Michelle Ann Kratts

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Stories from Niagara’s rich ethnic past told in “Melting Pot”

In Coming to America, Irish Americans, Niagara County, Niagara Falls, Polish Genealogy, Recipes, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Armenians of Niagara Falls, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York, The Polish of Niagara Falls, Tradtional Ethnic Costumes, Uncategorized on July 18, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage

By Michelle Ann Kratts, Lewiston Public Library

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I will always see Niagara Falls as a delicious melting pot of cultures, languages and traditions. In fact, just last summer, I found myself at an international crossroads while sitting on a bench at the State Park. It seemed the world passed me by as I snacked on an ice cream cone. Women strolled by wearing colorful Indian saris or Middle Eastern hijabs. Men presented themselves with Hasidic tendrils or donning Sikh turbans. My ears discerned voices speaking every manner of language imaginable. I could even smell the traditional spices of the world’s cuisines mix and mash with the rising mist as these men and women marveled at the brink of the great cataract.  Some things never change.

Niagara Falls is a great American story. Throughout the years we have nurtured a sacred tradition in which we have welcomed and embraced people from every corner of the world. Our history includes the stories of brave refugees of war, genocide and famine. So many came to Niagara Falls to make a new start. At the dawn of the past century and for many decades afterwards, the factories and the railroads brought in thousands of much-needed workers and their families. They came from the cotton fields of the Deep South, from depression-ravaged towns. Some came from exotic countries– utterly desperate souls– and occasionally with only false papers, as they would never have been allowed in the lawful way. They crowded onto sea vessels with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They said their last farewells to their loved ones and to their homelands—and most often, never again stepped foot on the land of their ancestors. Niagara Falls was the last hope for so many.


Our new book, Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage, published by the Lewiston Public Library, is a celebration of these people and their stories. Over the past few years, as the local history librarian, I have collected the stories of our immigrant ancestors for the purpose of sharing their struggles, as well as their triumphs. As you read through the narratives, you will see that oftentimes great hardships precipitated remarkable achievements. Despite differences in ethnicity, these Niagarans shared common housing, jobs, and churches and even married into each other’s families. They shared meals with one another and learned bits and pieces of each other’s languages and traditions. They crafted businesses out of what they did best and introduced our area to unique foods, music and customs. They also valiantly fought prejudice and bigotry whenever it arose—from the violent threats of the Ku Klux Klan to racist intimidations from unkind neighbors.

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Novak Family at Ellis Island 

Some of the personal stories mentioned include insightful histories of African Americans in Niagara Falls. Exquisitely written by Dr. Michael Boston, assistant professor of African American Studies at Brockport, and a trailblazer and researcher of Western New York African American history, these chapters highlight the importance of “family” as well as leadership in the African American community at Niagara Falls.  Our friend, Bill Bradberry, a Niagara Falls Gazette columnist and the chair of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Corporation, as well as the winner of the Civil Rights Achievement Award in January of 2017, opens the book with a poignant and nostalgic look back in time at the multiculturalism present in individual neighborhoods throughout Niagara Falls.

Other stories in Melting Pot include: the brave and invincible Armenians, heroes and heroines, who defied all odds before coming to our city; the industrious Germans, who dominated local industry and business; the story of coalmining Italians who ventured into Niagara Falls from a dismal life in Pennsylvania; Polish tales of hardship at Ellis Island, and lost connections with the Old Country; the children of Spanish immigrants who had worn the customary clothes of Spain to American schools; the ancient Ukrainian tradition of the painted Easter eggs, or pysanky; and recipes from a war bride from Wales. Many of our Irish stories were submitted by the local chapter of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Another Irish chapter, written by Niagara Gazette columnist, Don Glynn, reveals a modern day friendship with ties to the Lynch and Buttery families. Yet another tells the story of St. Mary’s Church.  Melting Pot also contains precious family recipes, collected and written with great care, family photos and nostalgic news clippings.

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Sdao Family      

The front cover of Melting Pot proudly displays the marriage of Lithuanian born Zygmont Puisys and Ursula Anna Zugzda at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in 1912.  Ursula, an orphan, had been raised in a church rectory in Igliauka, Mirijampole, Lithuania.  It was said that Zygmont had “escaped” his homeland under a hail of gunfire. Their story is representative of how many of our Niagara Falls stories begin…with despair and gunfire.

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                                                              Puisys-Zugzda Wedding 

Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage will be available at the Book Corner, located at 1801 Main Street in Niagara Falls,    and through Amazon.com. We welcome any new family stories for future volumes.



