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Golfing, History, and Social Distancing

Author: Daniel Cadzow

In the Olmsted Park Audio Tour, it’s almost funny how they preface viewing the War of 1812 memorial while “standing on the cinder path”. It’s pretty much admitting golfing in a city park is dangerous. At the closest point along the cinder path, you will be standing more than 700 feet from the memorial and looking at its rear. Any other city or park system would make this a tourist destination for history buffs, students, and children who never get to leave the city to experience nature. We are allowing it to be usurped by a “sport” that displaces the general public, preventing the vast majority of visitors from enjoying the grounds.

In that vein, the historical narrative also has several flaws in it. First, I don’t think Daniel Chapin personally unearthed and re-buried 300 bodies by himself (be sure to listen to the audio tour for reference). One person couldn’t have done that with early nineteenth century technologies. He was one of our early-on residents who probably “provided oversight”, guiding poor immigrants, indigenous peoples, or others less fortunate – possibly slaves – to conduct the backbreaking work.

Yes, despite our deservedly proud history of abolitionism, there were also slave “owners” in Buffalo. Peter Porter, a War of 1812 profiteer for whom Porter Avenue is still named, “owned” five slaves. Peter Porter, thanks to connections in the government, held a monopoly on all goods transported around the US side of Niagara Falls. Before the Erie Canal was built, that was the only way to get goods from the breadbasket of America to the markets of the eastern seaboard, other than in ox carts on dirt paths left by indigenous peoples. So, he got a piece of almost everything coming to or from the entire breadbasket. He was a war hawk because he wanted a true monopoly by taking the transshipment around the Falls on the Canadian side too. His ilk even invented stories of British agents whipping up unrest among Native Americans and Spanish pirates to gain more support.

Unfortunately, he got his way, resulting in much carnage, including the murder and rape associated with war time raiding parties as well as the burning of every settlement on the US side of Niagara River to the ground. In one of the salvos of canon fire across Niagara River during the War of 1812 (that lasted 3 years), a slave “owned” by the military was listed among the losses at Fort Tompkins, along with a barrel of Old Pittsburg Whiskey. You can check out a memorial plaque to Fort Tompkins on the building at 1010 Niagara Street and meditate on the life of the slave that was killed there in America’s first rich-man’s-war-for-profit.

War of 1812 Era Map Depicting Fort Tompkins along with the original ferry route stationed at the long lost “Black Rock” that was destroyed with the construction of the Erie Canal

Though you wouldn’t know it to look at it, that building is a remnant of the old Buffalo streetcar rail facility. It was located next to the equally under-appreciated building that was the receiver of the world’s first long distance transmission of electricity. That’s thanks to Tesla’s work in Niagara Falls, at the world’s first hydro-electric power plant. But that’s another story, almost as glorious as the one about how the shrewdness of Western Seneca during Pontiac’s Rebellion almost turned the tide of American history at that same spot.

Buffalo Atlas depicting the Buffalo Streetcar Rail facility

Getting back to the Delaware Park golf course debate, perhaps the most obvious flaw in #112’s narrative is that they say the burial mounds were leveled when the park was created. The problem with that narrative is that park construction began in 1874, but the stone memorial, cannons, and flag poles were installed in 1896. Further, people at that time still knew and remembered people who suffered, fought, and died in the War of 1812. They weren’t going to go around leveling their burial mounds, many are of the belief.

And yes, the remains of 300 War of 1812 soldiers are still out there in the soil. It would take a proper archaeological investigation to determine the damage, if any, caused by the alleged leveling described in Olmsted Park Audio Tour. As an archaeologist, I have made sure the New York State Historic Preservation Office has an accurate archaeological site form, maps, and photographs of possible burial mound remains. I did that just in case the false narrative is designed to facilitate the proposed Jack Nicolas golf course redesign, which would require a Cultural Resources Investigation.

More importantly for now, at least from a spiritual perspective, is that golfers are golfing on the remains of our dead soldiers.

However, more importantly for now, at least from a spiritual perspective, is that golfers are golfing on the remains of our dead soldiers – soldiers who died for the insatiable greed of people like Peter Porter.  Porter is a great analogy for Dick Cheney: remember how he was the CEO of Halliburton before becoming the Vice President? And How Halliburton was awarded a no-bid contract in Bush Jr.’s trumped up war in Iraq? I’m still waiting for news of those weapons of mass destruction. Now imagine Dick Cheney’s kids bulldozing the graves of Iraq war victims so they can have a golf course there. Yeah, it hurts to think about when the analogy makes it a bit more fresh.

The bases of those flag poles are also still out there too. One was set in concrete while the other was bored into a small boulder. Go check it out while you can, provided there aren’t any rogue golfers hogging up that (for now) public space. The cannons and flagpoles were most likely removed in the roaring 20s when that great symbol of social inequality and decadence, the golf course, was imposed on this once public space. I’m not including photos of the memorial because I’m hoping you will go out there to think on these things. The power of place is important. If you can’t, however, a Google image search will satisfy your curiosity.

Well, those days are over. Buffalo is now more of a socially, ethnically, and economically diverse city. We need to retake (not re-write -that’s what’s already been done) the historical narrative written (and re-written) by those before us, and it’d be all the better if today’s societal elite helped, many who are golfers. After all that has been done in the name of greed and vanity, that’s the only hope they have of maintaining a place of even marginal respect in the narratives generated as “we the people” reclaim our social and cultural histories and landscapes. That includes activities but also place names. Henry J. Nowak Pier, seriously? That has got to be a coverup of the destruction of the marine and avian sanctuary that was Bird Island, by, once again, the city’s politicians and elite. Just think of all of the examples of iconic Buffalo sites that have been renamed after those who were actually just doing their jobs.

For now, golfing has been deemed non-essential. That means people can go out and enjoy The Meadow safely.

For now, golfing has been deemed non-essential. That means people can go out and enjoy The Meadow safely. Safely because there are no golf balls flying around. But more importantly, safely, because The Meadow is vast, so it is much easier to maintain safe social distances there. Especially compared to having everybody crowded along Ring Road, choking on traffic pollution from Scajaquada Expressway.

During this unusual time, you can also visit the remains of those soldiers and meditate on their last days. The squalid conditions of the poorly provisioned camps described in the audio tour are not inaccurate, though they lack the detail needed to convey the true horror that was the Flint Hill Encampment during the winter of 1812-1813.

Postscript: If you see anyone out there metal detecting anywhere in The Meadow, call the police because it is stealing and possibly grave desecration.

Written by BRo Guest Authors

BRo Guest Authors

It’s not unusual for authors to come and go. Guest authors range from collegiate interns to writers who will be contributing for a short stint of time. Guest authors might also have a series in mind. Authors are encouraged to submit their ideas to BRO (Buffalo Rising Online), upon which time we will work with the writer towards a productive end.

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