Museum Staff

Street of Shops Makeover

streetofshopssignsAbove the staircase and leading to the museum’s lower level are engraved words, “1870s Street of Shops.” This signage and the exhibit it teases were intended to endure time. For over a half century, it has done just that.

The exhibit lies within earshot of my office, from which I have listened as thousands of visitors have passed through the artificial streetscape. Many reminisce about their childhoods, each storefront sparking a different story. Others recall seeing the display with their parents when they were young. It became evident that the exhibit had, over time, become as much a part of people’s memories as the items held within it.

streetofshops2In recognition of this, we worked to update the Street of Shops while maintaining its history and charm. The exhibit now boasts a new paint job, with colors inspired by late 19th century paint swatches preserved in our library. A newly installed ceiling painted as the sky adds to the display’s immersive ambience. The most notable change, however, is the space formerly occupied by our Buffalo Savings Bank display which has been transformed into a family-friendly interactive photo studio. 

BfloBlissCutieThe newly added space, Bliss Bros. Studio, was inspired by a longstanding and well-respected photography business which first opened on Main Street in 1861. For over 50 years, the Bliss family produced some of the city’s finest portraits and landscapes. Now, the story of their business will be shared with our visitors.

bflobliss2Inside the studio, guests are encouraged to dress up in vintage clothing and pose in front of our custom made backdrop to create their own vintage portrait. Images may be shared via social media by using the hashtag #buffalobliss. When at the Museum, visit our new studio, take your picture (or a “selfie” as it were) and join in on the fun while being a part of continuing story of photography.

Anthony Greco
Director of  Exhibits & Interpretive Planning

(This article was featured in our Summer 2015 issue of “The Album“. TBHM’s quarterly newsletter)

Death of the card catalog (dun dun dun!)

User comments

Cataloging card cabinets

Friday, October 2, 2015 marked the official end to the Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC) printing of catalog cards for libraries. Yes kids, as seen in the haunted New York Public Library basement of Ghostbusters or the cabinets in the background of The Big Bang Theory. Nearly all libraries have now incorporated the use of an online catalog essentially rendering cataloging cards obsolete. While many libraries may still have ordered the cards as a back up to their online system, OCLC decided it would no longer supply the cards and could turn its attention to other prevalent issues libraries are facing. For those of you curious to see what was printed in the final batch of cards, check out this video and article from The Columbus Dispatch.

Examples of the Research Library catalog cards. The cards on the left side shows beautifully handwritten cards from our Old Book Catalog, which we still use. The cards on the right side are from our last batch ordered from OCLC. Notice the “end of life” statement on the first printed card.

Worry not my nostalgic friends; we at the Research Library still have a couple of card catalog cabinets that we use almost on a daily basis. Those of you who have visited us recently may have checked out our Obituary Index (1811-2001), or the Buffalo/Erie County Civil War Enlistees Index. So, if you’re in the mood for a trip back to your younger years, stop by and take in the sights of the card catalogs we still use. Just watch out for the Library Ghost!

Amy Miller
Assistant Librarian & Archivist

The Birth of Journalism in Buffalo

BfloExpress18121013wm (2)October 3, 2011 went uncelebrated as a major anniversary in Buffalo’s history. Two hundred years earlier, Buffalo’s first newspaper, the Buffalo Gazette, began publishing on October 3, 1811. An annual subscription cost $2.50, equal to about $44 in today’s dollars.

The Buffalo Gazette was founded by the Salisbury brothers, Hezekiah A. Salisbury (1789-1856) and Smith H. Salisbury (ca. 1783-1832). Because of the difficulty of securing reliable supplies of paper, publication was irregular. The first paper mill west of the Genesee River did not open until 1817 in Batavia.

The first page of the issue of the Gazette devoted several column inches to listing books and pamphlets available for sale at the Buffalo Book Store and featured an excerpt from the Manual of the State of New York. Back then, “news” was what happened in the outside world, information that was in high demand in isolated frontier villages. What happened here was already known to Buffalo’s small population (1508 in the 1810 census). Local coverage was sometimes sparse in these early newspapers.

