This is one gift for journalists of the digital age.
A few weeks ago, as part of the 90th anniversary of the opening of the Central Terminal, we asked readers to send in their favorite memories of that Buffalo landmark. We wanted to time a piece including those reflections before next Saturday's free community festival as part of a continuing celebration of that landmark's 90th anniversary, an event building to a 7:30 p.m. concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
The response came in a passionate deluge, as you will see below, beautiful, intimate and unforgettable stories of family, of love and loss - tales that to the women and men who lived them will always be a part of the air and the echoes in the great concourse.
In the old days, we would have noted a handful of those tales in print, and the rest would have disappeared. Today, we created a separate piece – featuring beautiful portraits by photographer Mark Mulville – that serves as a kind of introduction, and then we published all the replies here, in their entirety, a permanent collection we will also share with our friends at the Buffalo History Museum. Many of these memories were offered by Western New Yorkers in their 80s and 90s.
If you love the terminal, grab your coffee and settle in. The archive begins with the account of Jane McLaughlin-Tugwell, who remembers saying farewell to a cousin, a Jesuit priest, as he left from the terminal. No one in the group of relatives gathered for that goodbye believed they would ever see him again:
Dear Mr. Kirst,
When I was a very young girl in the '40s, the youngest of a large Irish railroad family (all the men worked on the DL&W railroad), I remember going with my parents and many relatives to the New York Central Terminal to say goodbye and receive the "final" blessing from my cousin, Father James (McLaughlin) Hennessey.
At that time, the Jesuits were assigned to a destination and were never to return home. Father James, a scientist, was assigned to the Philippines and became the director of the Manila Observatory and subsequently tracked the orbiting of Sputnik and others.
I remember walking down the steep stairs at the terminal and our big family all kneeling down to receive his blessing before he got on the train.
Many years later, the Jesuit rules were changed, I believe, and his sisters had a luncheon at the Lenox for him when he stopped here on his way from Washington D.C., back to the Philippines, where he is buried.
He traveled as a Jesuit scientist to various worldwide conferences but I'll never forget that special time at the N.Y Central Terminal!
How can we explain Buffalo's Central Terminal? A second tier city, Buffalo produced a mighty secular cathedral to accommodate its east-west train travelers. One does not forget its vast echoing interior, or the high hopes walking down to the waiting trains.
I was 15 in July 1944, a newly nominated continental officer of American Unitarian Youth, our continental youth organization, traveling east to Boston for summer youth conferences. The terminal was my gateway to America and – in 1947 – to Europe as I spread my wings in youth leadership.
Two years later, my parents hugged me goodbye at the terminal as I boarded a train to southeast Ohio to attend Antioch College in Yellow Springs. I was on my way!
Great memories! Boston, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, here I come!
David B. Parke (former Buffalonian)
My father, Staff Sgt. Joseph J. Horvatis, was a member of the 9th Infantry Division, 477th Infantry Regiment. He landed on D-Day +4. He was severely wounded in Monschau, Germany, trying to capture a German pill box. Transported to England, he earned a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his valor.
Dad spent 18 months at Halloran General Hospital in NYC and had 13 surgeries. When he was able to make trips home to Buffalo, he would take the train to the Central Terminal. He often told us of the kindness of the people there as they would assist him getting on and off the train with his crutches.
He suffered lifelong pain and disability from his injuries but went on to become a husband of over 50 years, father of five girls and the IRS Taxpayer Division Chief. He and my mother Mollie were truly a part of the Greatest Generation!
Mom is now 92 and remembers so well the days when Dad was finally able to travel home for visits! Life goes full circle because my daughter and her family live in Germany and she has been there for 17 years! We welcome her home at the Buffalo airport and like the terminal it will hold special memories for us.
I have many happy and sad memories of being at the Central Terminal. Since I had three older brothers in World War II, it seemed like my parents and I were always at the terminal, waiting for one of my brothers to arrive on a little leave. If they were leaving we frequently had dinner in the restaurant at the terminal. If they were arriving they were always anxious to get home.
Sometimes we had to wait for long periods of time for the trains to arrive. At 10 years of age I would often get quite bored waiting. I soon discovered I could find a book at the store. Sometimes I read this whole book (they were small) and return it and they would exchange it for another book.
The arrivals were happy times. The departures were sad times. I still remember the tears my mother shed on arrivals and departures.
Nancy Lewis, Grand Island
As a high school student in the late 1940s I lived near Central Terminal and visited it frequently. I was amazed by its grandeur and activity.
I became interested in toy trains in 1971 and railroads in general. My toy train board circled the clock at Central Terminal for the 50th anniversary and was pictured in The Buffalo News.
The NY Central had just vacated the terminal when interest in that beautiful edifice sparked interest in possible reuse and preservation from some people. Shirley Stolarski contacted me regarding a railroad museum at the site.
In 1991, a passenger from Montana on the Lake Shore Limited contacted me regarding Central Terminal. I sent him copies of various articles. He had more interest in Central Terminal than many local people do.
Developers for Central Terminal have come and gone. Fortunately there is a group now maintaining and using Central Terminal.
Other cities, some with much older terminals, have repurposed them. Fort Erie has a small station and #6218, which has recently been repainted. Buffalo could not even take care of #2701, which was scrapped shortly after it went on display.
The Buffalo News on June 24, 1979, published a fine article on Central Terminal.
My fondest memory is running my train board around the clock 40 years ago at the terminal's 50th anniversary.
Bob Kaiser, Buffalo
The Central Terminal always held a fascination for me – from a small boy to the older man that I am now, I was always, and still am, in awe of the structure, both inside and out. I can remember one particular instance which involved losing my Dad within the “bowels” of the station.
My mother belonged to the Niagara Chapter of the Eastern Star. Every fall the Eastern Star would have a convention in New York City to which many of the women of the local chapter would attend. They would take a train to New York for three or four days where they would attend the convention, go the Broadway shows and do a lot of shopping. Mom went on many of these trips and one year, maybe around 1951 or ’52, my Dad, brother, and sister went with her to the Central Terminal to see her off. There she was to board the train, most likely the New York Central 20th Century Limited, with the rest of the women from the Niagara Chapter. Many of her friends, and friends of the family, were there as the women were getting prepared to go down the long tunnel to the train. Some of the husbands would carry their wife’s luggage for them to the train, and then return back up to the main concourse. On this particular day Dad did just that, leaving my brother Dick, my sister Judy, and me alone in the main concourse area; he would return in about 10 minutes as soon as he got Mom situated. No problem – or so we thought.
So there we waited, in this huge, vaulted marble walled concourse for Dad to return, watching people come and go. And we waited ... and we waited. Other husbands came back up the ramp, but not our Dad. And we waited. Soon the 10 minute wait was moving toward 20 minutes, and then 30 minutes. Where was Dad? Where was our father?
Family friends began to realize that Dad had not yet returned. The three of us didn’t know what to do; Judy was in tears and close to screaming. One gentleman, who had just come up from putting his wife on the train, came over to tell us not to worry, everything would be fine. (Yeah, right. It’s not your Dad that’s missing!)
Pretty soon there were a few other friends in the circle, trying to console us and all wondering what had happened, but none having answers. Then talk changed to who was going to take us home with them. Everyone would take Dick and Judy, but no one wanted me!! Suddenly, after what seemed like an eternity, but maybe closer to an hour, Dad came strolling up the ramp with a big smile on his face. Judy was not the least bit happy with him; how could he possibly have a smile on his face when he came close to abandoning his children?
Dad told us all what had happened; he obviously did not get off the Limited before it left the terminal on its way to New York City with the women, and our mother, from Eastern Star aboard. Telling the conductor what had happened, he was allowed to ride the train to Batavia where he disembarked and then boarded another passenger train back to Buffalo, where he got off and casually came up the ramp to tell us all of his adventure – all at no cost.