The Lewiston Public Library and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; “Dachau Opens”

In The Holocaust and Niagara Falls, Uncategorized on January 6, 2017 at 7:25 pm

Just recently, I became a contributor to an exciting project sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum called “History Unfolded; US Newspapers and the Holocaust.” You can find this at https://newspapers.ushmm.org/

The project asks students, teachers, and history buffs throughout the United States what was possible for Americans to have known about the Holocaust as it was happening and how Americans responded. As volunteers, our job is to scour local newspapers for news and opinions concerning 31 specific Holocaust-era events that took place both in the United States and in Europe and to upload them to a database. As of January 6, 2017, 920 participants from across the country have submitted more than 6,200 articles from their local newspapers.  I am proud to say the the Lewiston Public Library is now a participant in this very important work. Anyone is welcome to contribute, as well. I encourage you to do so. Check it out and see if you have some time to help the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with their research.

As for my contributions, they will focus on the news as it appeared in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. It is fascinating to read through these old newspapers and to almost become a part of history as it unfolded. Witnessing these events as they occurred brings history to life. Only through learning about our past will we be able to make prudent decisions in the present.

As the articles that I submit are published, I will also share them with our page and I will take you along on my trips back in time.

The first event, or topic, that they list is “Dachau Opens, March 22, 1933.” How did the Niagara Falls/Buffalo area present this information? Interestingly, I found the very first reference in the Niagara Falls Gazette to the Dachau concentration camp on July 31, 1933. Dachau was initially set up on the grounds of an abandoned munitions plant on March 22, 1933 to incarcerate political prisoners. According to the Niagara Falls Gazette article, “…thousands of people are in jail for political offenses. Estimates of the number vary between 20,000 to 50,000. The latter figure seems nearer the truth, since it is learned on good authority that there are no less than 5,000 prisoners in Dachau, the Bavarian concentration camp.”

Below is the link to the newspaper submission, followed by images of the original article.


Sanborn Newspapers Online

In Digital Newspapers, Uncategorized on June 15, 2016 at 3:10 pm

You can now view several Sanborn, New York, area newspapers online through New York Heritage Digital Collections.


–“Old Weird Herald” from Niagara County Community College, Sanborn, New York, (1969-1971)

Follow the following link to browse the available newspapers:


–“Entricy Herald” from Sanborn, New York (1964-1971)


–“The Spirit” from Sanborn, New York (1972-current)



Fort Niagara’s Wartime Newspaper

In 1940's Era Wartime Scrapbook, Uncategorized, World War II, Youngstown on May 3, 2016 at 7:42 pm

Thousands of area men were sent through Fort Niagara as part of their processing into the United States Army. Below are pages from their post newspaper, the Fort Niagara Drum,dated July 9, 1943.


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Wartime World,Part III: Easter Dinner, 1942

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2016 at 3:04 pm

Before we go on with our three meals a day, in “war-style,” I thought that we might be interested in celebrating Easter in “war-style.” I recently found this Easter Dinner menu in Mrs. Alex George’s column from Easter week, 1942.


April 2, 1942

Even as the war rushed on and the news told tales of violent RAF fights against the Germans, Niagarans went about their daily lives. Friday, April 3, was Good Friday and Mayor John H. Keller, had announced in the Niagara Falls Gazette that the afternoon of April 3, would be proclaimed a civic holiday as “a considerable number of the residents of this city of Christian affiliation will participate in the afternoon services to be held in their respective churches.”


Other major events on everyone’s minds included…will there be enough razor blades to go around? During the month of March, a rush of purchasing followed a dire news report stating that razor blade imports of high-grade Swedish steel would be entirely cut-off. Area stores, during the height of the rush, such as Walgreen Drug Company on Falls Street, said that some purchasers were hoarding a year’s supply. “Person’s who try to hoard, even if it is razor blades, should be held in scorn by the public” said one man who was interviewed by the newspaper. In the end, there were enough blades to meet the demand and a severe crisis averted.


Another great question of the day was… can the lights be turned on the Falls again–at least during the tourist season? Several important gentlemen met at the General Brock Hotel in Niagara Falls, Ontario, to form a committee to interview the Hydro Commission at Toronto to request that the board be allowed to illuminate the Falls from May 24 to Labor Day. Because of the war, the Falls were not to be illuminated. The committee believed that lighting the Falls would not interfere with the flow of Niagara power.

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And don’t forget those Easter Sunday outfits from Beir Bros.! Check out these popular and affordable “1942 Creations.”


And life goes on….


Wartime World, Part One: The National Loaf

In Niagara Falls, Uncategorized, World War II on March 1, 2016 at 11:11 pm

As we embark upon our trip “back in time” to 1943 it might be wise to know a thing or two about wartime bread.  In Britain, where food was quite scarce, a ban on commercially baked white bread went into effect on April 6, 1942.  As most of the flour used to make “white” bread was imported from abroad there was a great shortage.  The Ministry of Food introduced the “National Loaf” at this time.   This gray and gritty bread was to be the staple of British cuisine.  Bakers were banned from baking any other type of bread except the “National Loaf.”  Dubbed “Hitler’s Secret Weapon,” our British allies forced it down to keep from starvation.  But surprisingly enough, the health benefits of a diet based upon this bread were quite alarming.  The added vitamins along with the the wholewheat (wholemeal) flour (as opposed to the bleached white flour they had baked with before the war) gave the British the vigor to fight and win a world war.

