A Note to All Fred’s Friends and Followers

We know this is a difficult time for everyone but author Fran Schmidt would like to send you heartfelt words of hope and a sincere message to stay safe and well.

And here’s a few words from Fred:

I once watched a young neighborhood boy accidentally kick a small anthill on the patch of grass outside my building. He went about his merry business unknowing the chaos that soon followed. The ants were scurrying this way and that, scared and confused, and I was concerned they wouldn’t survive in all the turmoil. But then something remarkable happened. They banded together, each with an important job function to perform and by the very next day had rebuilt the anthill and their life continued.

I’ve seen a lot of things in the 120 years I’ve been around and I watched my tenants survive in the face of great adversity. We’ve weathered an earthquake, countless blizzards, wartime challenges, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, and The Great Depression to name a few. At times, I too have been isolated and felt alone and helpless. I know everyone is confused right now and the uncertainty of what the future holds can spark fear and great unrest. The one thing I will say is please take things one day at a time and don’t give up hope. This too shall pass, and together, everyone can work hard to rebuild a stronger anthill.

Fred’s words for this post written by: Christine Demcie

Meeting My Puerto Rican Tenants

In the 1950’s, two internal migrant families, the Torres’ and the Rivera’s, moved into my building. Hannah and Alice, my Chocolate Ladies (who worked in nearby Fowlers Chocolate Factory) immediately went to the Buffalo Public Library and began to research Puerto Rican culture and traditions. Thankfully, the ladies would read aloud to each other, so I too learned about my newest new tenants.

To my shock, I found out that the families were actually only considered to be American citizens if they live in one of the 50 states that make up the U.S. You’ll find out more about these unbelievable details when you read my upcoming novel FRED: Building of Dreams.

Hannah and Alice befriended the two families after they moved. They would often visit with them when everyone sat outside cooling themselves on a hot summer day, in my back lot off Potomac Ave. on the West Side of Buffalo, N.Y.  At first, the families were a little reluctant to open up to strangers, but their warm smiles, pleasant personalities and of course some chocolate treats, won them over. Afterall, who can refuse a gift of chocolate from welcoming people!

Before long, everyone was exchanging stories about their lives in America. It was sad to hear that the families form Puerto Rico didn’t feel comfortable in the country they loved. I sat and watched as Hannah and Alice slowly broke down the barriers to understanding their culture. A major breakthrough came when Milagros Rivera and her Abuela Consuela invited the ladies to attend Milagros’ younger sister Rosario’s Quinceanera on her fifteenth birthday. The ladies were honored to be included in this cherished cultural celebration. Little did they all know I was there too, celebrating Rosario’s “coming of age” right alongside.

You’ll soon read more about the importance of the Quinceanera celebration,  the Torres’ and Rivera’s and what it was like for these families in the 1950’s to be internal migrants from Puerto Rico in the United States of America. My long road to publication will end in 2020. Thanks to all for sticking by me, waiting for this humble building’s stories to become a book. I can’t wait to share all I’ve seen and learned!

Granny Mattie’s African American Treasures

In the early 90’s, eighty-five-year-old Granny Mattie Brown, the mother of 15 children and 31 grandchildren moved into one of my apartments with her youngest son Douglass and his wife. Please use your imagination to visualize a small cozy living room, with a small two-tiered table in the center. On the top of the table was a small collection of Mattie’s favorite items, but her most precious treasures were placed on the bottom shelf. It held her collection of books and family journals. At first, I wondered why Granny Mattie celebrated “Memory Sundays”. I can’t tell you the answer right now, but when you read my story, it’ll give you food for thought.

The first book I saw on the bottom shelf, was an original copy of abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin – an anti-slavery novel published in 1852. This book was based on actual events from freed slave narratives, anti-slavery newspapers and first-hand accounts. More than 10,000 copies were sold in the first week.

The second book was written by another abolitionist, Fredrick Douglass. It was an autobiography of his life titled, The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, An American Slave.

Beneath the copy of his book, was a large faded black and white copy of Harriet Tubman, wrapped in plastic. I found out that in 1849, Harriet, along with her two brothers, escaped slavery from Maryland and fled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They followed the North Star on their 90-mile journey.

Mattie’s most important items on that shelf were her great, great Granny Pearly’s slave journal and her own family journal.  When you read the novel, soon to be published, you’ll step back in time to learn the importance of family names and the many truths regarding Afro-American history including the value of “Memory Sundays”.