It’s a good thing Dad had his little adventure in the 1950s; if it happened today he would have to wait 12 hours for another train to return to Buffalo – if it came at all!
A very short story about the Central Terminal in Buffalo. My Uncle Oney (Wellington) worked for a furniture company in Jamestown.
He traveled back and forth on the train from Buffalo to Jamestown. I remember riding by car with my parents his wife, Aunt Allie, and her sister, Elizabeth, from Medina to Buffalo. We walked into this Grand Space that I had never seen before with people moving in all directions. We could hardly take in all of the grandeur of the terminal and the gigantic stuffed bison in the center under a 4-sided hanging clock. For a 7-year-old, it was a sight to behold.
While the train station was in full operation the main clock served many purposes other then telling visitors the time of day. Perched on top there can be found a light bulb which was often used during the war time. If you were at the train station and a train full of veterans were to come into Buffalo, first a chime was heard throughout the station and then the light on top of the clock in the center of station would start flickering to inform the merchants to get ready with flags, sandwiches and a crowd would applaud the soldiers as they deployed to either another train or home to meet their families. Often on these occasions Yellow Cab would offer to drive them home for free.
On other occasions when prisoners were transported by trains – once again a blue light was seen flashing to inform the merchants to close up their small shops until these rowdy individuals were bused to the designated prisons. Along with the flashing blue light as the train entered the station once again a chime was heard throughout the station. Once the prisoners were gone the light would flash white to keep the merchants aware of what was taking place.
And on a regular business day, around the floor clock it also served as a information booth where they sold newspapers and magazines and candies. On these days the clock’s light was always shining clearly.
This information was given to me by my father who worked for the Penn Central train station for 36 years of his life. Unfortunately, he never lived to see his retirement; he passed in 1969 at the young age of 52. ( Leo Powers )
The first trip outside our Willert Park neighborhood on Jefferson Avenue was a train ride to visit our father.
One early morning in late June, 70 years ago, my mother took me and my brother to the Central Terminal to catch a train to Cleveland, Ohio. At first sight we were very nervous because the front of the terminal looked like a huge church, with large rounded windows. Of course, everything looked larger than life for a 7-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother.
We saw the big strange buffalo up close with our mouths opened wide. The benches where we sat with our feet dangling, were dark, shiny wood and very hard. While our mother went to get the tickets, we looked around at this huge space; people walking fast in and out of doors. The gigantic windows we had just passed were filled with daylight filtering through the glass. The largest clock we had ever seen was fascinating; men with red caps and dark suits helping people with their bags, tipping their hats, all with polite smiles. Another man was making snapping sounds with a towel, shining a man’s shoes. There were also several soldiers, looking proud in their uniforms.
Then suddenly there was a startling loud voice all over the place, telling people about the times and places they were traveling to. Mom scooped us from the hard benches, gave us our lunch boxes, then waited in line for the train. Mom reminded us how to behave on the train and while we visited our father. She took us to our seats, assisted by the man in the red cap, kissed us and waved goodbye, as we started our summer vacation.
When we heard the train’s engine and saw the billowing smoke, we became anxious to begin this ride and to see what surprises were in the brown shoeboxes she gave us.
To The Buffalo News:
First, my father, Howard Boardman, owner of the Buffalo Glazing Co., put the windows in the terminal in 1928-29. Unfortunately, he died in 1930 at the age of 30 with leukemia.
Second, my sister, Patricia Boardman Hannon, worked there for 10 years starting in 1943. She started in "information" and advanced to reservations quickly. She then became the first woman ticket seller. This was during the war and she greeted soldiers coming and going. She wrote numerous humorous letters to many. Then, one more time, she advanced to first woman ticket seller on the night shift.
After marriage, she bid on a position in the accounting department for the day shift. One more time, the first woman in accounting. She continued her employment until 1953 when she had her first child. She lived to be 86, dying in 2009.
I went to New York City on the Empire State Limited for my first visit to the big city. We had many memories of the terminal. I am now 95 and still active in bowling and golfing. I would like to purchase two tickets to the event if possible.
Virginia Boardman Parker
As for the NY Central Terminal, my mother's cousin must have passed through there a couple times during World War II – first when he left for Army basic training and again when he came home on leave before shipping out for France where he was killed. He came back through the Central Terminal with his military escort in a sealed casket on the NYC train#5 that was due to arrive at 8:05 p.m. on Sept. 15, 1948.
I have his individual deceased personnel file from the Army that contains many pages of records and letters pertaining to the time from his death through the time he was dug up from a temporary grave and shipped back home for burial. It includes the letter notifying the undertaker in Lackawanna of the shipment of the casket to Buffalo via rail.
Similar stories like his were repeated many times in the Buffalo area a few years after the end of the war when the military began the process of repatriating the fallen to the U.S. for burial or permanent interment in overseas U.S. military cemeteries.
Dear Mr. Kirst,
After reading your article about the Central Terminal, old memories came back. I was only 8 or 9 around 1947 and this is so vivid.
My parents took our family there to welcome my grandpa, Frank Smith, as he came off the train, his final trip on the New York Central train. He was a train conductor for many years and he was retiring.
I was so in awe at the beautiful and so big and glamorous building, inside and out. To this day I am still recalling how it looked then. That was so exciting and memorable.
Thank you for writing about this great building. I know to this very day I’ll never forget how beautiful this building was!
MaryAnn Wieczorek, West Seneca
Dear Mr. Kirst,
This certainly is not a life-changing story, but one that will give you a sense of what it was like as a child seeing the sailors come home to Buffalo through the Buffalo Central Terminal.
Back in the '40s my brother Stan and I lived on Curtiss Street, which is walking distance to the Central Terminal. In those days, being 7 and 8 years of age, it was not unusual for us to walk by ourselves to the terminal to watch the soldiers coming home. I have to confess we really went there to check out the telephone booths to see if anyone left change in them. Sometimes we collected as much as 50 cents for candy.
One day while we were there we saw a bunch of sailors coming home. My brother and I decided to stand at the base of the concourse stairs and sing “Bell Bottom Trousers," a popular song in those days by Guy Lombardo.
The sailors coming down the stairs heard us singing and showed their appreciation by putting coins in our cupped hands. I don’t remember how much we collected but our hands were overflowing with coins.
My brother and I are in our late 70s and we will never forget that day at the beautiful Central Terminal.
Happy 90th, Buffalo Central Terminal.
Gerry Plewniak, Colden
I wouldn't say my story is life-changing but it is precious because it centers around my best friend, my father, who passed on a few years ago.
My father owned a furniture store in Amherst, House of Fashions. In the '60s, when the terminal was viable, he used to take the trains to merchandise markets in NYC and Chicago. There he would buy the latest in high-end modern furniture and accessories for his customers in Buffalo. My mother and I would go to pick him up on his return. People dressed up more in those days, and my mother was no exception. I remember her in her tailored L.L. Berger suits and high heels, the sound of them clicking on the marble floors of the Terminal as we went to greet my father. I was so small! I remember the lower legs of people rushing past. How happy I was that my father was home! I never forgot that feeling to this day.
So that's my story ... and I'm stickin' to it.
Thank you for the opportunity to share.
Leslie A. Carr
I was just 19 when I took the train from the Central Terminal in 1966 for Fort Dix.
Why can’t a fund be formed by the public to raise money to fix the terminal?
I would give $500 if we get the public to help. It will work.
The Central Terminal Fund, Built by the People! All the money goes to the fund. Honest people, for an honest cause!!!
We have a lot of deep pockets in this town!!!
Juris Smiltins, Amherst
Dear Mr. Kirst,
I am 81 years old, raised in Lewiston. My father, Philip Hanrahan, worked for DuPont as a mechanical engineer.
