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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Timon’s Treasure: The Forgotten Reliquary of St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Detail of object

by Paul Lubienecki, PHD
©Copyright 2015. All rights reserved by the author.

On a sunny day in August 2011 Msgr. James Campbell, then rector of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Buffalo, received an unusual phone call from Sr. Eve Amadori, SSJ. “I think I have something that belongs to you,” she advised. The archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph was reorganizing and cataloguing the various items held in storage by the Sisters when she discovered a long lost object in a closet at the Sister’s headquarters in Clarence. Apparently this large item, which measures two feet by three feet within an elaborate frame, is some type of a beautiful ornate embroidered reliquary. This only heightened the intrigue. Where did it come from and why was it there? Who made it and for what purpose?

Further inspection by Sister Amadori uncovered a fragmented handwritten note on the back of the reliquary and some writing on the rear panel of the frame. The note indicated that the Diocese of Buffalo placed the reliquary with the Sisters of St. Joseph. However there was no detailed information as to a date of the transfer or for what reason. Realizing that it was the property of the Diocese, Sister Amadori placed the framed reliquary in the trunk of her car to return it to the Cathedral.

After Msgr. Campbell received the reliquary he and Sister attempted to put together the pieces of this sacred puzzle to determine its origin and history. Msgr. Campbell noticed five wax seals on the reserve panel. The markings had symbols indicative of a bishop or other high ranking clergy in the Catholic Church. This signified that the reliquary was authentic as certification of such a religious item needed proper seals by a bishop or Vatican official. Unfortunately, the faded wax seals made identification of an exact source nearly impossible. Also on the bottom at the back was a label: “Genesee Picture Frame Co.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

“Colored People to Hold Mass Meeting and Make Protest.”

by Richard White 
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.

This was the dramatic reportage in the Buffalo Courier on Thursday, June 19, 1902. What prompted this announcement was a surge of insults and attacks on blacks with impunity by “white thugs” on Michigan Street south of Broadway. The racial situation in that part of the city was tense. The newspaper suggested that “a race war is imminent…the young colored men…have already organized into several crowds for protection.” However, one victim of the most recent assault, William P. Rhodes, proposed another option—to demonstrate publically blacks’ indignation and anger against virulent prejudice, and to demand change.

Rhodes, the proprietor of the Magnolia Saloon at 55 William Street, called for the protest meeting to occur at his business on June 20. Early on Sunday morning on the 15th, he and two companions—bartender James Dorsey* and housekeeper Jessie Wright - were accosted by a crowd of white men as they returned home from the Central RR Station. According to the Buffalo Evening News on June 16, one of the white men “made some slurring remark about the woman.” Dorsey protested, and was knocked to the ground by the thugs who then pounded Rhodes so severely that he required hospital care. But there was still more to occur.

On the 16th, the Buffalo Express best summarized what happened next when a patrolman from the 3rd Precinct arrived on the scene—“none of the assailants was arrested. Patrolman Malonney… arrested Dorsey and Wright… They were fined $5 apiece [for disorderly conduct] in sunrise court yesterday by Justice Rochford.” Later, because of Rhodes’ actions including hiring an attorney one day before the rally, and threatening to file suit to recover the fines imposed on his cohorts--four of the alleged assailants were arrested, although their cases never were adjudicated.

Rhodes’ “mass meeting” drew about 25 prominent black men, according to the Courier on June 21. Some of them made speeches that “were quiet in tone, although some criticism was made of the lack of necessary police protection…. The men then formulated an approximately 350 word resolution that reviewed the hostile racial setting caused “by thugs called men who, possessing white skins, arrogate to themselves the right to molest…any person of a different race or color….

The resolution concluded with a request for “the cooperation of all good citizens, white or black, to aid us in our denouncement of this wanton tendency to the end that we may live in harmony together.” There was no word in the resolution on a need to form groups “for protection.”

The aftermath of these events was positive. The protest meeting, and its proposal for racial harmony, generated its desired goal--the local daily papers carried no new reports on race-based attacks by white thugs near Michigan Street at least for the rest of 1902. Thanks to one black man who almost overnight became an activist for justice-- a tense racial situation subsided in a northern city. Five decades before the emergence of the modern Civil Rights Movement, an African American man successfully confronted racism in his hometown of Buffalo.

*The Courier 
is the only newspaper that refers to this man as Ralph B. Dolsey.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.

Flying Tigers Memorabilia Lands at Cherry Creek Town Museum

by Sharon Howe Sweeting
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.
Two blood chits, a short snorter, and a 1943 cloth map of eastern China have landed in a small town in southwestern New York.