Hungarian Freedom Fighters Move In

Two Hungarian brothers, twenty-eight year old Zoltan and twenty-nine year old Lazlo Popp, moved into my building in 1965. It was eight years after they immigrated to Buffalo, NY from Kabesca, a city in The Communist Hungary, a year after the Hungarian Revolution ended.  As protesters and fighters in their home country, to fleeing as refugees, they eventually found their way to freedom in the United States.

When they first arrived, they lived with their deceased father’s older brother, their Uncle Istvan (Stephan) Popp and his family, who were already settled in the U.S. Istvan had previously come under The Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which allowed certain people displaced by World War II, to qualify for Permanent Residence. 

The day the brothers moved into my building, I thought they were flying up the stairs to their new living quarters! I didn’t know it right then, but it was a momentous time in their lives. How proud Zoltan and Laszlo were to be able to afford their own apartment together. The reason this was possible, is because they were both hired at The Mentholatum Company located at 1360 Niagara St., only a short distance away.

The Mentholatum Company was an 80,000 sq. ft. factory built in 1919 that manufactured a product of menthol, camphor and petrolatum, used to alleviate muscle aches and to relieve congestion. Zoltan and Laszlo felt lucky to be hired as two of the seventy-five employees. When you read their full story in my book, Fred: Building of Dreams, you’ll learn more about how Mentholatum was made.

The brothers flight to freedom is an unbelievable tale. Thousands of Hungarians were killed, but the young men were fortunate enough to be among the youngest group of about 40,000 refugees who arrived in America with the help of the Hungarian Freedom Fund. There’s not enough time to share more details now, but their story will touch your heart and shows the power of hope, survival, and freedom.

Comfort Food And More…

Cafe Sign

Food is such a big part of life and community. Restaurants on the West Side of Buffalo, NY, where I live, have offered a continuing source of nourishment and gathering for decades.  Two restaurants in particular, Santasierio’s and Deco Restaurant are near and dear to my heart.

I was 21 years old when Dominic Santasierio opened his restaurant at 1329 Niagara St., just doors away from my address at 1469 Niagara. Dominic’s sauce made from a family recipe, is still used today, and proof of its popularity. Santasierio’s is best known for comfort food, consistency in quality, large portions and reasonable prices.

Santaserio’s, 1329 Niagara St., Buffalo, NY

This popular Italian American restaurant was the site where Sammy Consiglio and Molly Murphy, two tenants in my building, had their first date. After that, whenever they could, they would go back there again and again. They struggled for a whole year to keep their relationship a secret. I’ll share more about them another time.

David Abramovich, a Russian Jew and his 41-year-old cousin Samuel Jaroslow , a Polish Jew who came to America from the Pale of Russia in 1910 moved into my building in 1935. I can’t share their harrowing story now, but I can tell you that Santasiero’s helped them survive when they couldn’t afford kosher food. It was good, cheap and filled their bellies after a long workday.

The smells of all their leftovers – spaghetti, Italian wedding soup, eggplant parmesan – was delicious! Boy did I wish I could taste that food. Dominic Santasierio’s descendants will be celebrating their 100th Anniversary in 2021 and if I could shake any other building’s hand, this is the one I would choose!

Deco Restaurant first opened in 1918 when Gregory Deck opened a small stand on the corner of Main and Lisbon. The success of this stand gave way to more than fifty Deco lunch counters that eventually sprouted up around the city of Buffalo, NY.

Deco Restaurant, 1918 – 1981

Molly Murphy, yes, the same one who dated Sammy Consiglio, got a waitress job there in the early 1930’s, in the restaurant on West Eagle Street, on the corner of Pearl. She worked the late-night shift. It was a favorite spot at night for cops, late night revelers, and the homeless. Young, old, rich, poor, came together to get a good cup of coffee for 10 cents, 5-cent hamburger, or a hot dog and Cherry Coke. The spot was small but popular, and you were lucky if you could get a dining stool at the counter. Molly just loved working there.

I honor Santasierio’s and Deco, for their dedication to the local customers of Buffalo, NY. These restaurants fed hundreds and hundreds of people, helping them survive tough times and celebrate good times.