So I searched for the recipe for this “National Loaf.”  I thought it would be a necessity for my week of wartime recipes.  The official recipe for commercial bakers was as follows:

National Loaf recipe:

(Yields: 10 loaves)
Potato Flour – 1740g
Salt Sea Fine – 140g
Tap Water – 4740ML
Vitamin C – 6g
Wholemeal flour – 5220g
Yeast – 210g

Mix all ingredients in spiral mixer for 3/5 min
Place dough in lightly oiled container, let rest for 45 minutes
Knock back and let rest for another 45 min
Scale at 1kg, first shape (round)
Rest 10-15 min, then second shape
Place bread in oiled baking tins, prove for 45-60 min at 28-32c
Bake at 208c top 204c bottom, with 5 sec steam. Open vent after 25 min, bake for a further 25 min
Remove from tins immediately and cool on a rack

Home bakers could make variations of the “National Loaf.”

I found the following recipe which I was able to make at home as my version of the “National Loaf”:

National loaf


1 ½ lb wholemeal bread flour
1 ½ tbsp salt
1 ½ tbsp dried yeast
1 dsp honey or treacle
450 ml tepid water 


Mix together all the ingredients and knead for about 10 minutes until you have a soft dough.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave until dough has doubled in size (around 2 hours).

Knock back the dough, give a short knead then cut into two equal pieces. Place in 1.5 litre loaf tins, allow to rise for a further 2 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 200°c then bake loaves for 30 min. To test the loaves turn them out of their tins and give the base a tap – if it sounds hollow they are ready. Allow to cool on a wire rack. 

This recipe actually worked out quite well.  It probably isn’t as dry and lifeless as the commercial loaf must have been.  The honey added a bit of sweetness that made it more flavorful than I expected.  My family was not as fond of it as I was, though. Oh well… for our week of wartime eating, they will learn to like it.

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So what was going on in Niagara Falls, New York, on March 1, 1943?

While you are baking your bread to prepare for your week of wartime eating, you may be interested in what life was like here during the war.

Probably one of the most important things to know was how to feed your family.  If you did not have the ration system figured out you would have been in quite a predicament.  Even as the shortages experienced in the United States were nothing like the shortages in Europe it still was not easy.  The Niagara Falls War Council provided block leaders to assist in helping residents with questions regarding point rationing and nutrition.



The sinking of cargo ships caused great anxiety as these ships often carried much needed food and supplies.  The British depended upon these ships for food and many food goods also came to the United States in this manner.  The Niagara Falls Gazette reported on March 1, 1943 that six US cargo ships had been sunk in the Western Atlantic during the month of February.

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It was actually a low month– however, loss of life exceeded 850 persons.  The month of January brought 30 sinkings.  The monthly average in the first year after Pearl Harbor was 45 sinkings per month.  Since December 7, 1941, the Allied and neutral nations’ cargo ships lost in the Western Atlantic numbered 616.  This was an incredible loss of food and supplies–not to mention human life.

Numbers such as these bring the practice of wartime rationing into perspective.  Cargo ships were not guaranteed to make it across the ocean.  We had to conserve and not waste.  We had to make do with what we had available.

Mary Truman, a Niagara County Demonstration Agent, felt it was the homemaker’s job to understand the rationing system.


Budgeting the family point allowance was necessary.  Planting Victory Gardens and producing your own fruits and vegetables was also a great way to save.


Canned and processed items were often shipped overseas and were scarce at times. Homemade soups and freshly prepared dishes were encouraged.

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There had actually been an eight day period in which “narry a can of fruits or vegetables could be sold legally anywhere in the United States” before rationed sales began.  Once the point rationing system was worked out and the rules established the market was re-opened.  Can you imagine an eight day period in which NO canned items could be legally purchased within the entire United States??  Could you survive?

Another aspect of wartime rationing was an important rule that deemed that individuals could NOT tear the ration tickets out themselves.  Whether their groceries were ordered by telephone or gathered in the store, the store employee (including delivery boys) must remove the ticket.


Before the day was over, it became quite apparent to me that the war was the top news on every page of the Niagara Falls Gazette and it was even mentioned in most of the advertisements.  Ordinary life was certainly uprooted.  So many things to think about…do you have adequate black out screens??   Breaking blackout was a serious offense.


And then there was the volunteer work.  If your husband was off fighting for his country you would hardly be sitting at home doing nothing at all.  There was the Red Cross–forever needing help from sewers and knitters for surgical dressings.  To be honest, I had no idea that American women made the surgical dressings during the Second World War.


For the more adventurous Niagarans, there was the Fighting French Relief Committee.


It wasn’t all hardship, though.  There were the movies.  Which would you like to go and see this week?



The radio was the main source of entertainment.  Orson Welles, Blondie and Dagwood, Radio Theater, some BBC news…all before falling asleep to the Benny Goodman Orchestra.



