time to dust off the war stories."
There were plenty of them being retold Monday afternoon, as the former Courier employees awaited their steak dinner:
*Jim Baker was covering the Buffalo Braves in 1972, when he got a tip that owner Paul Snyder was in secret negotiations with top draft choice Bob McAdoo and his agent at a Transit Road hotel.
The team apparently had leaked word that the meeting was in a downtown hotel, but Baker and his photographer went to the other hotel, where they bypassed some "Do Not Disturb" signs to find Snyder, McAdoo and the agent in a room there.
"What do you do when you get caught with your pants down?" Baker quoted Snyder as asking.
"I don't know if you can use that line," Baker said Monday. "Nowadays, you probably can."
*Condren was covering the domed stadium story in 1970, when the Erie County Legislature scheduled a 10 a.m. meeting to vote on the project.
Both parties caucused, and the delays stretched past The Buffalo Evening News' early-afternoon deadlines, and eventually past the Courier's late-night deadlines. The meeting didn't begin until about 2 a.m.
"They voted down the domed stadium at about 3 a.m., and I had nobody to tell," Condren said. "The Courier building was locked up. I went home, my wife was asleep, and I couldn't even tell her."
*Pauly remembered being asked to check on a short item about a prisoner named Winston Moseley, who had escaped from the old Meyer Memorial Hospital in 1968, after being transferred there from Attica.
Pauly called the New York Daily News, where he learned that Moseley was the notorious New York City killer of Kitty Genovese.
"We ripped up the front page and put it in banner headlines," Pauly recalled. "That turned out to be the biggest manhunt in Western New York history."
Besides telling stories, the former Courier-Express workers, almost all of them in their 60s, 70s and 80s now, also paid tribute to the newspaper.
"The Courier had a personality like Buffalo," former reporter and editor Tony Farina said. "It was a feisty, blue-collar newspaper, with very few sacred cows . . . It's sad now that there are so many young people who don't have recollections or knowledge of the Courier-Express."
As cynical newsmen, Farina, Condren and others pointed out that since its demise, the Courier-Express' reputation has taken on a life of its own, with many perhaps viewing it as a stronger newspaper than it was.
As Farina said, "Everything looks better in the rear-view mirror."