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Sunday, December 6, 2020

Elmira’s Fugitive Slave Case of “Sam," 1858

by Richard White 
Copyright © 2020 all rights reserved by the author

And yet vile as it was, the fugitive slave law was…a gift 
to the anti-slavery activists…because wherever it was 
enforced, it allowed them to show off human beings 
being dragged back to the hell whence they came. 

This was Professor Andrew Delbanco’s contention on one of the impacts in the North of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in The War Before The War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War (2018). His depiction of a rendition of captured runaway slaves “being dragged” is especially poignant. Yet in 1858, there was an unusual, and surprising, case in Elmira that was dramatically different from the city’s Underground Railroad experience of aiding emancipated men and women in the antebellum era. It dealt with the decisions made by a former slave identified only by his first name in the press as he sought, in a sense, to regain his soul.

“Sam” fled enslavement in Cecil County, Maryland, in August 1858, and traveled on the Underground Railroad to Canada. There are no references that recall his journey’s stopovers, nor his residence in Canada where he lived until December when he experienced intense personal turmoil which was described in news dispatches. For example, on December 20, The Elmira Advertiser described “Sam’s” unexpected predicament—“he was sick and could not work…and he wanted to go see his wife and children.“

The Pioneer and Democrat from Olympia in the Washington Territory editorialized on February 11, 1859, that his troubles prevented him from enjoying “the sweets of freedom.” Finally, “Sam” understood how to resolve his predicament—he would contact his former enslaver to make a request. He had traveled secretly to the North, but now he asked in a letter to his former “Owner” if he could return to the place he left in Maryland which was accepted.

Research does not indicate where “Sam” met two men including his former “Master,” Mr. Mills, to escort him, but the arrival of the three men by train in Elmira caused an uproar by the city’s black residents. The Rochester American on the 22nd clearly captured the opening drama, declaring that “there was fearful excitement at Elmira… occasioned by the discovery that two Southerners had arrived on the Canandaigua train with a fugitive in their keeping, who was hurried to the Brainard House and locked up in a room. A large and excited crowd many of whom were armed with knives and pistols at once filled and surrounded the house, but they were told that the fugitive was going to be taken back at his own request." The city’s black population was organizing its first Vigilance Committee which like the others in the State tried to rescue fugitive slaves from slave catchers. Vigilance representatives were allowed to meet with “Sam” to dissuade him but his decision was firm. This event quieted the crowd, and many left the scene so that there was a relatively calm atmosphere. The day’s closing drama began to emerge when residents heard that the two Southerners would depart with “Sam” by train in the evening. Soon a larger assemblage of whites and blacks waited at the depot for “Sam” in order to prevent ”Sam’s” departure. The situation’s volatility intensified, and The American suggested that “a fearful riot” was about to erupt. In fact, a letter from an unnamed writer to the New York Herald—and reprinted in the New Orleans Daily Crescent on January 4, 1859 provides first-hand details about an emerging crisis, noting that “at one time the excitement ran so high that it was deemed necessary to call upon the military, who held themselves in readiness in case their services were wanted.” What happened next prompted the Daily Crescent to gladly declare “hurrah for our Northern brethren.”

In Elmira, word spread that “Sam” would depart for Baltimore at 6:40 by way of the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, train but this belief was a diversion. “Sam” had been spirited out-of-town by the time a riotous crowd of whites and blacks assembled at the depot. An arrangement for the train to stop a few miles below town had been made to pick up “Sam” and the two Southerners. In the pursuit of freedom, “Sam” became lost. He changed the paradigm in order to regain his soul. The Gazette concluded that “the poor old negro is [now] on the ‘old plantation,’ in the midst of his family and friends. We think he will not soon try his luck in Canada again.” One year after the Dred Scott decision, and one year before John Brown’s raid, the issue of race-based bondage spurred an uproar in Elmira.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

On the Suffrage Trail: Her-Story in Lily Dale

by Joanne Polizzi Mansfield
Copyright © 2020, All rights reserved by the author.

