Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for the ‘LaSalle’ Category

An American Soldier; the story of Private Jonathan Bowen

In LaSalle, Off to War on July 23, 2013 at 9:42 pm
Margaret, Jon and Brendan

Margaret, Jon and Brendan.  Jon is wearing his Purple Heart.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 16,112,566 individuals were members of the United States armed forces during World War II. In November 2012, it was estimated that approximately 1,462,809 American veterans from this war were still living. Most are in their 80’s and 90’s. This past week my son, Brendan, and I had the privilege of meeting with a veteran from World War II, Jonathan Bowen, and his wife, Margaret. Brendan has a great deal of interest in World War II and often surprises us with his knowledge of historical events of this period. He plans on joining the military one day himself. He was especially delighted to meet with Mr. Bowen and to hear what it was really like to be a private during World War II.

Jonathan Bowen 2

The back of this photograph reads simply:  Love Jonnie Bowen (1945, Germany)

Mr. Bowen, like my son, lived in the village of LaSalle, and attended local schools. In 1942, while a student at Niagara University, he received a notice to sign for a draft card for military service. This was just the beginning. For this notice would change his life. By April of 1943, he was officially inducted into the Army but was granted a continuation in order to allow him to finish his sophomore year of college. In June, he reported to Fort Niagara and trained for several weeks. Uniforms were issued at Fort Niagara. From there he was sent on a New York Central train to Camp Fannin, Texas, for 12 weeks of basic training. It was the middle of the night when he first arrived. The men slept on cots–some double decker. They were given their guns at Camp Fannin. They learned how to shoot and how to clean them. They marched. They crawled around on the ground while live rounds and grenades passed over their heads. They trained this way both in the day time and at night. They always carried their rifles. Training was rough for this boy from Niagara Falls. And hot. He especially recalls the stifling Texas heat and being thirsty all of the time.

Jonathan Bowen 1

Jonathan in his army uniform (possibly outside of his home in La Salle)

Scoring exceptionally well on the entrance tests for the military, Mr. Bowen was accepted into the Army’s Specialized Training Program (ASTP). Following basic training at Camp Fannin, he was sent to Philadelphia for eight weeks of study at the Drexel Institute of Technology. About five of the men were housed together at Hotel Philadelphia during this time period. Mr. Bowen remembers this as a pleasant experience—much more akin to how he had envisioned his life. He studied chemistry and physics. Unfortunately, the Drexel Institute of Technology was short lived. The war was at a critical crossroads and there was a great need for more troops. He was suddenly pulled from the training program and sent to another camp in Louisiana with the 84th Division, Company E, and then shipped off to the European Theater. Louisiana, during the summer, was also extremely hot and humid.

Following training in Louisiana, Jonathan went by troop train to New York and embarked on the sister ship to the luxury liner, Morrow Castle, to England. The ships filled with soldiers sailed in formation with convoy ships in the center, tankers next and destroyers on the outside. On the boat the men slept on hammocks. They landed in South Hampton, England, and stayed at Winchester Barracks, until they were summoned to Europe.

It was actually a beautiful Fall day when Jonathan and about 1,000 men landed upon Utah Beach. There was quite a bit of fighting ahead as many had come before them. He did not know what to expect however he was prepared for anything. They were sent on to Belgium where they lived in foxholes. There were no tents. Under constant shelling, his company (E Company) had three days on the frontlines, followed by two days of relief. It was during this time, about November of 1944, that Jonathan was wounded in an attack against the Germans. Not even realizing that he had been shot, another soldier noticed his foot was bleeding. He remembers that it had felt as if he had been hit with a stone. He was in the hospital tent for 7 to 10 days. Medics extracted the shrapnel from his left heel while buzz bombs whizzed overhead. After a brief recuperation, he was released and sent back to the 84th Infantry Division.

Jonathan 4

jonathan 5

Some Niagara Men wounded and missing listed in the Niagara Gazette. 

Back with his company, he was immediately loaded into a truck and brought to the front lines and to the Battle of the Bulge. Lodged in foxholes on a hillside, he and the other men suffered terrible hardship. As weather conditions deteriorated, the Germans had decided to advance. They awaited the Germans in their foxholes. He recalls a time that he was on patrol and he and his group had noticed a lone German tank. They were afraid it may have been booby-trapped. The men dispersed and were shot at as they left. Upon returning with armor piercing weapons, it was determined that there were no Germans in the tank, nor was it booby-trapped. It was merely abandoned.