1941: America is Forever Changed

Benedict (Benny) Farley and Bianca Martucci were a young couple who lived in separate apartments in my building. They were on a date at the Marlowe Theatre on December 7, 1941 when their lives and the lives of all Americans were forever changed. I wasn’t physically with them at the theatre but heard the shocking news as soon as they came home. Yes, you probably already know what I’m talking about – it was the day the Japanese Army bombed Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II.

My tenants were scared – truly panic-stricken. All many could do was stand up and volunteer in the War effort, while their hearts and souls prayed for peace. When you read my upcoming novel, you’ll learn more about these troubling times – about V-mail (Victory Mail), Production Soldiers, Ration Stamps, victory gardens, and the meaning of The Blue Stars of America.

Benedict and Bianca’s story however involves a hasty marriage and a monumental goodbye. I’ll share more details later, but here’s a little bit of insight about this couple. Shortly after they started dating, Bianca invited Benny in to have a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade chocolate cake. This is when I overheard them talking about their childhoods. It was a serious conversation and I was listening intently as Bianca wiped a tear from Benedict’s eye.

When Benny was only thirteen years old, he became one of thousands of children put into the Orphan Train Movement. He was suddenly taken from his orphanage and put on a train with other children ranging from five to thirteen years of age. All that Benny and the other children were told was that they were going on a long train ride, but they were really headed to the Midwest to join farm families – some in the US and others to Canada. Benny’s story may shock you when you read more about what happened. Bianca too unfortunately became an orphan at the age of seven, although she was sent to the Saint Vincent DePaul Female Orphanage Asylum in Buffalo New York. Here she grew into a young woman before heading out on her own.

Their remarkable tale and the tales of all my tenants helped me understand life’s twists and turns and in turn made me stronger. Each decade of my life has been filled with a rich history, and the life lessons I’ve learned from my tenants who came to live with me – special people from all over the world. I hope when you read this historical novel, you’re inspired in the 21st century, by stories of the past.

My Suffragettes, World War II, and the Right-to-Vote

This is an illustration for the Official Program Woman Suffrage Procession in Washing DC on March 3, 1913

By Benjamin Moran Dale (1889–1951), for the National American Women’s Suffrage Association – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24024303

I have many memories that are waiting in line to tell their tales but wanted to share this highlight as it has been on my mind of late. I was watching three men working recently on my kitchen renovations when I heard them talking about the 75th Anniversary of D-Day and World War II. This took me back to the 1900’s when two young, female, Irish college students, Patricia and Kathleen, moved into one of my apartments. It was around this time they became Suffragettes – women fighting for the right-to-vote.  Why these smart women didn’t have that right all along, I don’t fully understand, but it was an honor to watch them work hard for this deserved cause. 

Their struggles in this fight often made me feel helpless, mainly because I couldn’t do anything to help them, except to provide shelter and the freedom to hold their weekly, secret Suffragette meetings. The twins and many other supporters marched in the first national Suffrage Parade in the nation’s Capital on March 3, 1913.  Later, when you read my full story, you will experience first-hand what happened prior to their arrival in Washington D.C.

Little did the twins know how I lived so vicariously through their lives and for the right to vote in America.  And oh, how I wished I could have joined them in the march! I also felt their anxiety, anguish, pain, tears, and shock when their friends were drafted into World War II. What these two, fine women, among many others, did to help the War effort was heartwarming.  I wanted to cry for the troops and families left behind on the home front, instead I suffered in silence. Readers will also be able to find out how this experience too, influenced my twins’ lives.

Patricia’s and Kathleen’s immigrant family history goes back generations and coming to America indeed saved them from poverty and despair. I discovered how difficult life can be and realize that I have an important role as a cornerstone of all my tenants and their families’ lives. I know they need me, as much as I need them. I too have had my share of my ups and downs – suffered abandonment, survived auctions and the destruction of my apartment building in the middle of the night, and in recent times harbored the overwhelming fear of being torn down. But I am a survivor and my full story will be told in 2020 with the publication of FRED: Building of Dreams. There are more memories waiting to be told.

Memories of My Chocolate Ladies

Ladies working hard in a chocolate factory. Vintage photo.

Lately, my author Fran has been dropping by regularly to watch the progress happening to my outside, the part of me that passerby’s see on their way to and from their busy lives. Fran recently looked up into my windows and said, “It won’t be long before your legacy is told, Fred!”.  The last time she visited, she mentioned her meeting with someone important from Fowler’s Chocolate Company and told him about the special connection to “My Chocolate Ladies”.  Alice and Hannah (you’ll meet them later when my book is published), a mother and daughter who resided in my walls in 1951 were hired then, to work in the Fowler’s Chocolate Factory as “chocolate dippers”.

