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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Memories of a special time and place

By Dick Hirsch

As the walls are about to come tumbling down at Memorial Auditorium, the air is thick with memories and reminiscences. Need I add to the clutter of television photo ops, newspaper feature stories and reminders from Mayor Byron Brown that most people have always craved a seat from the Aud that could be installed in their family room?

My preference has always been to ignore certain events that are being chewed on by all the other sources of commentary. There are enough other topics to fill this space, and yet there is occasionally the temptation to go with the flow, to fall in step along with the others and march along, searching for a new angle on a well worn story.

We all have memories of the building, the dusty, fetid place that was for so long a center for various attractions. It grew old before its time, but it was certainly versatile, hosting religious convocations, circuses, dog and cat shows, tennis matches, political rallies, rodeos...everyone who has lived in Buffalo long enough will have stories to tell, and not all of them will focus on hockey, basketball or wrestling, the three series of events which sold the most tickets over the years. Yes, we remember Iron Talun and Yukon Eric, Freddie Hunt and Roger Crozier, Hank O’Keeffe and Whitey Martin. But there were so many others who commanded the spotlight, if only for a moment or two...

I have a photo of a guy I have known well for years. It was made years ago in the basement of the Aud, a cavernous place. The guy was a reporter at the time and he was standing alongside an entertainer who would eventually evolve into an iconic figure, Elvis Presley. It was at a concert in 1956. I decided it might be interesting to contact the guy, and ask him about his memories of that one evening.

He agreed and recalled:

“The picture was taken before the concert while I was interviewing Elvis. The two men in the background were detectives, detailed to crowd control. The concert was in the late summer or early fall and it was a hot day and the place had no air conditioning. I went up to the auditorium area and it was packed, a complete sellout. There were some opening acts and the people were paying polite attention to them, but you could tell they were impatient for Elvis. This was 1956, remember, and he was a star, but not yet a worldwide celebrity.

“When the curtains parted and Presley suddenly appeared on stage in his fancy outfit, the place went wild, as you might expect. Most of those attending were teenage girls. What I remember most clearly all these years later was the constant shrill shrieking. Once he appeared, it never stopped, although it subsided slightly when he was singing.

“It was a constant noisy ovation, high pitched and almost frenzied, and it didn’t have many bass voices, mostly falsetto. I have never heard anything comparable since that night. And as I think of the building being demolished, I think of all those young girls in the audience and wonder how and where they are today.”

Success; the guy gave me a fine recollection and a new angle on the story. Figure it out. It was 1956. That was 52 years ago. Those screaming girls came from schools all over the city and suburbs, from places like Lafayette and Kensington, Nardin and Buffalo Seminary, Cleveland Hill and East Aurora.

The average age was probably somewhere between 14 and 17. That means---when you do the math---that those girls are women now, women most likely covered by Social Security and Medicare, many of whom are grandmothers, and some few of whom may even be great grandmothers. Some of them moved from the area years ago, but surely recall that night, the performance and the arena. Since they are all senior citizens, some may be living in retirement in places like Florida, Arizona or the Carolinas now, but I’ll bet that many of them still live in the area and still nurture vivid memories of that night with Elvis.

That’s the way it is with memories. They need not include the specific songs that were sung or who scored the most points. The most vital memories are of being with others at a certain place at a certain time. And, if you have read this far, you’re entitled to know that the guy in that picture with Elvis is me.


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