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As Niagara Falls / Tales of the strange but true

>Traces of winter

Warmer weather has led to sure signs of spring across the region, but the remnants of winter remain along the waterfront in Niagara Falls.

In fact, it's been easier to see the American Falls from Goat Island in recent days than it has been from across the Niagara River on the Canadian side.

The water flowing over the falls is warmer than the ice and snow that built up in front of it during the winter, so it has cut a path through the icy mound. But the water remains cold enough to make the snow melt in the Niagara Gorge slower than in other parts of Western New York.

As a result, a wall of snow -- marbled white and dirty brown -- continues to jut up from the foot of the American Falls to about the halfway point.

Piles of snow also continue to melt slowly along the roads and foot paths on the island, as well, and an ice bridge that formed in the Niagara River continues to hold in some spots, though not as dramatically as during the chill of February and early March.

Let's hope for more warm days soon to thaw the ice and get the Maid of the Mist up and running.

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>The untold story

Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss gave a very serious talk at Niagara County Community College last week about how people in this country know very little about the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights, something, he said, that could end up killing the American way of life.

But he started off on a lighter note.

"I've been in love with four things since I was 11 or 12 -- being an actor, being Jewish and being an American," Dreyfuss said. "The fourth is women, but we're here to talk about the first three."

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>We're the other one

Sharon and David Gauthe, a Louisiana couple who have devoted the past 18 months to helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, were rewarded with a free restand- recreation trip anywhere in the world.

They chose Niagara Falls for their R & R, a place they had never been before.

Sharon Gauthe booked a Niagara Falls hotel online and the couple spent this past weekend at the Sheraton in Niagara Falls, Ont.

They were asked why they booked a hotel on the Canadian side of the border, instead of one on the American side.

"I thought Niagara Falls was in Canada," Sharon Gauthe said. "I didn't know there was a Niagara Falls, N.Y."

The Niagara (N.Y.) Tourism & Convention Corp. recently acquired nearly $1 million to market the area and they're making sure they are doing it under the brand "Niagara USA."

What might be nice to know: The tourism agency is targeting the domestic market.

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>To catch a thief

John Lombardi, president of the Lockport Common Council, entered his City Hall office last week to find his Easy Button missing and a $3 million ransom note in its place.

The Easy Button, a round, red button with the word "Easy" in white letters, is seen in commercials for Staples office supply. When you push it, a squeaky recorded voice says, "That was easy."

Lombardi filed an actual police report.

Then the letters started coming. The first one contained a photo of the button with duct tape across it. Another letter had a photo of the Easy Button with a TV remote, a piece of pizza and a bottle of Labatt's beer.

Reward posters have been put up in City Hall.

Turns out Lombardi is the butt of one of the most elaborate practical jokes ever staged in City Hall -- "The Theft of the Easy Button."

"When I find out who did this, I'll have to commend them," Lombardi said. "This is the funniest thing I've ever seen."

With contributions from Scott Scanlon, Paul Westmoore, Bill Michelmore and Thomas J. Prohaska of the News Niagara Bureau.

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