I’ve got a lot of books about Buffalo. Sometimes people give them to me as gifts, while other times I seek them out. I’ve even got some books that have been passed down to me from my grandfather.
Armed with all of my Buffalo books, I like to think that I know a lot about this city and region. Not to mention that I continually write about all sorts of destinations and curiosities, mainly in the city. As of late, however – now that the city has its mojo back – I’ve been exploring further and further outwards, in search of all sorts of items and places of interest in WNY.
A couple of months ago, a book arrived on my doorstep that I couldn’t wait to dive into. It’s title is Secret Buffalo – A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, by author Elizabeth Licata (editor of Buffalo Spree). After spending some time perusing the fascinating guide to the underbelly of the Buffalo region – 90 sites total – I found that I had an even greater understanding of the relatively unknown anomalys and oddities that paint a picture of Buffalo in ways that might astound you.
Speaking with Elizabeth about her new book, I was able to gain some insight into the process of compiling what must have been a daunting list of weird, wonderful, and obscure places. It helps that she had written another book, 100 Things to do in Buffalo Before You Die that was published back in 2018. She also had plenty of editorial ammunition from Buffalo Spree articles, to give her a head start in the process.
One might think that coming up with upwards of a hundred easily-digestible articles pertaining to Buffalo oddities might not be that difficult, thanks to sources like the internet. Let me tell you, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. I once went down a similar road, and I veered of course before reaching my destination. Elizabeth, however, did not. She stayed on target, and produced a book that is a wild and wacky read. It’s a real adventure, filled with some astounding chronicles about the city that we all love so much.
According to Elizabeth, one of the more difficult tasks from the onset was determining what’s secret? After all, what’s secret to you might not be a secret to me. Then she had to take into account the readers who hail from Buffalo, and others who might be new to this city (and region).
“I asked a number of friends for suggestions,” Elizabeth told me, when I asked her about some of her sources. “It turns out that they were not very helpful [laughing]. There was a lot of talk about tunnels under Buffalo, but the closest thing that I came to writing about was Life Underground (the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride).”
I could easily understand Elizabeth’s predicament when it came to trying to figure out which stories to run with. She wanted something for everyone. There needed to be some sensationalism. At the same time, it was important to have some balance. To that end, I asked her about some of her most notable articles – the ones that spoke to her, and were representational of the book.
“There’s The Pack Club,” she told me. “It’s the perfect example. The club members want it to be a secret. Then there are the Metcalfe Rooms at Buffalo State – we demolished so many things… they actually thought that they should save the rooms. Also, the Underground Railroad – there are a lot of places that people think about that actually aren’t actual sites. And when people go to the Erie Basin Marina, they think that the gardens are by the City, but they are test gardens. There’s The Book Corner in Niagara Falls, and the mafia stories that are actually real. Also, Gary White, the guy who makes hats for Hollywood. There’s even a guy who doesn’t even live here who made a poster of our weird intersections.”
A few of the stories that I found especially interesting pertained to the Gooseneck Hill Waterfowl Sanctuary, Wallenwein’s Hotel (the bar with no stools), and Arlen Peters Moss Garden. Personally, I found the more obscure the better.
Having read the book, I happily engaged Elizabeth as she talked about the various one and two-page chapters. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me. I inquired if there were any “doh!” moments, once the final work was sent to the publisher (Reedy Press)… anything that she thought she missed? I figured that with so many stories swimming through her brain, there might have been an aha moment or two, after the fact.
“The Oppenheim Zoo,” she answered, after a bit of reflection. “There might be some remnants left.”
Well, if Elizabeth ever decides to put out a Part II, she’s got her first story in the hopper.
“It was really hard,” said Elizabeth. “I needed to throw a wide net, to get a lot of different types of things. I also relied on other people for their knowledge, which is how I decided whether I had to actually visit a site or not. I needed to have photographs of everything.”
Elizabeth told me that the response to the book has been very good. The people that she has encountered, with book in hand, have asked for additional copies to pass along, which is always a good sign. She also noted that book sales at Talking Leaves and Thin Ice have been brisk. This book will make a great gift for the holidays, so you might as well put an order in right now, which means that you can cross a person or two off your list early on. If you’re living out of town, you can find the book on Amazon.
Stay tuned: We’re going to post three articles from the book in coming days, to give readers a better sense of the content within.