During the war, DuPont moved him to the War Department, so every Sunday night we put him on the sleeper train in Niagara Falls (old Third Street). Every Friday, we would pick him up in Buffalo at the Central Terminal. I remember the big clock and all the servicemen coming and going. Many nights we would then have dinner at the station.
These are my memories of the war years and going to the station.
Mary Ellen Coughlin, Buffalo
Dear Mr. Kirst,
Just read your article about the Central Terminal.
My memories are of going there to pick up my father and/or other uncles from leave from the Army. Tears when they left for service.
Then when I was 17, saying goodbye to a boyfriend who was going off to the Navy in the 1950s.
I remember the big buffalo in the concourse as well as the interesting restaurants. Sad to see that this building isn’t used to its fullest potential.
I am almost 79 now and the memories are very clear of this beautiful place.
My grandfather was an engineer on the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad. Trains were always a great interest.
JoAnn Simano, Angola
Dear Mr. Kirst,
World War II was over in August 1945 – I was 8½ years old. It was early winter, November or December 1945. My mom was laid off from Curtiss Wright and had to sign in for her unemployment check somewhere in downtown Buffalo. There had been a snowstorm that night and she was unable to find transportation running down Broadway to get her to the unemployment office. Someone told her she could probably get a bus at the Central Terminal that would take her downtown, since we lived just one block away from the railroad tracks.
She took the shortest route to the terminal, walking on the tracks. Once inside amidst all the servicemen, she noticed a group of sailors. Lo and behold, my father was one of them! They were on their way to be discharged at some Naval base, and their train was delayed. My mom ran up to my dad and planted a kiss and hug on him. He pushed her away, not realizing it was her.
Well, this group of sailors followed my mom and dad back along the tracks to my grandparents' tavern where we lived. My mom and grandmother took their “food stamps” to the corner grocer and brought home all kinds of things to feed these sailors. Drinks were on the house! Early that evening the sailors returned to the terminal to get their train, trudging in the snow amid laughter and tears, leaving evidence in the snow where an occasional sailor had tumbled.
Over the years we had visited the stately terminal many, many times for out-of-town guests and actually once for a trip we were taking to Detroit.
Arlene Szymanski, Cheektowaga
Dear Mr. Kirst,
My sister, Bette Potter, one of 10 children, recently passed away at age 96. She worked for New York Central from approximately 1942 to 1987, when she retired.
Her brother, Francis, was already working there when their mother called the terminal one day saying her daughter was looking for a job. She was hired and thus began 45 years of fun, excitement, good pay and lasting memories.
As one of the perks of the job, she and her friends traveled the railroad for free. They especially loved going to New York City for the weekend. The conductor made sure all of their needs were met and treated them as royalty.
One of her favorite jobs was working in the ticket office. The conductors, switchmen and engineers would often leave their paychecks with her, and when they picked up their cash at the end of their shifts would leave the change for her. It sometimes added up to a decent amount of money, which she gleefully gave to her mother.
For fear of making a mistake, she said she seldom looked up when selling tickets. However, she did remember Lucille Ball, trailing a fur coat behind her, because of the excitement she created. She was just one of the many famous people coming through the terminal.
During World War II, four of her five brothers (the fifth being too young) served in different branches of the service – Air Force, Army, Navy and Seabees. All left and returned at the terminal.
One day, a voice asked her if she knew how to get to Fennimore Avenue, which happened to be where her family lived. When she looked up it was her brother Francis, home on leave.
She often spoke about the grandeur, the beautiful clock (which was the centerpiece of the terminal), the restaurants and the hubbub of life at the terminal. She considered her 45 years of working there as the best of her life.
Donald Potter, Tonawanda
I grew up on the East Side, at 1309 Broadway. It was a short walk to the CT via Memorial Drive (then it was called Lindberg Drive). If was even a shorter walk
if I took the railroad tracks running along Curtiss Street and entering the CT through the back doors.
My dad gave me my love for baseball (catch ball) and trains (got my first Lionel train set in 1949 (I was 8 years old). I grew up a Cleveland Indians fan because
back then one of the local stations (I think it was Channel 4) carried any Indians home games they played on Saturday afternoons.
On Sunday, June 25, 1950, Dad had a surprise for me. We got up early to attend 6 a.m. Mass, had a little breakfast and then walked to the CT. We boarded a train
that took a large group of baseball fans going on an excursion (sponsored by a man named Ray Fischer) to see a ball game in Cleveland.
We walked from the station in Cleveland to what was then called Municipal Stadium. The Indians played a doubleheader against the Washington Senators. I was a 9-year-old boy in heaven! We couldn't stay for the entire second game as our return trip by train was on a set schedule. I'm sure I probably slept all the way home holding the program that my Dad taught me how to keep score in.
We did several more trips to Cleveland. As an elementary school graduation present before starting high school we went on a three-day excursion to New York over the Labor Day weekend. It was Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers versus Willie Mays and the New York Giants in the Polo Grounds on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It concluded with a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium between Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox versus Mickey Mantle and the Yankees. Starting high school was the furthest thing from my mind.
Needless to say I got to attend more major league games as a youngster. I cherish the games I took my son to see in Cleveland and Toronto. The '50s and early '60s saw my
model railroad grow and grow to the point it became a permanent layout in our attic on Broadway.
When Dad sold 1309 Broadway my wife and I packed up the entire display and brought it to our home in Orchard Park. Some of it got to be displayed in the living room at
Christmas time and I still have that first 1949 Lionel set (engine, three cars and a caboose). Gee, I just realized this year it is 70 years old!
That's my little story of the role both baseball and the Central Terminal played in my life growing up in its "backyard" so to speak.
Paul Andruczyk, Orchard Park
To: The Buffalo News
Our Proud Buffalo Central Terminal Still Tells our Family Stories
My personal remembrance of our Central Terminal was as a child in the late ’50s and early ’60s traveling with my family from Buffalo to Ohio to visit my mother’s sister and her family. I felt like I was in a palace upon entering the terminal…so full of grandeur and full of life! The whole experience of the beautiful terminal and train ride was amazing. We always dined on board and traveled in our best attire. Fine china, glassware and silver were used. Service was impeccable. I had my first encounter with a "finger bowl" after our meal, warm water with a lemon slice – which I started drinking until my mother corrected me!! My brother and I loved walking through the rail cars observing everything in sight both inside and out the scenic windows. It was a wonderful way to travel.
It was much later that I learned of my father’s story of Buffalo’s Central Terminal. My father, William Adam Pesch, was inducted into the U.S. Army in Buffalo on March 13, 1941, through the Selective Service. While home on leave, he had met my mother and they fell in love and started to correspond about their life together when he was discharged and returned to Buffalo. Then Pearl Harbor was attacked. We were at war. My father was then stationed in California and all thought was that he would go to the Pacific, however, no one could contact him, no mail got through. Sadly, his father died of a massive heart attack at that time and he could not come home.
As planning was now strong for our involvement in World War II and wanting to confuse possible enemy spies, my father and his company were shipped from California to England to fight in the European Theatre. They prepared for D-Day. His family and my mother had no idea where he was. My father became a master sergeant and his battles are listed on his Honorable Discharge as Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Belgium, Rhineland. During this time of war his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She would sit on her porch on Dorris Avenue in Buffalo and say to everyone that she was waiting for her Willy to come home. On May 7, 1945, my mother read the Buffalo Evening News whose headline was, ‘NAZI SURRENDER ENDS WAR IN EUROPE’. There was dancing in the streets and cries of joy as our Buffalo church bells rang! My mother went to visit my father’s mother to share the joy that her son Willy would soon come home. My uncles called the Red Cross in efforts to get him home as soon as possible due to their mother’s cancer which had metastasized. It was most difficult as so many troops were to return and the chaos with transportation logistics as ships and planes were sent to Pacific Theatre fighting. My father was finally able to fly home on Aug. 22, 1945, to New York City where he had to go through the Separation Center at Fort Dix in New Jersey before boarding a train for Buffalo. His travel pay on his discharge was $20.85.