Another incident took place where three Germans were taken prisoner. The Americans were going through a pass, in single file, all the while Germans shot at them. These Germans were overcome and taken as prisoners.

Life was not easy for the privates. The artillery was neverending. They were in constant fear for their lives. They stayed in the same foxholes for long periods. In the field the men went weeks without showers and “trench foot” was a real concern as their feet were always wet. They had only K-rations for food. They included cans of cheese, instant coffee, chocolate bars, lemonade. Jonathan saw the Army, and the war, as a job that he needed to get done. He chose not to make close friends. Perhaps, it frightened him to become close to anyone, as he had witnessed so much sadness and death. However, as strange as it sounds, Jonathan did run into a classmate while serving overseas. A private named, Nick Napolitano, was also with the 84th Division.

Jonathan and the guys

“Hunsinger, Ackman, Cowan, Rico, Epley…Jon Bowen and Friends, Europe”

Jon is standing on the far right with mess kit.

As the Germans continued to withdraw, Jonathan’s company moved forward. The Americans rented houses in Belgium. He shared a couple of rooms with four or five other privates. They slept anywhere there was space. Soon they found themselves in Hanover, Germany. They were told not to fraternize with the Germans. Their motto was always: “kill or be killed.” However, they did speak with the Germans. He had a friend who spoke German well and he learned to speak German, too. Although he found Germany pretty and filled with beautiful trees, it was also a mess of tanks, equipment and bombed out villages. They were never sure when the war actually ended. At one point, they had been told it was over, but were strafed by a couple of airplanes. Some men were even wounded and possibly killed.

When the war had officially ended, Jonathan was sent to Reims, France. He worked as an agent on the railroad and had a nice place to stay where a German POW cleaned the rooms. He and the other men walked daily to the train station waiting for word that they would be going home. He lived comfortably in Reims and was able to spend some time in Paris and London. It may be during this time that he was able to see President Truman and General Eisenhower in person. He remembers that the soldiers had all of their bullets taken from their rifles during the visit of these two very important men—just in case.

Eventually, Jonathan was sent by train to Le Havre. During the stormy season on the North Sea they boarded boats and embarked upon a 12-day trip to New York City. While in New York City, he saw his girlfriend, Eleanor (they had met at Drexel), and then finally returned to Niagara Falls. Margaret was at Buffalo State College when the war ended. They were friends for some time and actually wrote letters back and forth during the war.

Following the war, Jonathan was intent on being a civilian once again. He left the Army as soon as possible and although he refused to wear civilian clothes (and wore his uniform until it wore thin) he had a difficult time adjusting to home life. His parents thought he was “funny.” All of his friends were getting back into their life, or had chosen to stay in the Army for some time. His parents had hoped he would return immediately to school—but he just was not ready at the time. Eventually he did return to school under the GI Bill and he pursued the career in science that he had originally set out to pursue before the war ripped him away. He and Margaret were married and lived happily ever after. They have two children: Jonathan, Jr., and Glenn; four grandchildren: Heather, Melanie, Nathan and Joshua; and two great grandchildren: Chloe and Anastasia One of their grandsons, Joshua, is serving in the Army and has spent time in Afghanistan.Margaret

Jon and Margaret’s Engagement notice in the Niagara Falls Gazette

March 29, 1947

Mr. Bowen has left the war behind him for now. It was over 60 years ago that he was a young private landing on a beach in France. I think my son and I were startled at how much he does remember of that strange adventure in Europe. And he doesn’t recall it with sadness or regret. He knew he had a job to do and he followed through without complaint. And, yes, he was lucky enough to come home and to live a full life and to meet on a hot day in July in the library with another young boy from LaSalle.

The Remarkableness of Carl Goodrich; The Death Adventure of a Boy from LaSalle by Michelle Kratts

In Bring Out Your Dead, Dangerous Waters, Deaths, Ghost Stories, If This House Could Talk, LaSalle, Niagara Falls on July 3, 2013 at 11:49 am

It’s been 100 years since Carl left our house for his fateful trip into eternity.

The Journal of the Dead Beats Society

Once upon a time, ninety nine years ago, there was a young man who lived in our house. His name was Carl Goodrich and his story fell into my lap–along with an old newspaper clipping—just a few days before we moved into a big old farmhouse on Lindbergh Avenue in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls. As a genealogist, I was excited about the possibilities of the lives of those who came before us but I must admit that I was unprepared for Carl Goodrich….