Spiritualist activities were evident in Western New York and Chautauqua County as early as 1844 when Jeremiah Carter experienced mesmerism, and in 1848, when the Fox sisters of Hydesville, NY, heard and interpreted rappings. By 1855 “The Religious Society of Freethinkers of the Village of Laona” was organized. The society held meetings in the area. 

The ideals of free speech, free thought, free investigation were converging to introduce the seeds of the women’s movement in Western New York.

The newspapers of the day, The Banner of Light, Chautauqua Farmer, The Sunflower, Dunkirk Observer, and some Buffalo papers reported the happening in Lily Dale

1877 - Jerimiah Carter of Laona - heard a voice saying, “Go to Alden’s and arrange for a camp meeting.” He walked six miles to Cassadaga and suggested to landowner Willard Alden that a Spiritualist Camp Meeting be held in his grove. A six-day camp meeting was held in Alden Grove that September.

1879 - A group of stockholders formed The Cassadaga Lake Free Association, and it was decided to purchase land along the east side of the upper lake in Cassadaga. The place was named the Cassadaga Lake Camp Meeting Grounds. The first tree was felled. The surveying and laying out of the grounds were done, and renting cottages was decided upon. The preparations were in place for the World’s Largest Center for Spiritualism at Lily Dale.

1880 - The Chautauqua Farmer reported the Spiritualists dedicated their grounds at Cassadaga Lake to Free Speech, Free Thought, and Free Investigation. The crowd was 1,200, and the speaker was Mrs. Elizabeth Lowe Watson. The women were organizing. (Chautauqua Farmer: June 16, 1880)

1883 - The famed Auditorium of Lily Dale was proposed. It was fifty by fifty-foot, enclosed on three sides, and supported by pillars with curtains to be let down during inclement weather. A sixteen by a forty-eight-foot platform to the rear was the stage. The Auditorium was completed in time for the camp meeting and became the centerpiece for the suffrage orators. (Banner of Light: September 2, 1882)

By 1888 improvements were in rapid progress, with the expansion of lands and erection of new cottages. Spiritualist speakers drew large and attentive audiences at the yearly camps. The Banner of Light reports the Library Hall was opened and dedicated, with three hundred volumes, a reading room, séance rooms, and a lecture hall. The Auditorium is the gem of Cassadaga. “It shelters an audience of fifteen hundred. When the canvas wings are lowered the auditorium becomes a theater.”  (Banner of Light: August 28, 1888)

In September of 1888, the Cassadaga Lake Branch of the “Universal Cooperative Temperance Union” was organized with twenty-five members. In 1887 the first Political Equality Club was founded in Jamestown, and the first convention of Political Equality ever held in New York State convened at the Opera House in Jamestown. Mrs. Marion Skidmore organized a chapter of the Political Equality Club in Lily Dale. On July 4, 1889, she arranged for a celebration of the Western New York Political Equality Club at Lily Dale and Invited all the clubs in the county to be present. The camp covered an area of forty acres and one hundred and eight cottages on the grounds. (Banner of Light: September 22, 1888; June 22, 1889)

In 1889, there is an amphitheater, a children’s Lyceum, the new Library building, a newsstand, a school district granted for the near future, a US post office, and the Hotel Grand. A great many phases of mediumship are represented on the grounds-clairvoyance, slate-writing, healing, and test with many mediums of the day coming to Lily Dale. (Banner of Light: August 3, 1889)

1891 - Saturday, August 25 is Woman’s Day at Chautauqua, and all county clubs are to represent. This is the first time that Chautauqua has recognized the suffrage movement. The Banner of Light reported in their August 29 edition the Woman’s Suffrage Day events held August 15. The day was declared Glorious “because successful in representation in numbers, and in the graphic promulgation of one of the main auxiliaries of Spiritual Truth, Freedom and Progress - the equal suffrage and recognition of women on all questions and in all places where her wise intuitions may lead her." The spirit of the occasion was Political Equality and Equal Rights to All! A large delegation of Political Equality Clubs and their sympathizers came, twenty-three clubs in all, and it was estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 people were present. The speakers were Rev. Anna Shaw, Susan B. Anthony and Miss Hattie O. Peate. (Banner of Light: August 29. 1891)