These artifacts and more are displayed at the Cherry Creek Town Museum. They were given by Larry Waite in memory of his father, Second Lt. Lawrence A. Waite, who served with the 14th U.S. Air Force in the China-Burma-India Theater in 1944 with the American Volunteer Group (AVG).

The AVG was better known by a nickname: the Flying Tigers.

The AVG was founded in 1940 and led by a renegade pilot named Claire Chennault whose pursuit pilot training was criticized by his superiors but later endorsed by the U.S. War Department and the president.

Capt. Chennault had been in China for a few years assisting Chiang Kai-shek’s government in training Chinese Air Force Pilots when, in 1939 he traveled to Washington with Chinese officials to request fighter planes, bombers, supplies and parts in their war against the Japanese. By the end of 1940 the U.S. government had agreed to provide 100 Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks to China after signing a currency stabilization agreement with them.

The P-40s were made available after the RAF deemed them to be obsolete. They were painted with flying tiger “nose art” shark faces. Each plane had a pilot, a co-pilot, a navigator and bombardier. Lt. Waite served as a bombardier as evident by his pocket notebook with several mathematical calculations for dropping bombs.

The “Blood Chits” issued to the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers in Chinese characters in case they were shot down read “This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue and protect him.” The collection at the Cherry Creek Museum includes one made of silk, worn inside the jacket and one made of a more durable material, worn on the outside.

A useful souvenir called a “Short Snorter” was also donated. The Department of the Air Force describes it thus: “Many Allied airmen in World War II made souvenirs of their travels by collecting currency from all the places they visited.” The collection of bills were taped together and signed by friends with whom they traveled. Waite’s includes 24 bills from the U.S., Portugal, France, Algiers, Egypt, Iran, India, East Africa and the Congo, British West Africa, British Guiana and Australia among others.

With a slice of military history presented in this small American town museum, an airman, a friend and a neighbor is remembered.


Byrd, Martha. Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger, 2003.

Office of Air Force History. The Flying Tigers: Chennault’s American Volunteer Group in China. 2015

About the author: Sharon Howe Sweeting is the Cherry Creek Town Historian and Museum Curator (Smithsonian Trained) and a Trustee of the Chautauqua County Historical Society.

Monday, March 21, 2016

“Hitlerism Invades America” Supporters of Hitler in New York City and the Nazi Threat in America, 1930-1934

by Dr. Robert G. Waite
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.

“Hitlerism has invaded America,” warned Samuel Duff McCoy, an investigative journalist, in his 1934 exposé of the mounting tide of support for Nazi Germany throughout the United States.[1]  Following months of work on the activities of pro-Nazi individuals and groups that had become especially active following Hitler’s takeover of power in January 1933, McCoy, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, authored a series of articles that revealed the range of activities of those involved, largely recent immigrants from Germany, and their efforts across the nation to bring Nazism to America.  “The invasion is upon a systematic and nationwide scale,” he wrote in the first of the articles.  “It has been laid out and is being carried out by men professing allegiance to the principles of the Nazi Party in Germany.  It has been the approved and, in repeated instances, the active support of official representatives of the Reich.”  McCoy described these efforts in depth and provided specific examples.  His articles included copies of documents and photographs that substantiated his findings.  There could be no doubt about the extent of the pro-Nazi infiltration of America.  McCoy named those most heavily involved with the concerted efforts to establish Nazi organizations in at least 20 cities, those eager to promote in this country the ideals of National Socialism.  In 19 communities he found that the local Nazi groups had their own storm troopers’ unit, young thugs who wore swastikas, Nazi uniforms, and drilled much like their namesake, Hitler’s SA.  Their purpose was much the same, too, to maintain “order” at meetings and to intimidate dissenters and foes.[2]   New York City was at the center of these efforts, these activities.

Though not the first to call attention to these activities--other journalists had written articles for local newspapers and The American Hebrew and Jewish Tribune ran a series in October 1933--McCoy provided the most thorough, all-encompassing and widely read coverage.  He built upon the wide-spread interest sparked across the nation by the series in The American Hebrew, a New York based weekly.  As its editor wrote in the October 20th edition, “The press of the whole country quickly responded to the startling disclosures made by The American Hebrew last week.”  For the articles revealed the existence of Nazi “cells” in many cities, the formation of “storm trooper” units, “newspapers fed with material from Berlin,” agents traveling the nation to coordinate pro-Nazi activities, paid radio announcements, and materials brought into the country through diplomatic channels, “a perfect replica of the Hitler tactics and organization imported to America.”  These “astonishing facts” generated widespread interest and sparked real concern about these foreign efforts to undermine fundamental American rights and beliefs.[3]  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

George H. Frost, 1796-1872: Cherry Creek Pioneer Resident and Underground Railroad (UGRR) Conductor

By Sharon Howe Sweeting, Innkeeper
Cherry Creek Inn

Several reliable sources describe the character and activities of George H. Frost who came to Cherry Creek in 1823 and in his log home at the corner of Southside Avenue and Union Street in the Village ran a hotel/tavern, a post office, and shoe shop. In several respected local histories, Frost is portrayed as an outstanding, upright citizen, a Baptist and Abolitionist.