An Invitation to a Wartime World

In Recipes, Uncategorized, World War II on February 24, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Maybe it’s time we look back and remember the darkest days of World War II.  We have seen all of the movies.  We have read so many of the books.  We have spoken with the older people who remember it well.  The fear, the deprivation.  Times were so very difficult and yet…don’t we all sometimes wish that we could go back to the war years? We want to experience it ourselves.  There were also so many really good things about the era.  People pulled together for victory.  There was something greater than just themselves at stake.  They bravely accepted the sacrifices they were asked to make.  They went without so much.  They recycled.  NOTHING was wasted.  They helped their neighbors.  They pulled together and in the end they were the winners.

Jean and Henry

My grandparents, Jean Fortuna and Henry Borgatti at Niagara Falls, about 1943.  My grandfather served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and my grandmother worked for Bell Aircraft where she made bomb kits for the war.  

Over the next couple of weeks I am inviting you to step back in time with me.  It will not be March of 2016 anymore.  It will be March of 1943.  We will look back upon the news, fashion, entertainment, rationing and most importantly:  wartime recipes.  For what is more critical to our daily life than our daily bread?  For seven days we will not only immerse ourselves in real daily life of March 1943…we will also prepare wartime inspired meals three times a day.  We will see if we have what it takes to live during wartime.  And we will not just stop in wartime Niagara Falls.  We will also slip into Canada and England, too.  Some of our day’s meals will be the average rationed foods enjoyed by our allies.

Ration book

Until I began to seriously research the English diet during WWII, I hadn’t actually realized the extent of the hardship these people experienced.  Along with the very real threat of bombings (by May of 1941, 43,000 British citizens had been killed at home and 1.4 million made homeless) the British were hungry.  Very very hungry.  Before WWII, Britain imported 50% of its total food and much of this came from Europe.  They were cut off from much of the world during the war.  As a result the Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, oversaw a rationing system that would get the British through the hardest times.  In June of 1941, Lord Woolton appealed to American women to sacrifice to an even greater extent in order to help their British allies.  Americans were asked to go without even more in order to allow the United States government to ship food to Britain and thereby bolster food supplies as well as morale.  Could we do it?


March of 1943 brought even harder times.  German u-boats sank twenty-seven merchant ships on the Atlantic Ocean between March 16 and March 20.  Food rationing greatly expanded.  In the United States ration stamps were now required to purchase meats, cheese, canned milk, butter and other fats and all canned and processed foods.  It didn’t matter how much money you had if you did not have enough points leftover to purchase the items you required.  The way we fed our families changed.  Waste was a crime.  Every morsel of food was ingested.  Fruits and vegetables were the staples of our diet and the government promoted widespread canning–even giving more sugar out to those who canned.  Victory Gardens were integral to the war effort.


From the Niagara Falls Gazette 

Can you imagine a world like this?  Strangely, the people of Britain actually became healthier during their darkest hour.  Their lack of sugar and meats coupled with their uptake in whole grains and fruits and vegetables made them stronger and more vigorous.  I started thinking, maybe we can enter their world for a short time as a sort of experiment.  Truly feel what it was like to live in March of 1943.  Maybe coming back to 2016 we will find we are also better and fitter having experienced a sliver of life during wartime.

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Niagarans were asked to help the Russians during March of 1943.  

So will you take the challenge? Get out your reddest lipstick ladies and fix your Victory curls.  We are heading back to 1943.  Bring an apron, too, as we will be doing a lot of cooking.

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To Honor Heroic Deeds

In Civil War, Uncategorized on January 5, 2016 at 12:27 am

By Michelle Ann Kratts

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Recently a very precious medal of solid gold, about two inches in diameter, was discovered by someone in southern Illinois.  Photographs were posted on a Civil War website and it was requested that someone give more information.  My heart raced when I saw this…not for the gold…but for the sentiment behind this artifact of Niagara Falls history.  For this beautiful Tiffany and Company medal was a remembrance of one of Niagara’s finest men, Col. Peter A. Porter.

The medal originally was struck in honor of the five men who were present at the Battle of Cold Harbor back in June of 1864.  This medal, in particular, (found in Illinois) had been presented to John Morris Duff of Hartland, New York.  He and the four others served with the 8th Heavy Artillery during the Civil War in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on American soil.  Col. Porter, who was beloved by all of his men, for his humanity and courage, was killed and his body left behind enemy lines.  In a moment of bravery, five of his men volunteered to retrieve his body–all while under fire.  They were able to bring his body back and because of these men Col. Peter A. Porter was returned to Niagara Falls and his body respectfully laid to rest behind the gates of the Porter family plot at Oakwood Cemetery.  Another of Oakwood’s residents, LeRoy Williams, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his involvement in this very feat.

Following the war, the very exclusive Century Club of New York City, of which Col. Porter was a member, presented these men with these special engraved medals.  Below are images of the medal struck for John Morris Duff.




