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Poles ring a dyngus bell Fireboat Cotter has right colors as symbol of happy fest

In the interest of promoting Buffalo as the "Dyngus Day Capital of the World," if not the entire universe, Marty Biniasz has seized on the Edward M. Cotter as further proof of his claim.

It cannot be mere coincidence the world's oldest working fireboat is red and white, same as the Polish flag, Biniasz said Tuesday before a ceremony christening the Cotter as the "world's largest squirt gun."

For the uninitiated, squirt guns are an essential ingredient of Dyngus Day, a post-Lenten Polish-American tradition Biniasz and fellow enthusiasts have stretched into a weeklong celebration in Western New York. As part of the fun, young girls chase boys with pussy willow switches, and the boys squirt them back.

What could better symbolize these devil-may-care shenanigans, Biniasz thought, than the Cotter -- a floating landmark with the "squirting" capacity of 11 fire engines?

This year's edition of Dyngus Day will begin after the last bite of Easter dinner is consumed Sunday, with the first "blessing of the instruments" for polka musicians in Pvt. Leonard J. Post Post 6251, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Cheektowaga. The ceremony will kick off the 15th annual "pre-Dyngus" party in the veterans hall.

The celebrating will resume with Monday's first Dyngus Day Parade through the city's Polish East Side, starting at 5 p.m. at the Broadway Market, and the Chopin Singing Society's traditional festival at Hearthstone Manor in Depew. It will continue through the following Saturday with dancing and music at various venues across the region.

By Biniasz's reckoning, more than 50 musicians from Buffalo and as far away as Chicago, Detroit and Toledo will help roll out the barrel at many of the nearly three dozen parties planned during the week.

Dancers from the Harmony Folk Ensemble and the Polish Heritage Dancers will be on hand for Sunday's blessing and pre-Dyngus party, starting at 7 p.m. in the VFW post at 2450 Walden Ave. Featured performers will include Grammy-nominated Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push along with Eddie Biegaj and Crusade.

According to a 19th century Polish encyclopedia, the word dyngus comes from the medieval "dingnus," meanings worthy, proper or suitable.

Buffalo's Dyngus Day was established in 1961 by the late Theodore V. Mikoll, a Buffalo lawyer who led the Chopin Singing Society for 28 years. He recalled that during his childhood, girls would celebrate the end of Lenten fasting by swatting boys with pussy willows -- dyngus is the Polish word for these switches -- and the boys would spray water on the girls.

Mikoll figured people still would welcome an excuse to escape the Lenten confines with music and beer, and before long the Chopin Singing Society on Kosciuszko Street was the place to be the day after Easter.

In partnership with public and private bodies,Dyngus Day Buffalo, a not-for-profit organization founded by Biniasz, has taken the event to a new level. The aim: to promote Polish customs "with accuracy, integrity and liveliness" through public education and awareness.

For the full list of events, visit DyngusDayBuffalo.com.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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