War of 1812 researchers will be disappointed by the Gazette’s lack of coverage of the Burning of Buffalo. Dec. 14, 1812, was the last time the Gazette was published before the press was moved for safety to Harris Hill in Clarence. The Salisbury brothers had assessed the risk correctly, for the British burned Buffalo to the ground on December 30, 1813. No reporters were at the scene; residents supplied eyewitness accounts, sometimes long after the event. The next issue of the Gazette appeared on January 18, 1814. It did not return to Buffalo until April 1814.

The Research Library has the Buffalo Gazette on microfilm, plus it owns a set of very fragile bound volumes of original issues starting in December 1812. The Gazette underwent a series of name changes (Niagara Patriot, Buffalo Patriot, Buffalo Patriot & Commercial Advertiser), ending its long journalism tenure in December 1924 as the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser. We have all surviving issues of these newspapers on microfilm.

In 1812, the Salisbury press also published Buffalo’s first book, the French Convert, an anti-Catholic novel that had been popular in Europe for almost a century. The Research Library owns the sole surviving copy in Buffalo. The Salisbury press next published speeches by Red Jacket and Erastus Granger on the role of Indians in the War of 1812.

To see the Buffalo Gazette and the French Convert, visit the Research Library during our public service hours, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 1-5 pm, with special extended Research Library hours the 2nd and 4th Wed. of each month 6- 8 p.m. No appointments are necessary.

– Cynthia Van Ness, Director of Library and Archives

*This article was featured in the Spring 2014 issue of “The Album”

Favorite Library Acquisitions

During my tenure here at The Buffalo History Museum, I have had many interesting items and collections come across my desk. The vast majority are from generous donations and a select few are ones my boss has found. I’ve decided to pick out a few of my favorites to share with you.

McKinley Poem1. McKinley Poem, 1899. Call number: Mss. A2013-33

This poem is written on the back of a note from Augustus Strong of Rochester to Wilson Bissell of Buffalo; however, the author of the poem is unknown. What is so intriguing about the poem is the prediction of President McKinley facing St. Peter and answering for his polices while holding office. The poem was written in 1899 and sent to a resident of Buffalo. As you all know, President McKinley was assassinated two years later in Buffalo.


2. Meldrum’s special Pinochle playing cards. Call number: GV 1235 .M4 1915   HA Meldrum Co Pinochle Cards

Library catalogers typically don’t encounter 3D objects; those are more frequently found in museum artifact collections. However, we received a donation of a deck of Pinochle playing cards from H.A. Meldrum and wanted to include these in the library collection due to the image of the department store on the cards. This was a unique challenge to accurately describe the cards, a 3D object, within the confines of a library catalog that typically deals with paper.


3. Exit 51W / by Kasia Keeley. Call number: Rare N 6498 .P37 B8 2012

This was another fascinating discovery by my boss and would more accurately be described as artwork than a book, as it contains no linguistic content. It proved to be another unique challenge for me as a cataloger. The artist created a serigraphy and cut paper book of scenes along I-90W from the East, Rt. 33 at Exit51W and Rt. 198. The book has a single piece of grey card stock holding it together that once opened, unfolds like an accordion. Over top of the card stock, the artist has cut paper scenes. They include the Statue of David, the Richardson Complex, the Buffalo History Museum, Niagara Street, the Electric Tower and the Liberty building to name a few. If you’re interested in seeing it, stop by the library or check out the artist website: http://www.kasiakeeley.com/Kasia_Keeley_Artwork/Exit_51W.html


4. Edward Cook Freedom Papers. Call number: Mss. A2013-110 A2013-110 Edward Cook Obit

Just like the many archives of the world, we too make our own discoveries. While only ‘lost’ for a short time, the needs of this collection were finally able to be met 10 years after acquiring it. The collection was donated in 2003 by Dr. Bruce Lee, a descendant of Cook. Edward was the son of Henry Cook, who came to Maryland in slavery from Africa. Henry escaped slavery and joined the Mohawk Indian tribe. He met and married Patty, an Indian woman, and together had Edward, making Edward a free man. Edward moved to Buffalo as a young man, where he made a living being a barber at the Mansion House. The collection includes a photograph of Edward, Baltimore County freedom paper certifying he was born free, baptism certificate for Edward, a permission note to travel at night and his obituary.