He had called my mother and his brothers to hear how his mother was and they told him she could not talk but was “the same”… as they did not want him to know by telephone that his beloved mother had passed away a few days prior to his return. They knew he would be so devastated at her loss and after all he had gone through. They had arranged for an Army Chaplain to also meet him at the terminal to counsel him on arrival. He had come home from the war an orphan. Upon disembarking and entering the great Central Terminal, he kissed the Buffalo and gave thanks to be home. He then heard his name being called over the loudspeaker to report to an upstairs room where he entered and saw his brothers and a Chaplain and knew before they spoke ...
Not all stories of the Buffalo Central Terminal will be happy ones .… many farewells were held there as well. What this beloved Buffalo landmark does hold is our stories and our memories. I hope we can make new ones in the years to come as some promising renovations to preserve this landmark are made. The grandeur can still be seen by those of us who witnessed it and have the vision. It causes us to remember our history and to never forget what those travelers through time experienced there.
Submitted by a proud and grateful daughter,
Dear Mr. Kirst,
I am 95 years old and grew up at the time of the greatest generation. I was married to the same man for 49½ years: Norman Strohmeier. He was the Chief Radio Maintainer for New York Central Railroad. Recently I came across an article by The Buffalo News with a picture of my husband receiving an award for outstanding safety as an employee from the railroad. This brought back wonderful memories of taking Norman to the Central Terminal to work and also picking him up there.
While waiting to pick him up, I often went into the terminal, I will always remember the large black buffalo statue in the lobby. The restaurants there made delicious food. There was always good conversation at the newsstand. There, people from all over would gather to share the news and happenings across the country. (They actually talked face-to-face, not texting. Conversation seems to be lost today.)
The terminal was (and is) a beautiful place, and a jewel in the city. I always enjoyed going up to the second floor where all the electronic equipment was, and where my husband worked. He and others worked very hard to make sure that there were no accidents or problems with the trains. I enjoyed looking over the balcony and admiring the grandeur of it all, and watching the troop trains come and go. It was difficult to see all the people kissing their loved ones goodbye, not knowing whether or not they would return.
I have been saddened to see the decline of the terminal. I do not see why they would build a downtown station when they already have a station. To me, it would make so much more sense to revitalize the Central Terminal. Yes, it does need repairs, but the architecture cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Shuttle buses could take people downtown. Plus, the work needed on the terminal would provide many jobs, and serve as a place for training young people in restoration and be a boost to the neighborhood. The skills in restoring buildings and scroll work are needed.
I believe that the beauty of the structure is a definite asset to the city. People would travel to see the marvelous work that went into the building and restoration of the terminal. People from all over would come and bring vitality to the city. I was fascinated by the stories my husband told me about the presidents and presidential candidates he met as they passed through Buffalo to their destinations. Yes, my memories of the Central Terminal could be a reality again!
Ella Strohmeier, Buffalo
Dear Mr. Kirst:
I was born on June 22, 1929, in Buffalo, the day that the Central Terminal opened its doors to the public. My brother, Eddie, then 7 years old, ran up and down Concord Street shouting: "I have a baby sister." I told Mr. Zapfel (president and CEO at Gerard Place), jokingly, that the Central Terminal is a memorial to me, too.
When I was in the elementary grades at Corpus Christi School, my mom and I walked to the terminal from Concord Street. Our purpose was to be present when the men in the military – leaving from or arriving during the Second World War – were greeted by their loved ones waiting for them at the terminal.
There were loud greetings! Greeters kissed and hugged their loved ones in uniform; there was laughter, but there were also tears. Some arrived in wheelchairs, some on crutches. For those leaving, it was difficult to let go since there was no assurance of their return. Mom and I cried from both joy and sorrow.
My uncle and three cousins served in the United States Army. It was difficult to say "goodbye," not knowing whether we would see them returning to their families. They were proud to serve, and we were thankful for their safe return to us.
A "memory-filled birthday" to the Central Terminal! May it open its gates and doors to all who need its services.
Sister Emily Therese Bloom, FSSJ
I have a number of significant memories of taking trains into and out of Buffalo as a young person. None of the memories is as profound as going off to war and hopefully returning but happy memories of the gargantuan train station and the hustle and bustle.
My first trip was at age 6 in 1944 from NYC to Buffalo with my grandfather ... I lived on Long Island at the time and my grandfather was in NYC on business. My mother took me into Manhattan to meet him and off we went for a day's train journey to see my grandmother and aunts whose husbands, my uncles, were in fact overseas in the war.
(It was on that visit that my aunts, my mother's younger sisters, gave me a cigarette and I got sick in my great-grandmother's bathtub. I've never forgotten that and I've never smoked!)
A few years later, 1948, my parents moved from LI to Buffalo for my father's employment and I've basically been here ever since. As a youth, I went away over many summers to summer camp ... by overnight train from Buffalo to Boston, from our gargantuan train station.
When it was time to go to college, whereas most everyone I knew was taken by their parents, mine put me on an overnight train once again – from our awesome, gargantuan train station – to Baltimore where I was met by a professor from the college who was in fact a counselor of mine at the summer camp I had attended.
My trunk had preceded me by Railway Express, from our very same train station. That was my last experience taking a train from Buffalo but not my last experience visiting Central Terminal, a place of such warm memories and more recently new experiences with some special activities there in the last 20 years. Most of all I will always remember the giant buffalo in the middle of the station, so significant to all passing through, and the clock, the beautiful clock. I so often hope Central Terminal will be restored to use in some way and had fervently hoped it would again be a functioning train station though it seems not to be.
I look forward to your reporting on the Terminal.
Marcia Rashman Frankel, Williamsville
To: Sean Kirst
The New York Central Terminal has always been my favorite building. I have seen it practically every day of my life. I grew up and still live in the Lovejoy/Iron Island neighborhood and the 17-story tower rises at the west end of Lovejoy Street. I had occasion to be in the building several times – when my soldier departed to join the service; when my sister went to New York City; when I took a train out to also go to New York City and when I took a tour inside when it was still in good shape. At that time, the owner took us to his apartment overlooking the concourse and he showed us his plans to convert the terminal into a hotel with a swimming pool in the Railway Express building. He could not get funding and eventually had to sell. There were still some of the shops inside and all the artifacts were intact. Unfortunately, the new owners did not love the building and allowed it to deteriorate with the owner and vandals stripping the beautiful interior.
A while ago, there was talk of demolishing this landmark, so I decided to bring attention to that fact and my artist friend drew a likeness of the building which I placed on T-shirts and sold at train shows in Hamburg. People were remarking at how much they loved the terminal and one one man came up to me and said, "Everyone loves the building but no one does anything to save it."
With my 14-year-old granddaughter, we started a drive to "Save NY Central Terminal" and many, many people signed our petitions which we turned over to the Common Council. I also organized an awareness committee and several of those "lovers of the terminal" joined. We met once a month, rented searchlights and lit up the tower for one night and people came from all over to see what was going on. We ran a 70th anniversary party and had a few meet-up nights at various locations. Three of our members made models of the terminal and Dr. V. Roger Lalli painted a beautiful likeness of the landmark. I also ran photo contests of what I call "Buffalo's Queen" and the winners all received prizes for their photos.
I cannot call the terminal my favorite anymore as our Iron Island Society was donated an 1883 former church/funeral parlor by Mr. Anthony Amigone for a museum and, as curator, I have come to love the building. However, we do have a room dedicated to the terminal in which we have one of Dr. Lalli's paintings, a model from one of our members – both of which were donated to us – much information on the terminal and many artifacts. Also, our collection of photos from the contests is there for viewing.