I remember it as if it were yesterday when the ladies had immigrated to America from York, England. They then lived with me for 21 years.  Why they came to America is a longer story, one that involves World War II, The Roundtree Chocolate Factory owned by The Quakers, and Buffalo’s own Fowler’s Chocolate Factory, but they are the reason I love chocolate.  I can’t taste it, but I do know how it smells, and I also know how much my tenants loved it too.  Bobby Mooney, the little nine-year-old Irish boy, was the only tenant I could communicate with, through telepathy.  He told me how it tastes and feels, melting in his mouth.  It seems so very decadent and delicious.

When you read my novel, you will have an inside view of how Alice and Hannah had a major impact on many tenants and their families when they moved in, each receiving a little brown bag of chocolates along with a dinner invitation.  My “chocolate ladies” acts of kindness broke down barriers of misunderstanding between diverse tenants, and created lifelong friendships and new cultural understanding.

Come back in time and experience my memory of the unexpected power of chocolate and friendship. 

Change is Coming!

Last week I saw Fran, my author, “The Woman in the Black Toyota”. She was visiting the gas station across the street from me, chatting with the owner as his son filled her gas tank. I think the gas station man talks to her about what’s going on in the area, and maybe even about me (I like to think that)! I could see them looking my way, gesturing and nodding to each other. If I could, I would give her a big hug hello!

It’s not unusual for Fran to drive by slowly, turn around and then park in front of me for a few minutes. She looks me over and often gets out to take pictures.  I wonder what she’s thinking. Maybe she’s amazed, as I am, with all the changes that are happening to me.

Not long ago she spotted a massive truck parked alongside me. She parked in front of me and I saw her car window open. I heard her ask one of the two workers heading into my front door if the owner was inside. He told her “No, but he should be back later”. She waited for a while, then left and I thought she seemed somewhat disappointed. I wonder if she’ll get to meet my new owner soon!

I overheard Fran talking about something very special today and it’s all so terribly exciting! I can tell finally tell you as it’s now official that my story, FRED: Buffalo Building of Dreams, will be published by Buffalo Heritage Press in 2020! It’s been decades of challenges in the making to finally achieve publication, and there have been times when my goal seemed an almost impossible dream. But here I am, a one hundred nineteen-year-old survivor, anxiously awaiting 2020…my legacy year!  Life is quite magical.

Journey Back in Time

Dear friends, my long journey from back in time taught me to be a good listener and silent observer of human behavior. My historical novel is a glimpse into the lives of generations of tenants from various parts of the world in search of personal and economic freedom in America.

My observations helped me understand what it must be like to be human and shaped my destiny to share their legacy with current and future generations. They no longer have a voice. My author’s words speak on behalf of all of us.

My tenants’ personal tales enriched my life beyond belief. They became family to me. I held their secrets, disappointments, grief, and was fortunate to share their many moments of joy and success within my walls. I was a silent member of their families, entering their lives without their knowledge, with the exception of one special young boy who grew up protected within my walls.

I was able to connect with my tenants and their families, whose lives were impacted by historical events beyond their control. My firsthand history lessons are vivid and extensive as I imagine them in my mind’s eye, filled with unbelievable actual events. I learned about the Civil War, the Hooks, the Great Strike of 1899, the Suffragettes, World War 1, the right to vote, the Buffalo Children’s Aid Society, the News and Black Boot Boys, and major events that took place around the world during this 118-year period.

You might ask me “Why is this story important?”. And, I will tell you.

I am a survivor, a modest apartment building with a heart and soul and tales to tell. I’m still standing proudly like my tenants were when they first moved into my building.

My hope is that readers will be able to step back in time and see themselves in the struggles and hopes, the heartaches and dreams, and the common humanity that all my tenants shared – and share with you.

In a way I’m like my tenants. I have ups and downs, fears, unknown challenges, only I have no control over what happens to me. My fate is in my owner’s hands. How I wish I had the free will to make the types of choices my tenants made to survive and thrive.

FRED: Buffalo Building of Dreams (Publication in 2020: Buffalo Heritage Press)