At present the monetary value of this work of art is unknown, but to those of us who know the story behind the man, Col. Peter A. Porter, and those who served beside him, this is priceless.


In Defense of Non-Fiction

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2015 at 6:21 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts, MLS

In Defense of Non-Fiction

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Recently I have been asked about the relevance of Non-Fiction books.  It has been suggested that they are useless, a waste of money.

I never dreamed that I would have to lay out a defense of Non-Fiction books, but given the recent questions (as well as the intellectually precarious times we live in), I think it’s time.  Personally, I have been deeply in love with Non-Fiction books since I was a little girl.  I read fiction, poetry…all sort of books…but nothing attracts me more than Non-Fiction.  I always have some sort of Non-Fiction title at my side.  A cookbook, a history, a biography.  I even write Non-Fiction.   I also order it for our library.

But, what exactly is Non-Fiction?  We have a big sign hanging from the ceiling at the Lewiston Public Library to direct our patrons to this large section of books.  Why do we even include it in our library collections?

First of all, Non-Fiction is defined as “prose writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people, such as biography or history.”  As a result Non-Fiction includes: history, poetry, psychology, religion, philosophy, political science, finance, true crime, languages, health and medicine, gardening, pets, cooking, home repair, parenting, child development, business, home-building, landscaping, antiques, crafts, interior design, art, sports, literature, poetry, travel, history, local history and biography.

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Non-Fiction books are usually written by experts in a field of study.  Experts are individuals who spend lifetimes researching a particular subject.  They know more than the average person.  Their knowledge is deep.  They have earned a certain authority to be called an “expert” and they usually write books in order to share their knowledge with the world.

Many people cannot afford to purchase every single book that they would like to read.  Nor can they afford a personal one-on-one meeting with an “expert.”    Sure, you can look EVERYTHING up on the internet.  There is a lot of information out there and that is great.  However, librarians (and I am learning many, many other professionals) are beginning to realize that there is one BIG problem with this plethora of information:  much of it is inherently flawed and outrageously incorrect.  So what do we do?  We need to learn to sift through the immense ocean of information for the “real information” that has been provided by experts.  We spend hours doing this in library school.  We do exercise after exercise to learn to “weed out” the “bad information.”  And how do we do this?  We learn to recognize the authorities and where to find the “real information.”  We also learn the hallmarks of “bad information.”  And usually—it is safe to say–we can find most of the “real information” in the Non-Fiction section of the library.

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I am not sure if our patrons know how carefully we choose our books. With tight budgets, we have to be sure to use our money wisely. We read reviews in special library journals.  We keep up on the current interests of the community and the nation.  We get to know local experts and authors. We read extensively, ourselves.  We look to see where our collection might have gaps in up-to-date information.  In reality, we can’t possibly house the entire knowledge of the world.  But, I will promise you this:  if there is something that you desperately need and we don’t have it in our collection we will do our very best to lead you to that information.

Our latest new titles include (among many others): books that will help men and women who have spent time in the military to enter college  http://www.amazon.com/Army-College-Transitioning-Service-Education/dp/1442248068/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449938496&sr=1-1&keywords=from+the+army+to+college+transitioning+from+the+service+to+higher+education, a history of dissent in the Supreme Court  http://www.amazon.com/Army-College-Transitioning-Service-Education/dp/1442248068/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449938496&sr=1-1&keywords=from+the+army+to+college+transitioning+from+the+service+to+higher+education, a study of the threat of ISIS by experts in the field  http://www.amazon.com/New-Threat-Islamic-Militancy/dp/1847923488/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449939093&sr=1-1&keywords=the+new+threat+from+islamic+militancy+jason+burke, a book on the actual science behind magical things   http://www.amazon.com/Science-Magical-Grail-Potions-Superpowers/dp/1476777101/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449939138&sr=1-1&keywords=science+of+the+magical , the latest research by top scientists on Parkinson’s Disease  http://www.amazon.com/Brain-Storms-Mysteries-Parkinsons-Disease/dp/0374116172/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449940812&sr=1-1&keywords=brain+storms+the+race+to+unlock+the+mysteries+of+parkinson+s+disease and Alzheimer’s Disease http://www.amazon.com/End-Memory-Natural-History-Alzheimers/dp/125007648X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449940854&sr=1-1&keywords=end+of+memory+a+natural+history+of+aging+and+alzheimer%27s, a photographic art essay on war http://www.amazon.com/War-Beautiful-Pictorial-Glamour-Conflict/dp/1576877590/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449940908&sr=1-1&keywords=war+is+beautiful, a guide to sustainable living  http://www.amazon.com/Better-Everyday-Art-Sustainable-Living/dp/086571794X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449940972&sr=1-1&keywords=better+the+everyday+art+of+sustainable+living , a book on the lost art of reading nature’s signs http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Art-Reading-Natures-Signs/dp/1615192417/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449941017&sr=1-1&keywords=lost+art+of+reading+nature%27s+signs, a book on recovery for parents of children who are addicted to drugs  http://www.amazon.com/Loving-Addicted-Daughters-Back-Life/dp/1937612856/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449941114&sr=1-1&keywords=loving+our+addicted+daughters+back+to+life, the art and health benefits of fermenting vegetables http://www.amazon.com/Ferment-Your-Vegetables-Flavorful-Pickles/dp/1592336825/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449941167&sr=1-1&keywords=ferment+your+vegetables, the art of digital technology and creativity   http://www.amazon.com/Digital-Handmade-Craftsmanship-Industrial-Revolution/dp/0500517851/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449941221&sr=1-1&keywords=digital+handmade, a biography of Queen Elizabeth http://www.amazon.com/Young-Elizabeth-Making-Kate-Williams/dp/160598891X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449941285&sr=1-1&keywords=young+elizabeth+the+making+of+the+queen+by+kate+williams.