Queerie Queers
5. Queerie queers with hands, wings and claws with illustrations by Palmer Cox.
    Call number: Rare PR 9199.2 .C69 Q84

This children’s book, illustrated by Palmer Cox, was published by John D. Larkin out of 663 Seneca Street. The book features many short stories, magic tricks to do at home and less than common nursery rhymes. For example, I grew up on the simple version of “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” However, the version John D. Larkin helped to publish had a much longer introduction to Jack & Jill. “For an idle lad, as he was, Jack had no traits, after all, that were very bad. He was simply Jack with the coat on his back patched up in all color from gray to black. Both feet were bare; and I do declare that he never washed his face; and his hair was the color of straw.” Thankfully, his soap business was more successful than his publishing.

Amy Miller
Assistant Librarian & Archivist

Secrets from the stacks: Erie County Penitentiary Prisoner Identification Cards

The “Secrets from the Stacks” is a program that is offered only a few times a year to spotlight items the Research Library does not typically get to show off. The program being held on June 6, 2015 will feature the Erie County Penitentiary prisoner identification cards (Mss. B85-6). The collection dates from 1896 to 1914, with the bulk of the photographs being from 1899 to 1905. This collection was donated to the Research Library by the Erie County Correctional Facility (Wende) in 1986 and just recently has been arranged, indexed and cataloged, making it accessible to interested researchers with a Scholar Pass.

Antwater Back WatermarkThe identification cards used by the Erie County Penitentiary are the precursor to modern day finger printing. The cards mimic the Bertillon system in order to identify repeat offenders by their physical features and dimensions, such as their head length, length of middle finger and the length of their foot. The cards also contain the offender’s name, aliases, age, nativity, occupation, charges and sentencing information. These cards were then arranged by a unique system and referenced upon their re-arrest. The Research Library greatly appreciated the donation due to the collections valuable genealogical, sociological, criminology and anthropological research potential.

The program will feature many of the identification cards for the attendees to view, along with photographs of the Erie County Penitentiary to help place the collection within context and other true crime resources. The program will run from 10 am to 12 pm on June 6, 2015. The completed index is available online, by going to http://tinyurl.com/TBHM-prisoners.

Amy Miller
Assistant Librarian & Archivist

Impact of the Library

TBHM LibraryIf you’ve taken up genealogy, you know the impact of finally finding a picture of your great-grandfather’s tavern. Or seeing a picture of the long-demolished corner deli where you bought Atomic Fireballs as a kid.

And then there’s the impact when a new fact upends your understanding of what happened back when. Gospel truth does gets demoted to urban legend, but first it puts up a fight. One of the just-will-not-die Buffalo urban legends is that in 1901, every house in Buffalo was supposedly photographed for the Pan-American Exposition and we have the pictures. If only it was true!

We do have an estimated 12,000 house pictures dating mostly from 1870-1970, but there was no campaign to photograph the entire city for the Pan-Am. We don’t have pictures of everyone’s house, then or now. There are another estimated 12,000 pictures of schools, factories, churches, hotels, office buildings, grain elevators, and so on. Our pictures are not online, so an in-person visit is needed to see them.

This extensive collection of architectural imagery has another kind of impact: economic.

How so?

Maybe you’ve noticed that Buffalo’s often deteriorated buildings are getting restored, repurposed, and re-occupied at an unprecedented rate. The Lafayette Hotel renovation was just the most celebrated of a long and growing list of rehabs. In Buffalo, existing buildings are attracting more private construction dollars than new-builds. This resurgence has a lot to do with the National Register and New York State’s preservation tax credit program.