Ten years into our awareness committee, I received a letter from an attorney which stated, "Please cease and desist any activities regarding the New York Central Terminal." I was not given a reason, but shortly afterward I heard a restoration group bought the building for $1. "Buffalo's Queen" is still standing, and I still see it every day of my life. Thank you to my wonderful committee, which helped save this landmark.
Marge Thielman Hastreiter, vice-president, Iron Island Preservation Society of Lovejoy Inc.
My dad worked for Railway Express for about 10 years. They shipped everything and anything before trucking took over.
Well, one day his boss said take these gold bars from Point A to Point B. So he had to go through the train terminal tunnel, to get to Point B. Three problems:
It was a cobblestone road under the train terminal. Second was that the gold bars were loaded individually, onto one of those train carts that were not steady, but could carry a lot of weight. Third it was dark down there. So they load these 25-pound bars onto the cart. Then they lit a lantern so they could see where they were going. Off they went. His buddy walked in front to show the way.
When they get to Point B, the inspector there counts 23 bars. Now gold back then was only $300 an ounce, and these were 25-pound bars. So they check each of my dad's and his buddy's pockets. Then they all went under the terminal and found the two that had fallen off.
There are other stories about snakes and 5-legged cows and so on if you were interested.
Enjoy the rest of your night.
When I was in grammar school, I would accompany my aunt, Kathleen Harris, to serve coffee and donuts at the USO Room on the mezzanine.
Before she went, she would put on her leg makeup and draw a line down the back of her leg with an eyebrow pencil. At the time, I found that fascinating. (Her mother did not because some of it always ended up on the bed sheets.) There were no stockings available, because all the fabric went to make parachutes.
Mary Ann H. Gerstle
My fondest memory of the terminal growing up in Buffalo (1950s), was when my mother took me there for my haircut. I loved it there. We would visit my grandmother on Shumway Street, then go there with my cousins. After the haircut, we would have lunch at the lunch counter, then we would walk around and watch the trains come and go.
My father left for Fort Benning in Georgia from this terminal in 1941.
Alfred J. Wasielewski
I recall it was a bitterly cold day in February of 1963 when my grandfather and two of my uncles drove me to the Central Terminal. I was a proud young airman in my dress blues getting ready to board the train to New York knowing that shortly I would begin my journey to Bitburg Air Force base in Germany.
My uncles remained in the main concourse as my grandfather walked me down to the boarding platform. My grandfather and grandmother raised me since I was 8 years old and were two of the most important people in my life. Just before getting on the train my granddad hugged me and I noticed he had tears in his eyes. I had just turned 18 and had never seen him cry before. I had a strange feeling. Possibly it was because I knew somehow that I would never see him again.
Gramp worked for the New York Central railroad. Like me, he loved trains. I must have been about 8 or 10 years old when he took me to the terminal for the first time. It was really busy with crowds of people coming and going. The red caps were impressive in their uniforms. The bison was a real stuffed animal back then, later to be replaced with a plastic one which was not very impressive at all. I recall the clock seemed enormously tall and ornate.
We took the time to get a hamburger and milk in the cafeteria. While eating, Gramp told me I had an aunt who used to work behind the counter. During the war a train carrying soldiers stopped here and one of those soldiers struck up a conversation with her. They exchanged mailing addresses and sent letters back and forth all the while he served. I know they got married after the war and lived in Lancaster. As a child I recall he talked funny. Turns out he was from down South and had a heavy accent.
We went to the roundhouse where they turned the locomotives around and Gramp knew the man in one that was running. It was a steam engine and the huge iron door was open and the fire was blazing. The man picked me up and said, “In you go!” I was terrified and screamed bloody murder. My grandfather was really mad and swore at this guy to put me down. I never forgot how scared I was or how mad my grandfather got.
Years passed and I became an Erie County Sheriff’s deputy. Early in my career I was assigned to a federal task force called O.D.A.L.E., the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement. This was the first time the government had federal agents and local police officers working together out of the same office. On a couple of occasions myself and a Buffalo police officer went to the terminal to intercept and arrest drug traffickers. We receive "intel" from the New York City office and for whatever reasons they wanted these individuals prosecuted in Buffalo. By now the terminal had lost most of its luster but was still a fascinating building.
A man named Spencer Tunick came to Buffalo to do a photo shoot in the terminal. He would go to various cities all over the world and amass hundreds of people which he would photograph en masse, NAKED! I saw this as an experience of a lifetime which I found impossible to resist. So there I was inside this beautiful old building which housed so many memories making one of my own. My friends thought I was crazy but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I still remember some of the conversations with people I encountered.
I have returned to the terminal on a number of occasions for art exhibits and light shows and have always been filled with a feeling that I belonged there, that somehow I was a part of that building and its collective memories. I sincerely hope the city of Buffalo will do all it can to attract forward-thinking individuals who are willing to invest in the revitalization of this building. It is a treasure that has a personality, a soul of its own.
My name is Ed Rzadkiewicz, I grew up and lived on William Street from 1949 until 1960 a few blocks from Central Terminal. I would like to tell you the story of my dad, Al Rzadkiewicz (Rockwitz) who worked for New York Central at the terminal for most of his life. My father used the name Rockwitz at work although he never had it changed legally.
My father was just 17 in 1932 when he took a job as a baggage handler at the Buffalo Central Terminal. By 1940, dad rose to the job of head clerk at the baggage counter, which was off the main concourse adjacent to the ticket counters.
"Rocky," as he was known back then, was a well-known fixture at the terminal. He knew everyone from the Red Caps, taxi drivers, postal workers, train crews and dispatchers. His job also led to meeting many well-known people of the era since train travel was the main mode of inter-city travel. He often told stories of meeting baseball players, college basketball teams, reporters, politicians and entertainment people stopping in Buffalo for shows. I remember him telling a story of meeting Desi Arnaz, who was out on the platform while the 20th Century Limited was changing crews during a stop in Buffalo on his way to Chicago.
At the outbreak of World War II, Rocky tried to enlist in the Navy along with his brother John but failed the physical due to an old eye problem – but was later drafted into the army. Before being sent overseas he married my mother, who traveled to New York and later Richmond, Va., while he was training.
Rocky was assigned to an Aviation Engineering Regiment and was sent to England to build airdromes for the Army Air Force. He quickly rose to the rank of master sergeant and was the regimental supply sergeant based on his transportation experience. His unit later landed at Omaha Beach right after D-Day and followed the infantry across France, Belgium and into Germany, seeing action during the Battle of the Bulge.
After the war, Rocky returned to his job at Central Terminal – where he soon found jobs for his brother Lenny and my mother’s uncles, Mike and Bill Kolodziej. I was born in 1949, followed by my sister Katherine in 1952. When I was born the first thing dad bought was a Lionel electric train which was set up under the Christmas tree every year, getting bigger until it took up most of the living room.
Of course dad, with his many years of railroad experience, was always able to add a touch of realism with his many stories of train operations at "the depot," which Central Terminal was usually called by employees. Dad often told stories about the mighty Hudsons and Mohawk locomotives that he worked around, on a daily basis.
I remember dad’s prized Illinois pocket watch which he always carried, and he told me how the railroad had a watchmaker at the depot to clean and set the watches for train crews and depot workers. When my dad got together with my uncle Lenny, Uncle Mike or Uncle Bill the conversation always was about working at the depot and the latest adventure from the deep bowels of the depot.
I remember my dad taking me to the depot. Many times he took me up to the baggage office which overlooked the train platforms so I could watch the trains being shuttled from track to track as passenger trains arrived and departed. On his off days, dad would sometimes take me on the Bee Liner for the short trip to Niagara Falls and back, a few hours later.