This is only a snapshot of our latest books.  We have educational books, fun books, artistic books, travel guides.   We have books that tell the story of our local history.  I always welcome feedback and suggestions.  What kinds of titles would you like to see?

I think there is something for everyone in our mix and I hope you will think of checking out some Non-Fiction the next time you are at the library.  It won’t cost you anything and it will feed your brain.  I think we are all tired of listening to the angry, ignorant commentaries by so many Americans on social media and elsewhere that pop up with every news story.  So many people do NOT have actual facts or substance to back up their arguments and they are reduced to rely upon soundbites that they have found on the internet.  Honestly, I think people are so angry because they are hungry for actual knowledge.

As a nation we need to become more intelligent.  We need to fight ignorance.  Sure… you must have your own opinions and you must fight for them—but, please, read some books.  There’s a time and a place for all types of literature—but in order to be a better citizen of the world—Non-Fiction books are often good choices.  I hope that there will always be a place for them in our libraries.  If the day ever comes when they are considered a waste of money or obsolete…well, I don’t really want to even imagine that sort of world.


“To Split Our Country Along Religious or Racial Lines is a Heinous Crime”

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2015 at 9:26 pm

To split our country along religious or racial lines is a heinous crime, to plunge us back into the follies of medieval-ism after the founders of our nation have succeeded in divorcing church and state, is the work of unscrupulous or highly ignorant men.  To say that a man’s religion in anyway affects his standing as a citizen is to deny the principles of Americanism.  It is no more consistent with truth and reason than another plank in the Ku Ku (Ku Klux Klan) platform, that a foreign-born man is not to be trusted as a citizen, in face of the fact that the constitution grants him the full privileges of citizenship and demands that he be given full rights when naturalized.

Rabbi Solomon Fineberg

November 16, 1922

Niagara Falls Gazette

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Rabbi Solomon Fineberg (courtesy “The Evolution of an Ethnic Neighborhood that Became United in Diversity,” by H. William Feder)

Throughout history, many fine individuals have called Niagara Falls their home.  Recently I learned about Solomon Andhil Fineberg, who had served as rabbi at Temple Beth El from 1920 to 1924.  Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 29, 1896, he studied at the University of Cincinnati, and graduated in 1917 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  Upon graduation he served with the United States Marines during WWI (from 1917-1919).  When he returned from the war, he studied at Hebrew Union College and was ordained a minister in 1920.  His first ministry was at Temple Beth El in Niagara Falls, New York.

In November of 1922, the Niagara Gazette interviewed him and his statements resonated with me, personally.  The twenty-six year old Fineberg did not mince his words.  There was trouble in the world– trouble in Niagara Falls– and our young rabbi was not about to let it go unchecked.  In fact, he spent the remainder of his life fighting prejudice, intolerance and antisemitism through his written works and through the lecture circuit.  But perhaps it was the happenings in Niagara Falls that paved the way for his most noble work.

Of course, what was going on in Niagara Falls in the early 1920’s was probably not that different from what was going on in the rest of the country.  The “Red Scare” was in full force.  Following the communist and socialist movements in various parts of the world, there were those here that felt the best way to stop this from happening in the United States was to implement policies of discrimination and fear.  The Lusk Committee to Investigate Seditious Activities was set up by the New York State Legislature in 1919 to investigate individuals and organizations suspected of sedition.  Senator Clayton Lusk held fast to conservative views which deemed radicals (and most of the newly arriving immigrants) as “enemy aliens.”  Much of this mentality stretched back to sentiment that was prevalent following the assassination of President William McKinley in Buffalo.  Fear and ignorance was a breeding ground for prejudice and hatred.  The Lusk Committee associated radicalism, specifically anarchism, with immigrants.  Many immigrants were indicted with charges of criminal anarchy.  School teachers were forced to prove their loyalty to the United States by taking oaths.   In Buffalo, on March 19, 1920, 400 suspected “radicals” were arrested.  They were considered “dangerous” individuals merely because of their ethnic origins.