In most Buffalo neighborhoods, getting listed on the National Register opens up tax credits for the restoration of old buildings, both residential and commercial. Property owners typically depend on professional architectural historians to write National Register nominations. In turn, professional architectural historians depend on the Library’s collection for historical evidence, visual and otherwise, to make the case for National Register eligibility. We have the region’s largest collection of period photographs, atlases, and architectural drawings.

TBHM LibraryInvestment = jobs, and not just for architectural historians. Bringing back old buildings means hiring architects, engineers, roofers, plumbers, plasterers, electricians, painters, carpenters, decorators, and more. Preservation is good for Buffalo’s economy because when you renovate an existing building, you typically spend about 60% of your budget on labor, which is usually supplied by local talent. In turn, those paychecks are spent mostly in the local economy on rent, groceries, etc. The remaining 40% goes to materials, which are usually manufactured elsewhere. For a new build, that ratio is reversed. Forty percent of your budget goes to labor and 60% leaves the local economy to buy materials made elsewhere.

We like to think that in our own indirect way, the Library is helping save Buffalo, one building at a time.

To learn more about New York State’s preservation tax credit program, go to: http://nysparks.com/shpo/tax-credit-programs/

To learn more about the National Register, go to: http://www.nps.gov/nr/faq.htm

To learn more about the economic impact of historic preservation, go to: http://www.achp.gov/economic-general.html

– Cynthia Van Ness, Director of Library and Archives

*Article featured in the Fall 2013 issue of “The Album”

Spotlight Artifact: Sholes & Glidden Typewritter

TypewritterC.L. Sholes, an American mechanical engineer, along with his colleagues Carlos Glidden and Samuel Soule, invented the first practical typewriting machine in 1866. After many years of alterations, experiments, and patent applications, the Sholes & Glidden typewriter, pictured in the image above, was first manufactured in 1873. This was a drastically improved model from their first attempts and, in many ways, is similar to today’s typewriters. Sholes sold the rights to Densmore, who in turn approached Philo Remington, the maker of Remington rifles, to help produce and market the new device. The first “Sholes & Glidden Type Writer” was offered for sale to the public in 1874, but was not a commercial success until several years later when some improvements to the keyboard were made by the Remington engineers. This particular typewriter was sent by Sholes to Julius H. Dawes of Buffalo. It is a handmade prototype, one of only five created and the last known to exist. It was used in Dawes’ law office for 17 years before being donated to The Buffalo History Museum.

An important aspect of Sholes’ invention, one that is still with us today, is the creation of the QWERTY keyboard. So named because of the first 6 letters on the top left of the keyboard, the design was so important to the creation of the typewriter that it was included in Sholes’ patent applications. The placement of the keys was a specific choice on Sholes’ part so as not to jam the moving parts of his machine. In his very first model, Sholes placed the keys in two rows, in alphabetical order. The result was sluggish and the machine often halted whenever someone tried to use it. The early letters were placed on the ends of rods called ‘typebars.’ If two typebars that were located next to each other were used in succession, they would clash with each other. So Sholes figured out that if he took the most common letter pairs and made sure that their typebars were not next to each other, then the type writer was much less likely to jam. The QWERTY keyboard was the result of this design and has been with us ever since.

–  Rebecca Justinger, Registrar

*This article was featured in the Spring 2014 issue of “The Album”

How to Make Your Own Turkey Magnet While Exploring History

Here at The Buffalo History Museum we want to engage all of our visitors. Creating hands-on activities and crafts is a wonderful way to show young minds that our museum is more than a place with exhibits on view, museums are places to explore! These turkeys are simple to make and a great way to be creative on Thanksgiving! Fun for the whole family!

You will need:

• Colored Paper • Scissors • A clothespin • Glue • Feathers or other decorations (Let your turkey be fancy!) • A magnet

Instructions:

TurkeyCraft

1. Trace your hands cut them out, glue to the back of a clothespin.

2. While the glue dries, cut out a small circle for the face. Draw your turkey’s features or use googly eyes. IMG_3345

3. Glue the face to the top of the clothespin.

4. If you have one, stick the magnet strip to the back of your clothespin.

5. Decorate the front of your turkey!

6. When everything is dry, hang it on your fridge to admire.

IMG_3346**Fun Fact: Did you know? The biggest farm turkey ever weighed over 86 pounds, according the Guinness Book of World Records. His name was Tyson.