One time he took me on one of the electric baggage carts with a friend of his driving. We went down the ramp from one platform passing by a room where they charged and repaired the carts and went up another ramp to another platform. Imagine doing that with today’s safety and liability rules!
We also visited the tower at the end of the platform where the train crews picked up their equipment before boarding the trains. We also went onboard an Alco switch engine where the engineer explained the controls. Dad also got me up to one of the empty offices near the top of the main tower where you could see all of the city and even the lake.
After the Penn-Central merger and the reduction of passenger service, the baggage counter was moved to a makeshift room in the train concourse. As passenger trains were eliminated, many jobs also were gone. The railroad then sent a number of the displaced workers to a training program. Dad was sent to a special class at Bryant and Stratton to learn how to operate a keypunch machine as the railroad was setting up a computerized system for tracking freight car movements.
Television cameras were set up in the yards, the operators would watch the screen and code the car numbers into punch cards to be fed into a computer. Dad already knew how to type so it seemed to be a good opportunity. After graduating at the top of the class, he was sent to work at Seneca Yard for a short stint; however, a job opened in the timekeeper's office back at the depot which was a much better fit. Dad then worked at the depot on the second floor in the front of the building where he took care of the time sheets for the engineers and firemen. He worked there until retiring from Conrail in 1976.
I read your recent article about the terminal’s anniversary and requesting stories, insights, etc. about that beautiful building.
My grandparents, Ferdinand and Anna Markwart, lived at 16 Concord St. in the shadow of the terminal. Theirs was a very modest home. They ran a rooming house for railroad men who worked the trains and had to lay over in Buffalo for a day or night. Grandma had approximately 7 bedrooms for these workers.
Some of the men were regulars, and had their own rooms in the house. Some spent the night only occasionally. The regulars soon became an extended part of our family. They would bring treats to my grandparents: a gift of deep purple grapes from one man who lived in Silver Creek was especially appreciated.
Grandma cleaned the rooms every Saturday, and I would help her change sheets and dust. I remember her ironing the sheets on the mangle that took up a corner of her kitchen.
My parents moved from South Buffalo to one block away from Grandma and Grandpa at 47 Houghton St. in 1959. I was around 10 years old. This was the time I fell in love with the terminal. As a young teen, I would go to the terminal and sit in the waiting room. There weren’t too many passengers, and I loved to lay on the wooden benches and gaze at the beautifully painted ceiling in the room … it was painted blue with floating white clouds. You could almost see them moving on the ceiling, they looked so real to me.
As an older teenager I would go to the same room and head for the bank of telephones. They had phone books from most major cities in the United States. I would look at the New York City phone book and find an 800 number, and I would call that number. In my teenage brain, I was connected to New York City. What a special feeling to be talking to someone in the Big Apple.
That building deserves to be well taken care of. It pains me to see so much being done to the Canalside area (or whatever they’re calling it now), and not much aid coming to the terminal or indeed, the entire East Side. Broadway between Fillmore and Bailey needs so much love – and money. How do you get the powers that be to see that?
Thank you for letting me ramble. I liked my little stroll down Memory Lane.
Dear Mr. Kirst,
The other day I was speaking with a woman who stated that the Central Terminal should be knocked down and she doesn’t understand the significance of keeping it. I had so much to say to her but I couldn’t get my thoughts to come out in words so I wrote it on paper.
During the mid-'70s, my father worked for Conrail. My dad worked on the very top floor, which was called the control tower. I have one black-and-white photograph of him sitting at his desk. I have no idea who took his picture or why they took it. It is a great picture of him capturing the fashion of that era, plaid pants and black-rimmed glasses. He was smiling. He was young at the time the picture was taken and the ravages of alcoholism did not have a hold of him yet. When I think of him, I like to think of his smile in this picture, not the sickly, hollow features later on.
It was a time when most households had only one car and our family was no exception. My dad worked the second shift. If my mom needed the car, she would drive him to work. The downside would be my poor mother would have to wake my brother and me up, when we were approximately 2 and 4, to go pick my dad up at midnight, when his shift ended.
When we were dropping off my dad, I would get so excited because I knew we were doing something fun, like visiting my uncle’s house and I was going to be able to play with my cousin, Sammy. Before we would leave to drop my dad off, my mom would put my red tricycle in the trunk of the car. This meant I would be able to race the trains.
We always walked into the train station with my dad. We would say goodbye as he took the elevator up to the top. I loved that train station. I loved the buffalo that was in the middle of the station. I remember always looking up at it with fascination. I loved seeing the clock and the different boards with incoming and outgoing trains, and the ticket windows. I remember the restaurant. We could never afford to buy anything from there, but I do remember maybe once getting a Coke and sitting at the counter. I remember the stairs. My brother and I would play on the stairs. I don’t remember quite where they were located, but I remember them being cold and smooth.
After we waved goodbye to my dad and we were tired of playing by the buffalo, we went outside. My mom would take my tricycle out of the car. I would ride my bike back and forth amongst the trains. The cabooses at the time had a trainman in them. He would be standing in the back of the caboose and he would wave to me. I loved it. I would be joyfully riding my bike waving back to each trainman. After a while, we would leave for our next adventure.
My mom would wake my brother and me up to go pick up my dad. I remember being so drowsy getting in the car. I don’t remember ever complaining. My memory may be incorrect, but I always loved picking my dad up from the terminal. It was so quiet and dark. All three of us would drive from the Town of Tonawanda to Buffalo. It was so fascinating to enter the train station that late at night. The workers knew us and would say hello when we entered.
The station was silent. We would go all the way up to the control tower. I remember taking the elevator and some stairs. In the middle of the control tower, there was a board with red, blinking lights showing where the trains were on the tracks. I remember asking my dad how he knew what was going on. He explained it to me, but I didn’t understand. I thought my dad was so smart for knowing where the trains were and how he understood all the blinking red lights.
About five years ago, I took my children to the Central Terminal for a train show. I honestly did not know the disrepair it was in. When I walked in, I looked around and tears came to my eyes. It’s hard to go back to something that was part of some of my favorite childhood memories and see it broken and bruised. I know the restoration committee is doing their best to bring it back to its glory, and I hope they succeed. The building is not just an old building: It has a history and the building is filled with spirits of memories.
Sean Kirst: Maybe not as emotional or "life-changing" as the stories as others ... but here is my terminal story.
Born in 1972, I was far removed from witnessing the terminal in its heyday ... yet growing up on the East Side of Buffalo, the building was an ever-present part of my childhood. Every day I'd catch a glimpse of the building visiting my maternal grandparents who lived on nearby Coit Street. In the mid-to-late '70s, as the Terminal was nearing its end as an active train station, my grandfather Roman would take me inside the building to see the arrival and departure of the few trains that still served BCT. It was cheap entertainment for my Grandfather, who spent his entire life in Broadway-Fillmore. He would often tell me stories about walking to the terminal in the '30s and '40s on Sunday afternoons to "people watch," grab a soda from the restaurant or to see friends and family going off to war.
The trains I remember seeing as a 5-year-old were short, silver rail cars with brightly colored red and white paint applied to the front. I would later learn these self-propelled "RDC" trains were owned by Canadian Pacific Railways for leased service to the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railroad for its cross-border service to Canada.
In the '70s, the Terminal was cold, quiet but completely intact. The Art Deco lights and ornamentation had yet to be removed. Marble walls still shined brightly. But unfortunately, there were more birds flying inside the concourse than passengers.
I don't remember hearing about the "last train" in 1979 or learning about the various changes in ownership during the '80s while in elementary school – but I do recall accompanying my parents to a political fundraiser in the mid-'80s. Again, the building was intact, just waiting for rediscovery.
Years went by, I'd go off to college and would not return inside the building until the early '90s. I was interning at a local television station when a crew was called to cover a fire inside the terminal. By this time, the building was open to the elements and treasure thieves were in the process of stripping the terminal clean. Still ... the lights, the buffalo and clock were still there (I have pictures).
