Tonawanda News

January 17, 2014

ADAMCZYK: Memory so green you need a visual aid

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It was a recent discussion with someone about the origin of the churches in my hometown of Kenmore that got me looking at dozens of photographs, and that’s when it occurred to me:

The beginnings of Kenmore, indeed that of Buffalo’s boom-town days (a city so romping and stomping in the period 1890-1910 it required its own custom-made cool suburb, and that was Kenmore) coincided with the rise of photography as a popular communications medium. Out in Rochester, George Eastman was turning cameras into hardware as abundant, and easy to operate, as pencils, and all over the world, people were taking pictures of things.

While developed photographic film was brittle, flammable and impermanent, the “positives” were on durable paper, stackable and had something of a forever quality to them. Hence, pictures, uncountable numbers of them, litter attics, basements, Dumpsters and memories.

Foster Brooks’ hot dog stand occupied a Sheridan Drive corner where a bank drive-up now stands. Cannot find a photo of it, although it’s not hard to find one of Brooks in his Las Vegas and Hollywood days, now only available in photos himself.

A treasured memory out here is the drag-racing culture that permeated Sheridan during the 1950s, 1960s and beyond. I know it’s treasured because, in presentations on local history I offer, smiles arise and heads begin nodding (they must have been there!) when I bring up those mom-and-pop burger joints where the kids met to check each other’s rides, etc. Pictures, though? No, not many.

Ken-Ton had the occasional Klan rally, and history records the dropping of illegal bottles of booze onto Delaware Avenue sidewalks when the cops were around during Prohibition, but I do not expect to see pictures of that sort of thing.

An ice cream parlor in the Southtowns had a full-scale model cow, in either plastic or aluminum, perched over its front door, and when the kids in the back seat of the car saw her they knew ice cream for the well-behaved was waiting inside.

Yeah, well ... Kenmore had a billboard-size analog thermometer, telling the temperature and suggesting Simon Pure beer (“The best taste in town!”), adjacent to a building that became a Studebaker dealership and is now the site of an assisted living facility in the shape of a castle, so there.

So do photographs motivate memory, does memory motivate the taking of pictures, are they one-and-the-same but not identical, is there no connection, or what?

A South Carolina firm called Arcadia Press offers its services to anyone who’ll collect pictures of some place or thing. The firm will bind them into a book and sell it back to the collector/author, and a visit to any bookstore will indicate the popularity of the historical picture books in its “Images of America” series.

The Town of Tonawanda got the treatment in 1997, Kenmore in 1998. The slim books remain a mainstay of the local historical society, which sells plenty just before Christmas.

Browse through one of these and you notice that here-today-gone-tomorrow, ephemeral nature of even the sturdiest building you know. The place you get your eyes examined was once a meat market, after it was a saloon, after it was a vacant lot, and the building next door ...

Conversely, some things go on forever. There are storefronts on Delaware approaching their 100th year of use. They were erected in a building boom, here and elsewhere in the Buffalo area, shortly after the end of World War I, and they’re still doing business. Which is why one store has had, for years, an entranceway made of tiles that promote Buster Brown Shoes. Where have you gone, Buster Brown?

The digital camera provides ephemeral memories. However many pictures one takes, few are preserved, in a computer, in print, wherever. You scrap the rest with a button-push instead of a spring cleaning of the attic, but they’re gone nonetheless. YouTube and others like it make it clear, through: people are recording themselves and their environments for posterity.

Not quite the way it was done in those photos now treasured in historical collections. Picture it: about eight kinfolk, dressed in finery and posing, staring into the camera, on a front porch to show off the family real estate. You don’t do that nowadays, unless there’s a Camaro in the driveway.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.