Buffalo’s West Side Renaissance: The Mentholatum Company, Fred and Me

Buffalo’s West Side Renaissance was well underway when I discovered that the Mentholatum Company was in the process of being repurposed as a 54 market-rate apartment building with commercial or retail space.  Hearing this news made me think about how the Metholatum Company first came to my attention.

It happened when two new tenants, Hungarian brothers, and characters of my imagination moved into one of Fred’s second floor apartments back in 1965.  The brothers could only afford to move into the building because they were hired to work at the Mentholatum Company.  They worked as boxers and packers of products for distribution to all parts of the free world, which also included filling orders in many different languages.

The Company was built in 1919 and had natural sunlight, was clean and spotless, with modern equipment.  The Mentholatum Company took crystals of menthol taken from hermetically sealed cans and compounded them in glass and tanks.  The product was used as an external application for the cure of many inflammations including sore throats, ear aches, headaches, chapped hands and more.  The company also donated almost two hundred thousand jars of Mentholatum to help win the release of Cuban invasion prisoners in 1965.

Writing about Fred and his dream of leaving a legacy of hope to honor all of the tenants he was able to observe and connect with over a hundred-fifteen year period of time, was a challenge.  For myself and researchers, it was a decades-long history lesson with multiple twists and turns.  My goal was to discover time-tested factual information and create realistic characters who share what their life was like in their historical period of time.

Fred the building, was my inspiration and through unusual circumstances managed to take me on the adventure of a lifetime.  Writing this new blog was tough because I want to give my readers a personal view of what this novice novelist experienced in the past six years.  To be honest my characters became an extended family.  Often when I talked about them to my researchers and “Fred’s Friends” they asked me if the characters were real.

Please visualize a gigantic inflated balloon filled with historical research such as story lines, drafts, outlines, revisions, ideas, scraps of paper without lines, questions looking for answers and answers, and notebooks piled high, that kept generating more questions and interview topics.  I was afraid it was going to burst open before I finished the book.  Year after year, each topic inside my balloon was explored.  There was nothing in the balloon that showed me exactly what to do first or last.  I was excited, driven, and determined to tell Fred’s story, like he dreamed it would be told.

Then it happened in 2017.  My balloon burst into a full-fledged historical novel ready for publication.



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