Of course, when you buy an old house everyone wonders if you have ghosts—especially if the past residents experienced violent or tragic deaths. I have wondered about that myself but so far haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. The doors swing open by themselves…but old house doors do that. There are strange creaking noises…but old houses do that. And the cats stare into the…

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Yearbooks are always fun….

In Amherst, LaSalle, Lewiston Public Library, Niagara County, Niagara County Resources, Niagara Falls, School Days, Yearbooks, Youngstown on June 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm

LaSalle yearbook

Over the past few years the Jon F. Popkey Genealogy Room at the Lewiston Public Library has amassed dozens of vintage yearbooks. As all good genealogists know, a yearbook is a treasure to behold. Along with photographs, we can get a little glimpse into the everyday lives of the area in which our ancestors lived. There are histories of the schools and pieces about individual students and faculty members. Sometimes we get lucky and find even more. We hope you will consider donating yours (or thinking of us when you find them at yard sales). Thank you to Amy Wall for donating the LaSalle Junior and Senior High School yearbook from 1946. It is our first yearbook from LaSalle!

Below is a list of the yearbooks (and one alumni directory) we have on hand in the Genealogy Room:

Albright College (Pennsylvania) Alumni Directory: 1998
Amherst Central High School: 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1940
Bishop Duffy (Niagara Falls): 1963, 1964, 1965
DeVeaux School (Niagara Falls) : 1953
LaSalle Junior and Senior High School (Niagara Falls): 1946
Lewiston Union School: 1947-1950
Lewiston Porter: 1951, 1952, 1953, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1964, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986,1988, 1992, 1995, 1998
Niagara Catholic (Niagara Falls); 1984
Niagara Falls High School: 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940
Niagara University: 1963, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1993, 1999
North Junior High School (Niagara Falls): 1927, 1928
St. Bonaventure University (Allegany, New York): 1969

Come and check them out or contact us for lookups at:

Part 4: The Island of Lost Souls; a brief and macabre history of Cayuga Island

In Ghost Stories, If This House Could Talk, LaSalle on December 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Cayuga Island

Photograph of Cayuga Island, courtesy Tim Baxter

In the beginning there were three sisters and many ghosts…

The sisters were frantic.

Maybe your mother can help us, they said.

My daughter raced over to the unassuming house perched at the edge of the Niagara River, on Cayuga Island,  as soon as she had heard the news.  She texted me some of the story.  The sisters were friends of friends and apparently they had a little ghost problem that was getting out of control.  Their stepfather was away so they could concern themselves with this situation for a few minutes–or at least until he pulled into the driveway.  He wasn’t fond of the ghost talk.

But the girls were willing to tell their tale–hoping that some kind of help would come their way.  They had had enough of the faceless man and the lady with the scraggly hair.

And they were not the only ones to see the scraggly-haired woman.  The neighbors had actually seen her through the windows.  There were many, many specters that seemed to hover outside the windows and oftentimes pushed their ghostly faces against the glass.  There was a man who wore a baseball cap.  They have never seen his face–no matter which way he appears, it is only darkness.  And there are spirits of animals.  They claw their way up and down the stairs at all hours of the day–unseen–resounding through floor and wall.  Their beds rattle and shake while they sleep.  And one night, one of the sisters found herself in a most precarious position as she struggled with all her might to keep one of these ghosts from pinning her down to her bed.

Enough was enough.  These spiritual encounters at the house on Cayuga Island were becoming quite sinister.

I never knew much about the history of Cayuga Island so this was quite an adventure for me, as well.  The house, itself, was not too old.  But I have learned that the age of a house has nothing to do with the probability of it being haunted.  There are so many other factors to consider.  There was always something on the premises–even going back to ancient times–whether a fire pit, a Six Nations camp, a cottage or a final resting place for a murder victim.

And Cayuga Island IS ancient.  Searching through books and histories you will find that the first actual building erected by white men in Niagara was a bark church built on Cayuga Island around 1678-1679 by Father Hennepin, a priest who had accompanied the explorer LaSalle’s party to the New World.   The infamous ghost ship, Le Griffon, was also built somewhere close by on the banks of the Cayuga Creek– under the watchful eyes of the Iroquois.   The church was abandoned soon after the ship was sent off and probably burned by suspicious warriors.  Shortly after, the ship also disappeared into history.