1892 - Mrs. Isabella Beecher Hooker was on the grounds, a guest of Mrs. Marion Skidmore, in preparation for the annual Woman’s Day Program August 25. Mrs. Hooker presided, and Susan B. Anthony and The Rev. Anna Shaw spoke. (The Buffalo Express: August 24, 1892; Banner of Light: August 20, 1892)

1893 Woman’s Day was August 17, as reported in the Banner of Light: Twenty-five hundred tickets were sold at the gate, and the Auditorium was packed to capacity for this Woman’s Day. Mrs. Elnora M. Babcock, President of the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club, took the chair and stated that nowhere in the county was suffrage women warmly received as at Lily Dale. Rev. Anna Shaw was the speaker of the afternoon. (Banner of Light: August 26, 1893)

1894 - August 15 was “Temperance Day.” The subject was discussed in Conference, and all around the camp, all shades of opinion and theory being advanced. Woman’s Day was celebrated August 22. Two thousand people arrived on the regular trains, and presumably another thousand upon the excursion trains. The chairman opened the session with an address of welcome to the suffragists who had come to Cassadaga for their annual celebration. Chairman Barrett said the suffrage movement was born the same year and simultaneously with the Rochester knockings, the beginning of Modern Spiritualism and that Spiritualism embraced every movement that stood for liberty and equal rights. Miss Susan B. Anthony was introduced. She spoke of the defeat of the women’s suffragists before the State Convention the present year and offered praises for the Lily Dale Camp and the work of the Spiritualists. “But,” said she, “it is impossible for us to offer our thanks to Spiritualists without being doubly damned for they are just as unpopular as the suffragists.” Rev. Anna Shaw spoke next with eloquence, logic, and witticism. It was noted that many veteran suffragists and Spiritualists go hand in hand on the march of progress. Among them were Mrs. Marion Skidmore, Mrs. Dr. Sarah Morris, and Mrs. Sarah Anthony Bruits, the oldest living Suffragist and Spiritualist (and cousin of Susan B Anthony). Also noted Mrs. Abbey Pettengill, Mrs. Elizabeth Lowe Watson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (The Buffalo Express: August 22, 1894; Banner of Light: September 8, 1894)

Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt of New York City was the speaker for Woman’s Day 1895. Miss Mary Anthony reported to the Constitutional Convention of 1894 on behalf of her sister, Susan B., who could not be present. Woman’s Day of 1896, the featured speaker, Rev. Anna Shaw, gave a rousing report of the suffrage campaign in California and Mrs. Cheney, the President of the Chautauqua County Suffrage Club, presided with opening remarks. (Banner of Light: August 31, 1895; Banner of Light: August 15, 1896)

In 1897 The Banner of Light reported on the annual Woman’s Day Celebration and described Cassadaga as the “political equalities paradise.” This year, the symposium speakers featured several men, Mr. Thomas Grimshaw and Dr. W.W. Hicks. (Banner of Light: August 28, 1897)

Woman’s Day celebrations continued annually. The Banner of Light reported the 1899 event with Mrs. Mary Ellen Lease, the speaker of the day, with the subject of her address “The New Woman,” encouraging the power of women and the vote. The 1900 Woman’s Day was set apart as “Political Equality Day” to suggest the real meaning of the discussion of woman suffrage, with Mrs. Anna Shaw as a speaker. (Banner of Light: August 5, 1899; August 25, 1900)

An interesting footnote to history regarding a famed photograph: The Sunflower of August 15, 1900, observes that many prominent workers in the woman’s movement have been at Lily Dale. “A tent known as the “Women’s Tent” is always erected on the lot just south of the T. J. Skidmore Cottage. Banners with a star representing the states that have adopted woman’s suffrage were planted in or near it, and one of the most popular views of the ground is a picture of this tent with Mrs. Skidmore holding up the banner with two stars for Wyoming and Colorado while Mrs. A.L. Pettengill and Susan B. Anthony is seated near.” (The Sunflower: August 15, 1900)

1901 - Woman’s Day with Miss Gail Hamilton on NYC speaker. 1902 Rev. Anna Shaw. 1904-featured speakers Mrs. Lillie, Mrs. Gilman, and Helen Campbell (Banner of Light: August 24, 1901; The Sunflower: September 1, 1902)