The Ku Klux Klan began to establish itself in Niagara County, and in Niagara Falls, during this time period.  Their agenda was specifically focused on “Americanism,” which to them, meant keeping the population of  Niagara County 100% native-born.  They sought to eradicate Niagara of the immigrant population and they did this through a terrorizing campaign.  The members were also worried about the control of Niagara area schools falling into the hands of “Jews or Catholics.”  The Ku Klux Klan appealed to locals by stating that the immigrants were of a criminal element.  Their main complaint was with the immigrants of the East Side.  Oftentimes, it was said, they actually assisted the city police with various raids on brothels.  They felt that the immigrants had poor morals and could not be trusted.  They often took the law into their own hands.  On April 23, 1923, hundreds of Niagarans were inducted into the Klan at Pekin Cut (near the present site of Niagara County Community College).  After this induction ceremony, about 250 cars filled with klansmen descended upon a park in Niagara Falls at 15th and Weston Avenue.

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April  25, 1923, The Naples Record

On July 2, 1923, 5,000 klansmen paraded down Falls Street to Main Street.  This event was considered the very first convention in New York State of the Ku Klux Klan.  In the year 1925, it has been documented that the Ku Klux Klan burned about 40 crosses throughout Niagara County.  The First Baptist Church was actually bombed in Niagara Falls, and in August of 1924, cards were sent to various Niagara Falls residents who were threatened to “get out” because they were not “100% American.”  Also, in May of 1924, sadly, the Orthodox Jewish Cemetery on Military Road was vandalized and desecrated.  The lock upon the gate was broken and a copy of the sacred Mourner’s Prayer was slashed.  A wooden cross was nailed to a nearby tree.  William Feder wrote in his landmark work, “The Evolution of an Ethnic Neighborhood that Became United In Diversity,” that for an immigrant on the East Side of Niagara Falls, it was…a time of fear.

Many of the immigrants who lived on the East Side—refugees fleeing terrible humanitarian disasters (such as the Armenians), the carnage of WWI, poverty, and religious persecution—came to Niagara Falls with only the clothes on their backs.  Numerous stories exist today because families have passed them down, and because they were documented in our newspapers, in the records of the International Institute and in books.  Social settlement workers, such as Miss Elizabeth Howe, from the International Institute, took these people under their care and assisted them with the process of becoming American.  They helped them find work, places to live.  They brought them health care, taught them English, helped them to fill out their citizenship papers.  They often went above and beyond and even accompanied individuals to court proceedings and supported them when prejudice came their way. Our Niagara immigrants were not readily accepted by those who felt that America must be a “white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant” America.

But then, there were people such as Rabbi Fineberg.  People who were not afraid to speak out against injustice, prejudice and cruelty.  It was said that he was one of the only ones (locally) to speak out against the Ku Klux Klan.  I found the words he used in 1922 just as relevant today.  He must have felt that he lived in dire times.  Poor Miss Howe (the social settlement worker who founded the International Institute in Niagara Falls and worked so tirelessly to assist the new immigrants) had only died the day before this interview.  Rabbi Fineberg knew that there was a grave problem in the world but he also knew that there will always be good people… and lucky for us the Constitution of the United States would set forth a shining example of what it truly means to be an American.

Below is Rabbi Fineberg’s entire interview.

Rabbi Fineberg Flays Un-American Gangs that, under Mask of Patriotism, Seek to Destroy US Institutions

Niagara Falls Gazette, November 16, 1922

Militant Head of Temple Beth El, Stripped for Action, Bores through the Tenants of an Association that is said to have formed a branch in this city.

Rabbi Solomon Fineberg, Temple Beth El, is ever to the fore in rebuttal when he feels the constitutional rights of his fellow Americans are assailed.  Interviewed today as to his opinion of the Ku Klux Klan, a branch of which is reported to have organized here, the rabbi said in part:

No more insidious menace to American democracy and government has ever been devised than the masked organization of mobs known as the Ku Klux Klan.  Claiming that they are the defenders of the constitution and avowed enemies of Catholics, Jews, Negroes and all foreign born, these leaders of violence, hatred and rank injustice are threatening to destroy the very principles upon which our government is founded and to prevent all harmony and cooperation in our land.

How any group of men can claim that they are acting in the spirit of American fair-play, or that they are establishing the principles of our constitution when they meet in the dead of night, form themselves into a self-appointed court, accuse some citizen of a crime, decide that he is guilty without having even told him that he was to be tried and then proceed to seize him and horsewhip, tar and feather or even murder him, how a gang of men can do this and claim that they are supporting the constitution seems to me unfathomable.  How dare they claim that they are guarding American justice, which is insured in the Constitution by the following clause?

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

That is what the Constitution of our country demands in every case so that no innocent man shall by any chance be condemned and in order that the laws may be enforced by a group of men who have been openly acclaimed by all.