But is some of this just local lore, I have wondered, or can it be documented? My partner-in-research, Joanne Mansfield, and I set out to prove such claims by these various authors using official records such as census reports, contemporary church proceedings and military files. In the process we discovered several conundrums.

George H. Frost was born in 1796 in Dartmouth, Bristol County, Mass., on the Rhode Island border. According to Charles Shults in Historical and Biographical Sketch of Cherry Creek, Chautauqua County, New York (1900), George H. Frost learned about the Revolutionary War struggles for the equal rights of all men from his parents. He personally knew many veterans of the War.

“Into the very fiber of his existence was born and bred an intense love of justice and of country,” according to Shults. However, we were unable to locate official documentation regarding his parents.

He next appears in 1814 at 17 or 18 years of age as a private in Capt. Joseph Lord’s Company NY Militia, from Nassau, Rensselaer County, as a substitute for Theron Webster. On March 22, 1820, he married Zerviah Sherman in Nassau. (War of 1812 Pension Application Files) However, Shults reported that the marriage took place in Bennington in Genesee County. Both Andrew Young in A History of Chautauqua County, New York (1875) and Shults find them in the spring of 1823 in the log home in Cherry Creek which served as their residence, hotel/tavern, shoe shop and post office. In 1830 the first Town meeting was held at the G.H. Frost hotel; he also served as a town supervisor and Justice of the Peace. (Shults)

Local Baptist Church records confirm that he served as a deacon of the church whose early congregation figured prominently in the underground railroad. This connection might have been influenced by Fredonia Baptist Deacon Eber M. Pettit (1802-1885) who authored “Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad” (1879) although Cherry Creek was not specifically mentioned as were the nearby towns of Leon and Ellington.

Frost was outspoken in his opposition to slavery, denouncing the Atherton (US Senator D-NH) Gag proposing to ban “Congress from discussing petitions which mentioned bringing slavery to an end” (Wikipedia). He also opposed the Lecompton Usurpation which protected the rights of slave holders and especially the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law passed by Congress to provide for the return of escaped slaves. (Shults)

In 1838 or 1839 we find the family removed to a farm 6 miles NW of the village in what is now Farrington Hollow, formerly Vermont Hollow. The home appears on the 1854 Map of Chautauqua County and on the 1867 and 1881 Atlases of Chautauqua County. Away from the prying eyes in the Village perhaps might make it easier to hide slaves.

Obed Edson in History of Chautauqua County (1894) wrote that “After 1845, George H. Frost of Dartmouth, in Bristol County Massachusetts and his wife Zerviah Sherman Frost, turned their home in Cherry Creek, Chautauqua County NY into an Underground Railroad waystation. The Frosts pioneered the Cherry Creek Settlement in 1823 and opened a tavern and inn. In addition to farming, storekeeping and operating the Post office, they supported local efforts to rescue slaves and earned respect for greatheartedness.” Shults described it thus: “and for a long time [he] was actively engaged in the services of the ‘Underground Railroad’, so called, and many a fugitive slave was assisted by him on his secret journey in his effort to escape bondage to Canada. In his house he sheltered and fed alike the traveler and the fugitive slave.”

Another conundrum: Fugitive slaves were usually hidden in out buildings and barns. Were Frost’s invited into the house? According to a family who lived in the house at 7165 Route 85 in the 1980s, the signs of hidden passages and hiding places still remained. Also, for an illegal, secret organization such as the U.G.R.R., why were G.H. Frost’s activities described in such detail?

Whatever the truth is, we do know his devotion to his moral principles and belief of equality for all men lasted a lifetime. He remained a Lincoln Republican to the end and retired back to the village around 1867 where he lived in a house across the street from his original log home. He died there in 1872. The 1881 Atlas of Chautauqua County lists the property as belonging to Mrs. Frost. He rests from his labors in cemetery plot 113 up the hill behind his house. Also in cemetery plot 113 lies a Ruth Harris who died on Feb. 5,1865. His mother perhaps?

Additional source: Phelan, Helene C. And Why Not Everyman? An account of Slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the Road to Freedom in New York’s Southern Tier. 1987

About the author: Sharon Howe Sweeting is a CCHS trustee and owner of the George N. Frost House, which is now known as the Cherry Creek Inn.