The Sunflower, August 1903 - Miss Susan B. Anthony was a guest of Mrs. Pettengill at the Leolyn Hotel. At the symposium of the day, some of the women on the platform were Mrs. A. L. Pettengill, President of the City of Light Assembly, Susan B. Anthony, Rochester, New York, Honorary President of the National Woman’s Suffrage Elnora Monroe, Dunkirk, NY, Superintendent of the Press, National Suffrage Association; Miss Harriett May Mills, Syracuse, NY, Organizer, NY State Suffrage Association; Rev. Anna H. Shaw, Philadelphia, Penna., Vice-President of the National Suffrage Association; Harriett Taylor Upton, Warren, Ohio, Treasurer of the National Suffrage Association; Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, New York City, Author and Lecturer and others of importance and influence. It was noted that Mrs. Gilman’s work is principally with the family, mothers, and children. Miss Anthony is pledged to universal suffrage, while Mrs. Shaw covers the entire field of human rights—a woman’s in particular. (The Sunflower: August 15, 1903)

1905 - Mrs Pettengill, president of the Assembly, introduced Rev, Anna Shaw, and Susan B. Anthony with 1500 attending Woman’s Day. (The Sunflower: August 26, 1905)

1912 - The speaker for Woman’s Day was Harriot Stanton Balch, President of New York Women’s Political Union (Dunkirk Observer: August 7, 1912)

1913 - The speaker of the day was Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Author, and Lecturer. (Silver Creek News: September 4, 1913)

1914 - Mrs. Gertrude Nelson Andrews, President of Lily Dale Suffrage Society, and Dr. Anna H. Shaw, President National Woman’s Suffrage Association, were speakers. (Dunkirk Observer: 1914 - The Buffalo Times: August 20, 1914) Headline: “Suffrage Workers at Lily Dale Give Big Demonstration” (The Buffalo Enquirer: August 20, 1914)

1915 - “More than usual interest is centered In Woman’s Day this year. It comes in the final whirl of the New York State campaign for Woman Suffrage. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw will be the speaker for the day. Other well-known women will also be heard. For twenty-four hours, Lily Dale will be made the tense, gripping center of the Eighth Campaign District. It will be a day to long remember. (Chronicles of Lily Dale, p 319). Jamestown's Mayor Samuel Carlson, a suffrage advocate, spoke in the morning to an unusually large crowd. On the platform were Madame Von Klenner, of the New York Woman’s Press Association, and Mrs. P. Pennypacker, President of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs and others. (Buffalo Evening News: August 19, 1915)

1917 - Brief mention of Woman’s Day (Dunkirk Observer: August 25, 1917)

1919 - Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. 

Interestingly, in 1919 the Woman’s Day celebration in Lily Dale appeared to be subdued. Mrs. Joseph Rieger, the chairman, gave tribute to Anna Howard Shaw, who recently passed. The speaker was Miss Florence King of Chicago, National President of the Woman’s Association of Commerce. (Dunkirk Evening Observer: August 21, 1919)

1920 - Mrs. Frank Vanderlip of New York City spoke at Woman’s Day with the topic of “Your Vote and How to Use It”; The opening remarks were by Mrs. Joseph Rieger of Dunkirk, congressional chairman and chairman of the meeting: “We have worked long and ardently for the vote, and it is now up to us to learn how to use it for the betterment of government and the conditions of all concerned it.” The Women’s Suffrage Organization of the county was reorganized into the League of Women Voters. (Dunkirk Observer: August 12, 1920)

Although newspaper reporting appeared minimal in later years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the annual Lily Dale Woman’s Day celebrations continued to draw support from women around the country to gather and to increase their campaign efforts for women’s rights.

The suffrage trail has been long and winding. It is to be noted that the Lily Dale Woman’s Day Events attracted the most influential women of the time. Lily Dale has witnessed the birth, growth, and progress of the Suffrage Movement and Women’s Rights, Temperance, Abolition, Divorce Reform, and the Free-Thinkers movements. This place and these women have rightfully earned their place in Her-Story.

