Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for the ‘Hotels of Niagara’ Category

Help for a “Fugitive”– St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, June 2, 1855

In Churches, Hotels of Niagara, Niagara Falls, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Underground Railroad on September 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Leafing through the pages of the church records from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls, New York, reveals, once again, that there were people in this city ready and willing to support the abolitionist cause.  On June 2, 1855, it was recorded under the heading, “Distributions“, that among other distributions of money given to various people in need, one dollar was given to “a negro fugitive.”

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Other notations could also possibly refer to African American freedom seekers–those amounts distributed to “a mother and son going from NY to Toronto,” “to mother and son returned from Toronto,” “charity to men travelling,” “alms to a negro missionary.”  I can’t help but wonder if any of these “distributions” ended up with Harriet Tubman, herself.

It is interesting to ponder the situation at Niagara Falls during this time period.  As documenting the Underground Railroad is a difficult task–because of the fact it was operated illegally and in secret–very few actual pieces of evidence have survived.  Each tangible item is sacred to our history–such as this documentation of aid by an established institution in the city of Niagara Falls to a “negro fugitive.”

By June of 1855, the Fugitive Slave Act was well-enforced.  Assisting a fugitive slave resulted in a possible $1,000 fine (equivalent to $28,000 today) and six months jail time. Slave owners were only required to produce an affidavit to a federal marshal to capture a “fugitive slave.”  Owners often came up north in order to “kidnap” free blacks into slavery.  As slaves had no right in court, they had no hope in defending themselves.    It was because of this law that Canada became a very important settling place for fugitive slaves and free African Americans.  It was during the 1850’s that the Underground Railroad was most active.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and the individuals who ran the church during this time period, can be revealed as supporters of the Underground Railroad.  The church records show that African Americans were a part of the congregation early on in Niagara Falls’ history.  They were married and buried by this church according to the church record books.  A quick perusal enlightens us to the very same individuals that keep popping up in other records as possible leaders of this network:  Peter A. and Elizabeth Porter and the Whitney family (James and Celinda Trott, Dexter and Angeline Jerauld and Solon and Frances Drake Whitney) who were also proprietors of the Cataract House hotel, which employed so many African American waiters and cooks who were fighters on the front lines of this battle for the freedom of man.  These men and women were the leaders of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in 1855 and obviously aware of where their charity money was going.

You can check out the records for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at http://www.monroefordham.com.

It’s December 1, 1941

In Dine and Dance in Niagara, Hotels of Niagara on December 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm

If you were in Niagara Falls on December 1, 1941…just a few short days before the world changed at Pearl Harbor…these would be your choices for radio shows.   What would you be listening to?


Take her to the Indian Room

In Dine and Dance in Niagara, Hotels of Niagara on December 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm

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Niagara’s history resonates with music. Even as the mighty Falls has always mastered her own music, it was inevitable that men would follow suit. The hotels that grew along the river became temples to music from the very beginning.

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Ernie Whistler was one of Niagara’s finest musicians. Born in Niagara Falls to Canadian parents, Hayden Whistler and Lucinda Roe, Ernie was destined to make music. Census records show that as early as 1910, when he was 19, he was listed as “musician.” He taught music and was the band leader for various swing bands over the years in Niagara Falls and in Lockport.   His first wife, Olive, was a singer. It was said that she “held her audiences spellbound with the rendering of her solo numbers.”

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For some time Ernie lived at 947 Ontario Avenue. He was most well known for his ten piece swing band as well as the Indian Room Ramblers. He had a radio show up in the Hotel Niagara called, Piano Paragraphs. During the late 1930’s, WHLD was piped out of a studio in the Hotel Niagara.


Won’t You Come in?

In Hotels of Niagara on December 1, 2012 at 4:29 pm

The Hotel Niagara is still here.  We’ve peaked inside her frosted windows.  Hopefully one day she will let us  in again.

Designed by Buffalo architects, Essenwein and Johnson, and built between 1923 and 1925, she is located only 1/4 a mile from the Falls.

Twelve stories high, she was considered a skyscraper back in the 1920’s.  In 1952, Marilyn Monroe and her husband, Joe DiMaggio, rented out a room while she was in town to film “Niagara.”

The Hotel Niagara is currently being restored to its former grandeur and is slated to reopen sometime in 2013.

But today, she is still a ghost.

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