Share your turkey magnets with us! Find us on: Facebook, Twitter (@BuffaloHistory) or Instagram (@buffalohistorymuseum) Use the #TBHMTURKEY   -Megan MacNeill Program & Engagement Coordinator

Summer Intern Diaries

When I came to The Buffalo History Museum for an internship with the Collections department in the Resource Center, one of my primary tasks consisted of cataloguing a collection of Fisher-Price toys from the 1960s through the 1990s.

The collection is a treasure trove of Fisher-Price at its best: Little People and lap desks, chime balls and a cash register, telescopes and a Toot-Toot steam engine. ???????????????????????????????There’s a rainbow grand piano, a saxophone, and a xylo-drum. The oldest toy is a 1963 “Huffy Puffy Steam Engine” with a cheerful face on the engine and a caboose; the newest toy is the brightly colored saxophone, which chirps peppy notes and dispenses soap bubbles from its bell when played.

Aside from getting to revel in the nostalgia that accompanied cataloguing toys from my childhood, I was also lucky enough to interview one of Fisher-Price’s retired toy engineers. Fred Robjent worked as a Product Development Engineer from 1978 to 2005. After receiving his Associate’s degree in mechanical engineering and his Bachelor’s degree in agricultural mechanization, Mr. Robjent worked at a few smaller companies before joining the Fisher-Price team. Once hired, he went through a rigorous training program. He went on to work as an engineer for the company through its periods of massive growth, its time under Quaker Oats, and finally its purchase by Mattel.

Mr. Robjent helps Walter Mayer, our Director of Collections, with the upkeep and repair of an apostolic clock in the collection. When he heard we were doing a project on Fisher-Price artifacts, he brought a number of his own personal artifacts, vintage catalogs, and limited employee edition books to the Resource Center for me to use in my research. He was happy to shed light on the design process and share his knowledge of the specific artifacts in our collection.

Fisher Price Roller SkatesMr. Robjent personally worked on the iconic Fisher-Price roller skates. He designed and patented a mechanism that made the toy skates safer for preschoolers. If you had a pair of the skates in the early ‘90s, like I did, you might remember the yellow switch on the bottom of the skate that allowed parents to choose from three settings. One stopped the wheels from moving at all, one stopped the skates from rolling backwards, and one allowed uninhibited skating. While Mr. Robjent has eight patents in his name, this was the one that seemed to make him most proud.

Fred Robjent spoke often of the company’s desire to make the toys as safe as possible. Fisher-Price set numerous safety standards in the toy industry that remain in place today. However, when asked what he loved most about working for Fisher-Price, Mr. Robjent said that it was the company’s family atmosphere he loved most.

Samantha Vandermeade
Summer Intern, Collections Department

Greetings Military History Enthusiasts!

Last fall, to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the Museum  premiered “By Fire & Sword: War in the Niagara Theatre.”   This exhibit focuses on the Niagara Frontier’s role in one of our nation’s most  formative military engagements.

Marketing Associate, Jen LaBella, demos one of the tablets.

Marketing Associate, Jen LaBella, demos one of the tablets.

This exhibit is the Museum’s most modern and interactive to date. Inside, Google Nexus tablets will use military re-enactments and green screen technology to guide guests through the nearly two and a half year campaign.

Historical narrators featured include Laura Secord, Cyrenius Chapin, General McClure, and more. The technology driving By Fire & Sword is a collaborative effort between The Buffalo History Museum and Canisius College and is funded by the Perry Memorial Fund.

Tony Greco with ceremonial headress

Tony Greco with ceremonial headress


I wish that I had the ability to see the Museum again for the first time. So much has changed. The impact and optimism of that change has grown exponentially in the community. We hope to see you will stop in for a visit. We think you’ll be happy you did.

Anthony Greco
Director of  Exhibits & Interpretive Planning