Many of the suffragists of Lily Dale, who met, spoke, and rallied for women’s rights, did not have the opportunity to exercise the right to vote. These women were still fighting for equal rights and the vote when they died: Marion H. Skidmore 1895, Susan B. Anthony, 1906, Abby Pettengill 1919, Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1902, Isabella Beecher Hooker 1907. Elizabeth Lowe Watson 1927, Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw 1919

About the author: Joanne Polizzi Mansfield is a trustee and genealogy researcher for the Chautauqua County Historical Society. She is a retired educator addicted to genealogy puzzles and historical research.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Arrest of Robert Jones in Addison, 1872

by Richard White

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved by the author.

“Our colored people are to have a Grand Promenade…on the evening of the 28th inst.

Robert Jones… is to be master of ceremonies, which is a sufficient guarantee that ‘law and order’ will prevail, and all who desire to ‘chase the glowing hours with flying feet’ should not fail to appear.”  This was the Addison Advertiser’s announcement on November 20, 1872, regarding one of the village’s post-war’s annual African-American social events and their annual picnic. Although patronizing at its start, this quotation hints at the “law and order” posture and backbone of Jones, who was a quiet, respected barber figuratively made out of steel.

Months earlier, on April 7, Jones’ fortitude played a prime role in his arrest when he faced two encounters with a drunken person who wanted a shave.  Upon entering the shop the first time, the drunk sat down and proceeded to vomit.  On April 24, The Steuben Courier from nearby Bath, New York, described it this way—“the warmth of the room caused Coakley, an Irishman, to throw off from his stomach a portion of its load, leaving him in a partial unconscious condition,” This event prompted an escorted ouster in which he was led out without any strong-arm tactic assistance.  Coakley’s second entry into the barbershop resulted in a scuffle with Jones when he refused to leave within a short time.   However, his head hit the floor as he was dragged to the sidewalk where a policeman found him later on.  

Coakley was jailed for a short time until the police saw that he was severely hurt and released him to his friends assembled near the lockup.  There was no report in the press if Coakley had been arrested on any charge, although The Courier on the 24th  stated that he was “confined for drunkenness.”  There was no mention of bail.

In addition, there was no discussion that the Jones-Coakley matter was based on, or connected to, ethic, or racial hostility, or rivalry.  This was not a black-white issue.

Coakley was fatally injured, and he lingered for a week, often in a delirious state.  The press reports disagree on the day of his death—some say Sunday, the 14th, while others indicate the next day.  

In any case, a Coroner arrived on Monday and, by law, assembled a jury to assist him in his inquest into Coakley’s death.  The Steuben Farmers’ Advocate on April 26 described what happened when they neared the deceased house--“they were confronted by about a dozen Irishmen, with swinging clubs and threats of war refusing to let them enter.”  No explanation was provided for this confrontation, but it prompted the coroner and jury to travel back to Addison.   

But they would not return to Coakley’s residence.  

There was an entirely new situation on Tuesday, the 16th.   In the early A.M., his remains were moved to Corning for burial, but there was a new demand from his friends—now they wanted an inquest.  A new Coroner selected a jury who was able to issue a cause of Coakley’s death. 

Their ruling was that he died due to injuries at the hands of Jones, who later was arrested and placed under $4,000 bail.  Jones was not, however, the only person to face a criminal charge.  On the 17th, each man who confronted the first Coroner near Coakley’s house was arrested with bail set at $500.  At this point, no word on the legal process can be found concerning these men.  However, the Jones case’s outcome was well documented.

What would the Grand Jury do?  Would there be an indictment to be followed by a guilty plea or a jury trial?  The Addison Advertiser published the decision on June 12 as follows: “The case of the People vs. Robert Jones, the barber, was brought up before the Grand Jury at Corning last week, and their verdict was ‘no cause of action.’” There was no legal compulsion to explain their decision. Though, the Farmers’ Advocate offered compelling speculation as follows:  “more to blame than Jones is he who sold the whiskey.  Several persons who witnessed the affair wonder at Jones’ forbearance.  Jones…[is] a young man who minds his own business, will not originate a quarrel but will protect his domain from incursions of inebriates” because of his stature based on law and order.  