Famed Walker Passed Through Cuba, NY in 1909

By Dave Crowley
Cuba Town and Village Historian
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.

There was a time in the Victorian era when “long distance” athletes were attracting the attention of thousands of people across the country. That was when “professional pedestrianism” was in its heyday. And the greatest walker of that era was Edward Payson Weston who passed through Cuba, NY at least once. This is evidenced in the photo above. My grandfather, Fordyce F. Hammond,(#1 in the photo at far left) was among those who witnessed his trek through Cuba where he posed for a picture at the Erie Railroad Depot. Others identified in the photo with Mr. Weston (#9) are #5, Mr. Ringrose and #11 Art Bernard.

It was the election Abraham Lincoln that unknowingly put Weston on the road to fame. Weston lost a bet with a friend on the outcome of the 1860 US Presidential election, which Lincoln won. As the loser of the bet Weston was to walk 478 miles from Boston to Washington to attend Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861.

He began his payoff walk at Boston’s State House at one o’clock, February 22nd, which gave him 10 days to hike the 478 miles to the Capitol. He was then 22 years old, weighed 130 lbs., and was 5’7” tall. He pegged off the first five miles in just 47 minutes before settling into a steady 3.25 miles per hour pace. At every town throngs waited for him and cheered him on. A serious delay took place outside of Leicester, Mass., where he encountered foot-deep snows and fell down several times. He kept plodding on arriving in New York the morning of February 27.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"On the merry-go-round of life at last I've grabbed the brass ring."
Walter Broe’s Improbable Journey from Bowery Bum to Darling of New York’s Art World

©Copyright 2015. All rights reserved by the author.

It would be difficult to imagine a less likely candidate to become darling of New York’s art world than Walter Broe. He was the only child of poor Irish immigrants. His relationship with his father was “not sweet and light” and after his father abandoned the family, his mother disappeared as well. They placed Walter in a Catholic orphanage and he tormented the nuns so much that when his father returned to claim the boy, the sisters were glad to oblige. Upon reaching adulthood, Walter Broe started a prolonged, winding, and ultimately unsuccessful, search for his long-lost mother, crisscrossing the country jumping freight train boxcars and sleeping in hobo jungles.[1] When the Great Depression arrived, Broe settled in among the nameless hordes of destitute and disposed men in Lower Manhattan’s Bowery district skid row.

During the cold winter of 1933 the Bronx-raised social realist artist Raphael Soyer and his friend Katherine Schmidt were walking near the Whitney Museum of American Art, when it was still on New York City’s Eighth Avenue, the ‘Main Street of Greenwich Village.’ They stumbled upon a poor elderly fellow using sticky chewing gum attached to a twig to fish for coins that had fallen through a subway grating. Conscious of the couple scrutinizing him, the old man (Broe) explained, “many’s the pennies and nickels one finds down there.”[2] Interrupting the commendably industrious man’s toil, the artists engaged him in conversation, learning about his nomadic adventures in search of his mother and that he was now homeless and flat broke.[3] Broe’s rough existence gave him a gaunt, worn-down appearance. Hardship seemed woven into the lines of his wrinkled, bony face; he was the very embodiment of Depression-era suffering. Raphael Soyer asked Broe to come to his studio the next day for a painting session, in exchange for small remuneration, some hot food and a bed for the night, an offer Broe quickly accepted.

On particularly cold nights, Broe used panhandled or ‘fished’ coins to pay for a bed in a Bowery flophouse, where a friend named Whitey also bedded down. The night he met Soyer and Schmidt, Broe had a noticeable case of the jitters, and Whitey asked him what was wrong. Broe replied somewhat sadly that he had been offered a steady job; Whitey seemed horrified at the prospect. You see Broe had misunderstood Soyer’s offer, thinking Raphael wanted him to come and actually paint the interior of his studio, not to serve as a model. It was going to be grueling work. “Okay Walter,” Whitey decided, “go to sleep and in the morning go over and try it out, it sounds safe enough.” The next day, Broe arrived at Soyer’s Fourteenth Street studio and proclaimed, “I’m here, gimme the brush, but I’m warning you, it’s a long time since I’ve had one of them in me hand.” Soyer, whom Broe described as “a small man, serious in mien and sensitive,” calmly explained all Broe needed to do to earn twenty-five cents per hour was sit as steadily as possible, and do nothing. This was a job he could handle. Broe proved so reliable and adept at idly sitting still, Soyer contacted several artist colleagues to recommend his new model, and eventually Broe commanded fifty-cents per hour. He was on his way to becoming a prominent member of New York City’s liberated bohemian realm.