Then how can the Ku Klux Klan presume to conduct such utterly illegal trials and to perpetrate atrocities in the name of good government?  Is this defending orderly government? Is theirs the way to insure freedom?  Let every man who feels that a neighbor is guilty of wrong-doing bring him to justice through orderly and public court procedure.  If he decide without due process of law that the neighbor is guilty and presume to punish him without due process of law, might now other citizens turn about and practice such methods on the presumptuous one, until endless feuds of injustice and blind hatred result?

Patience in the face of wrong and an orderly legal battle against the wrong, even though it seem slow and wearying, is the only safeguard of American liberty.  The Ku Klux Klan way, or as it has often been called, the Ku Ku way, is not only un-American, but it is savage and uncivilized.  Only those who are willing to abide by the processes of securing justice prescribed by the constitution and who are willing to place confidence in due processes of law are true Americans in spirit and heart.

It would be impossible to present in less than a volume all the charges that should be made and publicly brought to the attention of all thinking men against the principles of the Ku Klux Klan.  Here are a group of men who are sworn to secrecy and vow to another that they will not reveal before a court of law any fact concerning another except in the case of murder or rape.  Consider what a mob might do, hooded and masked, working in the dead of night, assured that their acts will never be betrayed, that the only witnesses of their deed, the men working with them, will never reveal what has happened!  How splendidly criminals and cut-throats would fit into such a group!  Is this not a dangerous situation for honest and right-thinking citizens to invite?

Incidentally, I might say, that the methods, laws and oath and mystic sounding rigmarole of the Ku Klux Klan and quite a number of their acts have long been discovered by men outside of their group; and their appeals to malice, prejudice and bigotry have not gone unnoticed.

Aside from burning a few churches, such as the Catholic Church at Naperville, Illinois, running some good men out of town, as at Birmingham, Alabama, and even shooting a few, as was done in other parts of the South, the Ku Klux Klan is responsible for an insidious and dastardly propaganda against various groups of American citizens.  It may be news to some, but such boycotts and commercial warfare has been encouraged by the Klan that an attempt was made to have members forswear the smoking of a certain brand of cigar because a Catholic was at the head of the firm.

To split our country along religious or racial lines is a heinous crime, to plunge us back into the follies of medieval-ism after the founders of our nation have succeeded in divorcing church and state, is the work of unscrupulous or highly ignorant men.  To say that a man’s religion in anyway affects his standing as a citizen is to deny the principles of Americanism.  It is no more consistent with truth and reason than another plank in the Ku Ku platform, that a foreign-born man is not to be trusted as a citizen, in face of the fact that the constitution grants him the full privileges of citizenship and demands that he be given full rights when naturalized.

Fortunately, the defense of the Jew, Catholic, Negro and foreign-born will not have to come from any members of these groups. There are enough, and more than enough, splendid American-born white Protestant citizens of our land who are speaking out against this society of organized bigotry.  But as one born in this country, who has known no other home, who will never dwell in any other country, I protest against the implication that there is no equality or religious freedom in the land of my birth.  I was taught differently in American schools and shall do what I can to see that those standards are maintained.

I feel that my place in America is not dependent on the tolerance or indulgence of any group of men.  I’m working for the good of this country and obeying its laws.  It is just as much my country as any other man’s.  And let anyone who thinks of joining the Ku Klux Klan to take up arms against the men of other faiths consider well the implication of belonging to such a group.  What will he say to the hundred and sixty thousand Jewish young men who offered their lives in the defense of this country and the hundreds of Catholics who fought alongside of them along with the Protestants and Negros in defense of this land?  Proportionately they turned out in such numbers and served as bravely as any other groups.  This may quickly be ascertained at the Public Library where books may be had on the service rendered by each.

Let the Klansman consider well before he organizes to “defend this government” by a secret organization outside the constituted authorities. Is this government so weak and tottering that he must bolster it up and deny  such men as Charles M Schwan, Judge Julian Mack, Samuel Untermeyer, Congressman Julian Kahn, Senator David Walsh, Governor Alfred Smith, Supreme Court Justices McKenna and Brandeis, and endless other Catholics and Jews, the opportunity to cooperate in the defense thereof?

The Ku Klux Klan is a menace of the very worst kind because it grossly misinterprets the spirit of America.  Our courts and legislatures, police forces and militia, combining the efforts of all good citizens of all faiths, are the only organized and proper administrators of public affairs, and any secret body usurping their functions will deal a blow to American liberty.  On this subject I wish everyone could read an article in the American Bar Association Journal for October by Hon. Henry D. Clayton, Judge of the Federal District of Alabama.

Recently the noted journalist William Allen White, that splendid Roosevelt type of American, was proud to announce that the Ku Klux Klan had failed to effect an organization in this home city.  “To the eternal credit of Emporium be it said that no suckers could be found here with ten dollars to throw away.”  It is regrettable that the same could not be said for the community of Niagara Falls.