Those early visits with my grandfather would start a lifelong interest in Central Terminal and the promotion of the Broadway Fillmore “Polonia District” which led to the creation of ForgottenBuffalo.com and “Forgotten Buffalo Tours” with my friend Eddy Dobosiewicz.
I was one of many who participated in the initial community clean-up day in the late '90s … a grassroots effort to try to bring a little shine back to the building. In the early 2000s, I was part of the team that was approached by WBEN’s Tom Bauerle to conduct a public tour of the building. During an on-air segment, Tom lobbied for the demolition of the terminal along with the city’s grain elevators. In a bold move, community activist Russ Pawalk called the show and asked Tom if he was ever inside the terminal? The answer was “no.” At that point, Russ invited Tom for a private tour … to that, Bauerle said, “If I came, can I bring my listeners?”
During a quickly scheduled meeting with station management to discuss logistics, we thought 500 people would show up … instead, thousands would create a line that stretched down Memorial Drive to “pay their respects” to a building many thought was doomed. WBEN’s involvement along with M&T Bank eventually led to the return of the beloved clock that had been spotted in a Chicago salvage shop.
In future years, I’d volunteer with the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation as a building tour guide, taking every chance I had to explain to the public why the terminal was important and why, as a community, we could never let it be torn down. I was fortunate to represent the building to a national audience during an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Off Limits” when the show’s host and I were attacked by one of the terminal’s resident peregrine falcons.
The building impacts people in different ways. For me, it has always acted as a symbol of what makes Buffalo unique. It opened my eyes at an early age that the city has an authenticity that can never be replicated .. .and should be cherished like a treasure that can never be replaced.
This is a special year of remembrance for me of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. My father, George M. Phillips, served six years active duty during World War II on the U.S. Ault. I never saw him until I was 2 years old. He then served for 33 years in the Naval Reserve. I remember growing up and seeing my father leave and return from the great train station, always checking the time on the big terminal clock.
It made a lasting impression on me of all the men in uniform with families supporting them and what an exciting busy terminal.
Sharyn Phillips Genau, North Tonawanda
A few years back I set out to capture a little bit of Central Terminal history, especially as it pertains to my family. The writing eventually turned into this short piece (below) that I thought might make its way into the world. It never did and has not seen the light of day until now. In any event, good luck with your project and I hope you enjoy reading this.
In its heyday during the 1930s and '40s, Buffalo's historic Central Terminal was quite a hive of activity with approximately 200 passenger trains coming and going on a daily basis. As a near midway point between Chicago and New York it was a vibrant building and the scene of many soldiers saying goodbye to loved ones before they went off to fight in the battles of World War II (that is, after touching the stuffed bison on the concourse for good luck). It was even the site of one not-so-famous "battle" from that era (more on that in a moment). Although long past its prime, the terminal is still full of activity albeit of a slightly different nature.
Built by the New York Central Railroad, the 17-story structure opened in 1929 at a cost of $14 million. Noted railroad terminal architects Fellheimer & Wagner created this masterpiece of art deco design which has been called by some the most beautiful building in the world. However, after closing in 1979, the terminal has fallen into various forms of disrepair and neglect.
The building is now owned by the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC), a nonprofit preservation group, and has been used as the setting of the television show "Ghost Hunters" (episode 417 - "Speaking With the Dead") and for charity fundraisers and other special events each year. The CTRC is a volunteer-based, nonprofit group which is attempting to restore the terminal to its previous luster and incorporate it into the revitalization of the city it calls home.
The Central Terminal is also a favorite haunt for a group of adventure seekers who are loosely called urban explorers. These folks like to roam old buildings and tunnels as a way to channel their inner Magellan. Far from being ne’er-do-wells, urban explorers claim to have a deep and abiding respect for the buildings they explore and go to great lengths to leave the sites of their adventures untouched. A true urban explorer appreciates the grandeur of the past and the Central Terminal is considered – by one who noted on the Urban Explorer Resource website – as “truly one of the most beautiful yet tragic buildings I have ever seen.”
The battle to bring back the Central Terminal continues and it is a fight worth fighting. Consider this little known tale told recently by Mildred, a 97-year-old widow of a World War II veteran. In recalling a time when going to the terminal meant either a joyous hello or a sad goodbye, she gives a glimpse of that era. She states that when one of the boys from her Buffalo neighborhood of Black Rock was home on leave and it was time to send him back to the fight, her group of girlfriends would head to the Central Terminal with the soldier.
This particular story of hers involves Fritz, a handsome U.S. Marine from "The Rock," and the times he would head back to duty. “We girls would all line up and Fritz would kiss us all goodbye. After he kissed us we would run to the back of the line!” She then adds, with a twinkle in her eye and a chuckle in her voice, “Sometimes other girls that we didn’t even know would get in the line!”
The fondly farewelled Fritz chimed in to say that sometimes these goodbyes would make him late for his train. What did he do then? “Take the next train,” he said. “There was one leaving every hour!”
Fritz summarizes his famous departures this way, “I fought the battle of Central Terminal!”
Yes, Buffalo’s Central Terminal has been a central character in a lot of battles through the years. It was an active and vibrant place when first built and it still is to some degree. Let’s hope that the work of the CTRC will once again make it a place of loving hellos and slightly mischievous goodbyes.
My 93-year-old mom – Helena Hokinson – lives in Lancaster. She recently overheard some of the residents there talking about your request for stories/memories about the part that the Central Terminal played in our personal lives. She immediately wrote down the following fond memory and requested that I send it to you.
If you need additional information, please let me know.
Sharon (Hokinson) Kerr
The letter from Helena:
In 1944-1945, like most teenage girls, I wrote letters to friends in the service.
One of the girls that I worked with in the office at Pillsbury Mills was going to Kansas to get married and asked who of the rest of us in the office would write to a Naval Air Force Reserve man that she had been writing to. His name was Ernie Hokinson. He was from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, but was at that time stationed in Bermuda. I was already writing to 4 or 5 friends in service, but of course I said that I would.
About a year later, Ernie was reassigned from Bermuda to a station in Brunswick, Maine. He called to see if he could come to see me in Buffalo while on leave. Of course, my mother answered the telephone call and, afterwards, went through all of the letters that had arrived from my servicemen pen pals!
The next day – Washington’s or Lincoln’s birthday – my father drove me to the Central Terminal. Of course, Dad would never let his daughter go to a railroad station alone to meet a serviceman!
We found Ernie sitting near the barber shop in the main lobby of the terminal in his Navy uniform with a six-month growth of beard, which of course had to come off before returning to base. When we arrived home, my mom took one look at him and said “Put the kettle on and get the scissors!”
From then on, he came to Buffalo once a month for a weekend and we always picked him up at the Central Terminal. Even though he wasn’t supposed to be that far away from the base while on leave, he always managed to make it back to Brunswick by 8 a.m. on Monday… via the train!
Eventually, about 18 months after he was discharged from service, we were married. We had three children and 60 years of happiness together until I lost him to cancer. I am 93 now and still remember the Central Terminal in all its glory. They are very fond memories!
To: Sean Kirst
Not sure if this story is what you are looking for but ...
In June 1964 my friend Pat and I graduated from high school. Our parents gave us a trip to California to visit Pat's aunt and uncle and we were going by train. We left Central Terminal, a bit nervous to make this long trip but very excited. It would be a few days on that train, in seats, no sleeper car.
To show you how times have changed, my mom gave the conductor a box of assorted chocolates and asked him to "take care of these girls and keep an eye on them!" He did!!!! He checked on us every few hours the whole way across the country. We arrived safe and sound and had a wonderful trip visiting Pat's aunt and uncle. I remember leaving that beautiful terminal and will always remember that conductor.