According to Tuscarora historians, even before the explorer LaSalle stepped foot in the area, Cayuga Island was an important location for the Natives.   Dugouts were carved in locations throughout the island  as this was the embarkation point by which they made their trips out to all the other islands.  These islands in the Niagara (Strawberry, Squaw, Buckhorn, Navy and Grand Island) were all inhabited during ancient times.  According to their histories, if one were to excavate the location, ancient fire pits would be found all along the river.

Cayuga Creek was one of the most mystical corridors leading straight through (what is now) the Tuscarora Nation and into the Niagara River.  The Creek flows first from the Tuscarora swamps.  It was at this origination point that the natives would load their canoes with goods for trading and follow the route which would ultimately lead them to Cayuga Island.


Before the Civil War, Cayuga Island was famous for Mr. John Burdett’s peaches.  Cayuga Island was home to the best peaches the area could offer.  The harvests were so plentiful that Burdett was selling over 500 baskets a day at Rowe and Co’s on Main Street in Buffalo–not to mention the sales to other locations closer to home.  By the 1870’s the passenger trains on the Central and Erie Railroads between Buffalo and LaSalle were bustling and it was not uncommon for visitors to come and visit Burdett’s Orchards on a regular basis.  They were only a four or five minute walk from the LaSalle depot.  In the summertime Cayuga Island was the center of considerable activity as a cottage colony.  A few residents lived there throughout the year, however only a handful stayed over the winter months.  In fact Cayuga Island was almost completely cut off from the rest of LaSalle during that time.  And then there were the baptisms.  It was on Cayuga Island, in the Little Niagara River, that hundreds of people were baptized.


During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Cayuga Island was a summer resort.  A cottage colony, it was the center of considerable activity.  It was so popular a rest spot that in 1897 it was considered a viable location for the Pan American Exposition.   President McKinley checked the place out himself.   In the end, however, Buffalo received the honor of hosting the world famous event, but not without the tragedy of a dead president.

Maybe one of Cayuga Island’s saddest stories was that of Billy the Bear.  Back in 1907 George Luick’s tethered bear became the victim of a public execution.  He had been kept on a chain outside Billy’s house and as the years passed came to resent the patronizing spirit of the passerby and the occasional snapping at by the marauding fat calf.  One afternoon he broke away and chased little Henry Baker down Main Street.  Following this incident it was decided that the bear would be murdered.  But it was a specially planned “killing.”  Even twenty year old Rex, LaSalle’s greatest hunting dog, (and George Luick’s beagle)  would join in on the fun.  The game plan consisted of the following:  Billy’s collar would be slipped off at a given signal, he would run for his life and all the area hunters would have a go for it.  But it did not go as exactly as planned.  When Dr. E. H.P. Griswold, S.P.C.A. agent, heard about this he explained that as an officer of the law he could not permit the hunt to take place.  Mr. Luick was angry.  As the hunters began to arrive with firearms that represented every make of rifle and shotgun from the Civil War to the last sportsman’s show Luick took the law into his own hands.  With Billy double chained to an iron post at the edge of the creek, Luick put an end to the bruin with his Winchester 45.  Poor Billy.  It was said he cried like a baby before he finally died.  A.P. Spitzig, the village butcher, dismembered him while the villagers stood and watched.   In the end, poor Billy ended up in a pot of Christmas stew for he had been a bad bear.   Maybe Billy wasn’t bad at all, though.   Maybe Billy just wanted an end to his miserable existence.


There is a dark history that ripples through Cayuga Island’s past.  One that may account for the ghosts in the house of the three sisters.  These are the stories that most people wish to forget.   Stories not of fruit orchards, religious revivals and rebirth–but stories of destruction and death.      Actually much of the macabre history of Cayuga Island may have been born of the great fire of 1912.    For it was after this date that the headlines often revealed tragedy and mayhem. Many of the most prominent cottages lay in smoldering ruin.  It was believed that the fire was of incendiary origin.  In other words, someone had purposely set it.  Other than the destruction of the adorable cottages, it was learned that but one life was lost in the fire...and that was a black crow.  His charred remains were disclosed near the ruins of one of the cottages…. This one sole sacrifice left to the wind.


