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)

Coming To Life In 1900

I rose up from the ground in a residential and industrial neighborhood on the West Side of Buffalo, New York and became aware of being built shortly after my four-story modest apartment building cornerstone was securely in place in 1900. I often noticed a young woman with a child in her arms, watching me daily, except when the weather was bad. The construction crew would wave and sometimes talk to them.  It was quite confusing at first because I felt a warmth toward them both and felt alive.

I can’t tell you the exact moment it happened, this awareness, or the date I was completed, but it was during this time that my tales of generations began. Gradually, I learned that my first tenants were the mother and son who watched me being built. My journey with them taught me to listen, observe, and feel what it’s like to be human

I’m privileged to be an eyewitness to many generations who lived in my building.  The tenants living within my walls were from all over the world and had multiple twists, and turns, creating a journey of a lifetime. For decades I tried hard to connect with someone who would hear my plea; for someone who would write my legacy.  In 2006, Fran, my author heard my cry for help as she drove by my building.  My voice will take you back in time to meet and hear my characters talk, and live their lives, in their historical period.  You’ll get to experience what their challenges were like and how they dealt with unpredictable lives.

When you read this historical, multi-period novel about my life, FRED: Buffalo Building of Dreams, you’ll also find out how intertwined my tenants were over a span of 118 years. They were a mosaic of humanity and made this old building sometimes wish I really was human. Having lived as long as I have, my history actually takes place in the real-time lives of the immigrants, refugees, internal migrants, and descendants of enslaved Peoples of Africa who called me home.

I’ve had my share of fear and disappointments too. One of my fears is of being destroyed or demolished before evidence of my existence can be documented, but I think almost everyone can relate to being fearful. I was a novice about life. Each decade provided new insights about how wars, poverty, political upheavals, and famines took a toll on many of my tenants. I learned that Freedom was their common goal. Their stories were often heartbreaking, but through them I experienced the real meaning of courage and how it never dies. I cried with them when I had no tears, smiled on the inside when they were happy.

I’m excited about being published in 2020 (Buffalo Heritage Press) because it will allow me to share these unbelievable stories. When you read this book, you too will enter the lives of this mosaic of people and become part of their hopes and dreams. Perhaps you’ll also discover the secret their legacies reveal for the current and future generations of Americans.

THANK YOU FOR BELIEVING IN ME!

Having a voice of my own is new to me and frankly, I never really thought it would ever happen. I know we apartment buildings don’t typically talk. We usually only listen and exist to provide shelter to our tenants. When I think about my life and the lives of generations I was able to connect with, it does boggle my mind.

Having the ability to share my tenants’ tales in the historical period they lived is miraculous and I know that it wouldn’t have happened if it also wasn’t for Fran’s co- researchers, Pat Smyton and Janet Mazzaroppi. The team of three, Fran, Pat, and Janet, called themselves the Orphan Building Research Team, but because of these three ladies, I definitely no longer feel orphaned. I also must tell you about Jane Hauser, who was my hero of a typist and rescued my author from her handwritten manuscript that needed multiple revisions.

My opportunity to be published wouldn’t have happened if the major research wasn’t completed, and although it took a six-year period of time, it was worth the wait. Without my excellent super achiever researchers, Fran feels that this book project would have taken at least ten years to complete on her own.  What I’ve also learned is that the research doesn’t stop, as there has even been a little more research completed during the content editing process.

Pat S. was the first of the team to say yes to Fran’s invitation to become a historical researcher, followed quickly by a second yes from Janet M.  They both had very busy lives, but slowly became dedicated through Fran, to finding out the reason I pleaded for help. Gradually, the research process unfolded and now they are all seasoned researchers.  Fran, Pat, Janet, and Jane also now consider themselves the female version of the four Musketeers instead of three, which makes me smile. All this because of me, and I find that both amazing and humbling!

I also must tell you about my special website creator, Christine Demcie, as she captured my purpose for living 118 years and made me come alive on my author’s website for the world to see. I can’t end this blog of thanks without sharing my appreciation and love for my “Fred’s Friends”, as their support has been invaluable. They are all listed on my website and I can’t believe that the list keeps growing!

There’s so much more to tell you, but for this blog, I wanted to say thank you!

With much gratitude, Fred

The Woman In The Black Toyota

I wouldn’t have a novel being published about me without the woman in the black Toyota.  It took decades for someone to hear me and I don’t know if it was by chance or fate, but through telepathy she was the only one able to hear my plea. “Please tell my story before it’s too late.”

In the Spring of 2006, she drove by me looking puzzled, at 8:15 a.m., on the busy Niagara Street on the West Side of Buffalo, New York I call home.  When she turned with a lingering look in my direction, I thought maybe a miracle had occurred and hoped it wasn’t my imagination.

For the next several years, I saw her black Toyota pass by me and noticed that she always turned her head in my direction. I would see her stop by weekly at Carm and Sal’s Gas Station, directly across the street from me. She would buy gas and visit for five or ten minutes, talking to either the father or the son who pumped her gas. I watched as they all would glance in my direction or point to the changes taking place on the outside of my building.

Although I was unable to communicate with her directly, I knew she heard me, and I never gave up hope that she would tell my story. Time was taking its toll and I kept deteriorating a little bit at a time.  I was becoming slightly desperate because I wanted to share my rich history with current and future generations before it was too late.  I wanted people to have the opportunity to honor my tenants who were immigrants, refugees, internal migrants, and descendants of enslaved Peoples of Africa; their tales paying tribute to their struggle for freedom, and their lives proud legacies for current and future generations of Americans.

Then it happened and I’ll never, ever forget 2012.  This was the year the woman in the black Toyota pulled right up in front of my building and spoke to me.  “Here I am FRED.  I’m here to learn more about you and begin researching your story.  I have to find out why you spoke to me.   Never in my whole life has a building talked to me.”

Eventually, I found out that when she first saw me…heard me…she was shocked and couldn’t believe what had just happened to her. She rushed into her office which was not very far down the road from me, and scribbled down notes on a scrap pieces of paper.  As the years passed by, she told everyone she worked with about me, Building #1469 on the corner of Niagara Street and Potomac Avenue. That was me before I got a real name.  Fred.

I’ll tell you more about how her research team emerged next time. I can’t wait.