Hi Sean Kirst,
I have a particular memory of the terminal building dating back to the late 1980s or early 1990s. One of the owners at the time gave my mother and I a private tour of the property. At the time, it seemed so surreal. I couldn't believe such a grand structure that had played such an important part in the city's history could be owned by just one man. He told us his plans and visions for the building – a hotel, apartment building, civic meeting spot, etc. – but it was obvious he had neither the expertise or the financing to make his dreams of reality. It was folly. He seemed like such a gentle, soft-spoken man; a dreamer.
He took us up one of the interior stairwells, which had been gutted. Walls and ceilings were crumbling. Beyond the holes in the walls, we could see that the wiring had been ripped out. He led us to an impressive apartment he had created for himself in what had once, during the building's heydays, been an upper floor office. From the apartment's large glass windows, we looked down into the interior of the central hall. It was a remarkable view, the kind of view that would command a high rent if the building had been redeveloped as a residential apartment complex. Pigeons flew all about, alighting on disused benches and ledges.
What got to me most was the vastness of the structure. It's huge. So huge it was impossible to fully grasp how empty it was. A huge, colossal wreck of a castle that history had bypassed.
We walked outside to the old platforms. Tens of thousands of people had used the same platforms to board trains over the years but on that summer afternoon, it was eerily quiet. I couldn't hear the sound of any human activity whatsoever -- no cars rumbling the streets, no children playing, no nothing. And, certainly, no trains. Knee-high weeds grew everywhere. The place was devolving back to state of nature. It was like I'd been to the ruins of an ancient culture.
Here is a lighthearted story about the Central Terminal. Hope you enjoy.
"RIGHT IS RIGHT"
It was the right thing to do. After all, the nuns at St. Stan's beat it into us - "Right is Right!" - and, of course, they were always right. We carried these hard-learned values to Hutch-Tech High School.
Back then, there was no battalion of yellow buses to get you to school. You walked, and/or took the public bus with the rest of the workin' folks. Biking to school back then just wasn't cool. So each morning, we met on Memorial Drive in the shadow of the Central Terminal to catch the No. 17 right at the doorstep of our local dentist. The good doctor had no receptionist, no assistant, not even a cashier. He simply stuffed your sawbuck into the desk drawer and summoned the next victim. But times were changing in the '60s: British music, protests, riots, drugs, hippies. We felt like something was happening, and the times were a' changing.
Back on the bus, it was usually a fun ride, jabs at each other, or sometimes a trick on some poor unsuspecting civilian. The driver hated us. One day he simply passed us by, waving and laughing, knowing we would need to get a late pass from dreaded Mr. R. Guest, our assistant principal and principal tormentor. Our morning routine was, however, pretty much the same. Walk to Memorial Drive, bus to City Hall, walk down Elmwood to Hutch, rain or shine, snow or sleet. A car ride was unheard of and never entered the formula. But one winter morning something new happened.
It was snowing like mad, but it had just started, so everyone went on with their morning rituals. On the bus we all agreed, "Should be a snow day." Why couldn't it have started earlier? It just wasn't right and remember: "Right is Right."
Our faithful No. 17 bus started at Central Terminal and ended at City Hall, where it swung around Niagara Square and returned to the terminal. As we lumbered down Broadway, someone murmured, "Let's skip!" After all, they'll probably close school when we get there.
At City Hall, our driver glared at us from the rear-view mirror as he extended his "good riddance" face. From the back we all shouted, "We're not gettin' off, we're going back!" Back where? Can't go home, we'll get killed. We'll ride back to the terminal and figure out the details later.
A little uneasy about our ill-conceived plan, we entered the terminal and realized we had stepped into a new world. We all lived near the terminal but actually had no reason to ever go inside. Our teenage logic said, "Why would you take a train when you can drive anywhere?" As kids we rode our bikes all around the Central Terminal, drove down "Devil's Hill" and played ball at black diamond.
Devil's Hill was a short, steep roller coaster dirt path that ran downward off of the elevated driveway that led to the terminal. Black diamond was a makeshift baseball field where discarded black coal gravel made up the playing surface, very unlike the manicured fields our kids expect today. So this was our first real introduction to the inner sanctums of the beloved Central Terminal building.
Off the bus, we dragged our school drafting boards and school bags around the cavernous building, in marvel of the size and splendor that was right under our noses all that time. We dumped our school gear in the cafeteria and grabbed a table. The black-and-white parquet tiles, the serpentine counter, shiny brass and glass, marble walls, even the cool light fixtures were something out of an old movie set and provided the perfect backdrop for our newfound adventure.
Our lunch money was used up drinking coffee all morning and, predictably, we found that the men's room was just as lavish as the rest of the place. At that moment we all felt grown up, settling into our newfound oasis, and feeling pretty good while the rest of the world struggled outside in Buffalo's winter wonderland.
We repeated this adventure maybe once or twice more, when the weather cooperated, so to speak. Fast forward 50 years and all the ritzy glamour has been sold off and is gone forever but to this day I still enjoy sitting in an old original diner, coffee in hand, thinking about those good old days on the East Side.
After all, it's just the right thing to do.
John P. Borcuch
A story by Mary Ellen Wasner.
The little farm boy sat in the grass watching the big black train running along the tracks, steam billowing into the sky and had big dreams. He left farming and by lying about his age, Allen Bird (born in July 1900) got a job on the railroad. He met his wife when he was 19. But with railroad jobs then, you were laid off as often as you were working. He waited till 36 to get married.
He took his wife and two daughters on yearly trips to Syracuse (to review the road), ate in the depot and then returned to Buffalo. He bought his oldest daughter a Lionel Train when she was three. Was it hers or his?
His wife took the girls on a "Big Trip!" They left Buffalo at midnight, saw the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Macy's, Radio City, etc. and returned to Buffalo the same day. Allen Bird died in 1962 with 45 years of service to the NY Central Railroad. He wore his suit overalls, cap, work shoes as proudly as a police officer or firefighter wear theirs. He was able to buy a brand-new car every two years.
The little farm boy's dreams became a reality for many, many years. God bless the trains.
(My mom, Mary Ellen Wasner, wrote this by hand in West Seneca and mailed it to me in Warsaw. Thank you.)
To: Sean Kirst
I was born in 1949 but I remember so well my mom taking me to the terminal for first time when I was 7. The building was amazing to me: So many people were walking around eating at the large diner, men getting shoeshines, hearing the trains being called for arrival and departure ... it was a different world.
Not long after my first visit, we both took a train trip to Mom’s home of Baltimore. Again, a unique experience because we took a sleeper; I remember being in the upper berth and there was a little net hammock which I now realize was to use for your personals, but for me it was the perfect place for my doll to sleep. I did not sleep much because I kept wanting to look out the window every time I heard the train whistle. I remember the conductor helping me up the ladder and making sure I was all set in bed.
Mom and I did this for three more years and each time was just as exciting as the first. After our days of train travel were over (Dad now drove us to Baltimore), we still came to Terminal every Thanksgiving just to walk around, get some ice cream and have our picture taken in the photo booth because my dad was always hunting that week.
Every time I am in the terminal it brings back such wonderful memories; I am 70 now.
Diana Weiss, Hamburg
Mr. Kirst,I know it’s late to submit a story, but I would just like to to say I have fond memories of the terminal. I’m a retired Postal worker and before they closed it off there was a tunnel from the terminal to the main post office on William Street. My late uncle also a Postal worker who worked on the trains sorting mail for New York City or Chicago; they would use the tunnel to transport the mail to and from the post office to the terminal.
The last time I was in the terminal was the 70s; my sister was heading to Gary, Indiana. The inside of the building was breathtaking. Hopefully it can be restored.
Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at email@example.com or read more of his work in this archive.
Story topics: central terminal