Following the fires, it was found that there were quite a few inadequacies concerning structural safety on Cayuga Island.  Improvements were made at this time.  New homes were built and the bridge restructured.  Measures were in put in place to make it easier for the firemen to reach the island.  Things were looking so much better…until the two little girls vanished.  Their names were Ruth Ratcliffe and Bertha Weise.  The mystery of the disappearance of the tiny playmates of Cayuga Island sent Niagarans into a flurry.  It was a Wednesday morning, on March 11, 1925, that two three year old girls, who had been playing outside near their homes on Cayuga Island, vanished from sight.  Continual dragging and the dynamiting of the Little Niagara River yielded no bodies for some time.  But they did show up, eventually.  By March 14, Bertha’s little body was found.  A  red rubber boot, worn by Ruth, was the only evidence of her demise until May 6,  when her body was found in the river at the foot of Sugar Street (Hyde Park Blvd).  I recently found the exact spot where this event occurred and drove past while my own daughter was asleep in the car.  A chill went through me as I noticed children’s toys laying about the property.  I couldn’t help but wonder if those little girl ghosts pick them up here and there and play–for old time’s sake.  Perhaps they are frozen in time–on this island–forever.

ratcliffe and weise

The 1920’s and 1930’s brought on an entirely new era to Cayuga Island.  An era of construction and…an era of destruction.  It was christened Niagara’s beauty spot and referred to as healthful, delightful, restful. In 1927, along with the village of LaSalle, Cayuga Island was annexed into the city of  Niagara Falls.

sumer homes

Enter:  the era of the rumrunners.  Violence by gunfire caught Niagara by surprise.  It was not uncommon for Islanders to awaken to shooting forays upon the Niagara River–for when the sun went down, it was inevitable that the river was run by the runners.  It was reported in the Niagara Falls Gazette, May 14, 1931, that practically every resident of the island and adjacent part of LaSalle section has reported hearing heavy battles on the river… A section of breakwall was found to be riddled with bullets.  Promiscuous shooting on the upper river had become a menace to life along the river front.

And there were cries for help in the night.  Last ditch screams for help from the river.  Residents often called the police station claiming they had heard cries coming from the Niagara but could see nothing.  Cayuga Island watchers often caught sight of flashlights in the river, too.  They would turn on and off, as if beckoning for someone’s assistance.  And then nothing.  It is believed that most of these people were ultimately carried over the falls.

over the falls

Inevitably, Cayuga Island was a perfect spot to leave a murdered cadaver.  It was also a perfect cove in which floaters naturally gravitated.  In 1911, the body of an unidentified woman was found floating in the Niagara River near Cayuga Island, opposite LaSalle…on the index finger were two rings…one plain and one inscribed “M.L. & E.G.”  It was May when she was found by Michael Abbott, an upriver boatman.  It was presumed she had been in the river throughout the winter.  I imagine her hair may have been quite scraggly by that time.

Strange phenomenon is not uncommon on Cayuga Island, either.  In August of 1930, a phenomenon that defied explanation in ordinary terms was witnessed and reported by several persons who were standing on the Cayuga Island banks of the Niagara River.  Summer revelers, they maintained that there was no indication of high winds or a coming storm when suddenly they all became aware of a fury building in a tree some distance away.  The circular motion called to mind a cyclone, however there was no cloud formation in sight and all the rest of the area was clear and calm.  What they saw resembled the commotion when a flock of birds is flushed.  But there were no birds.  The air current passed in a direct line coming from a northwesterly direction and headed due southwest.  The viewers surmised this as they noticed that the waters of the river in its path were also suddenly agitated.   This most unusual occurrence was never fully explained.

witness phenomenon

Through the years, there were more murders and deaths on Cayuga Island.  One striking one occurred during the holiday season, in 1958, when a beautiful young woman from the Town of Tonawanda was found strangled and frozen to death on Cayuga Island.  The autopsy revealed she might have still been alive when she was left on the river bank.  Her name was Judith McCollum and she was murdered by William Liss, who was believed to have been a serial killer, for he had reportedly killed at least one other woman.  Her body was found beside concrete blocks at the foot of 86th St., on Cayuga Island, by two little boys.

woman left

So who can the ghosts be that haunt this particular house on Cayuga Island?  If such a thing is possible, they may be any of the tragic folks who died miserable deaths on Cayuga Island.  The Tuscarora historians insist that all the places around the Cayuga Creek are enchanted.  Perhaps some of these souls are lost on the island forever.

Although we attempted a formal paranormal investigation (with NF Paranormal) of the haunted house on Cayuga Island, the day came and went.  The homeowners ultimately decided that they did not want to follow through with anything of the sort.  The three sisters were a bit disappointed.  Things continued to occur and (I believe) the house was ultimately sold.   The ghosts of Cayuga Island are not their problem anymore.  They are someone else’s.