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War HistoryThe Journal of Negro History, and other publications.


Cross and Flag. The Buffalo Eucharistic Congress of 1947

by  Paul Lubienecki, PhD

On November 8, 1946, Bishop John O’Hara of Buffalo announced that a great honor was bestowed upon the diocese and the city. Buffalo was selected to host the Provincial Eucharistic Congress from September 22-25, 1947. This was only the fourth time such an event was held in the United States.[i]  The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo had been chosen in 1947 for two specific reasons. First, established in April 1847, this was to commemorate the diocese’s centenary anniversary and to thank “the Almighty God for the graces and blessings of our first century of Catholic life.” Furthermore, it was a collective expression of faith in “thanksgiving for victory in the World War.” [ii]  It also evolved into a condemnation of anti-Christian (Communist) ideologies. While local in form, the Buffalo event took on an international identity as dignitaries from around the world attended.[iii]  

The significance of a Eucharistic Congress is primarily spiritual, but there is a temporal component. These assemblies, which still occur, are gatherings of clergy and laity to celebrate and venerate the Holy Eucharist and find the best means to spread knowledge of this Sacrament. The main advantage of these Congresses is to promote devotion and theological discussion of this principle dogma of the Catholic faith.


Bishop Gaston de Ségur of Lille, France, created the first Eucharistic Congress that convened in 1881. Initially, this was to be a regional event. However, this movement’s popularity and importance grew, and subsequent gatherings were organized yearly throughout France. The Congress became international in scope in 1893 when it assembled in Jerusalem. Here a dialog about a reunion with the Eastern Churches commenced. Since then, these assemblies became more ecumenical as members of the Eastern Rite and leaders from various non-Roman Catholic denominations participated.


The Eucharistic Congresses were more than just spiritual affairs. Beginning with the Congress at Reims, France, in 1894, discussions about labor problems and solutions to social questions were part of the agenda. As these gatherings expanded over the years, so did the topics, and these conventions expanded into an informal discussion forum. Committee meetings on youth, the family, immigration, and other pertinent matters were nearly as fundamental as the Eucharistic devotions.[iv] This was evident at Buffalo in 1947.

When the International Eucharistic Congress convened in Chicago in 1926, it generated great excitement for America’s Catholics. They proved their patriotism in the First World War and were established leaders in business and government. Their faith and national pride symbolized Catholics’ place in American society, as many now believed that Catholicism in America had achieved parity within society.[v]  After the Second World War, the Catholic Church in the United States began a decade-long expansion and further integration into American culture. This was the era of the “brick and mortar Church” with new parishes, hospitals, schools, and universities. The assembly in Buffalo reflected this new self-assured attitude.

John Chapter 14, Verse 6: An American Idea

The general theme of the Eucharistic Congress centered on the New Testament verse: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” For Bishop O’Hara, this was more than a spiritual matter as the Congress also represented American values in not so subtle terms. On the eve of the Congress, Bishop O’Hara, an avowed anti-Communist who supported industry and government over labor, broadcast a local radio address that detailed Congress’s programs.[vi] However, his statement focused more on Americanism and reflected the anti-Communist sentiment of that time. In his speech, the Bishop’s opening remarks cited FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s call to loyalty against “all forms of subversive groups working to undermine our Republic.” O’Hara then referred to President Truman’s recent letter to Pope Pius XII where Truman declared “this is a Christian nation” and that “a renewed faith in the dignity and worth of the human person in all lands” was required to protect an individual’s sacred rights “inherent to his relationship to God.”

Bishop O’Hara praised Truman for his strong words. O’Hara claimed that all who believed in God should “thank God for the faith and wisdom that dictated that message of Americanism.” In his radio speech, the Bishop equated being a good Catholic with being a good American. He declared that the state’s civil authority was a divine institution; consequently, Catholics needed to rekindle their faith and become better citizens. O’Hara professed that the mission of the Buffalo Eucharistic Congress was to pray for peace, truth, and “hope that the enemies of God and free men will not prevail.” [vii]  The spiritual and religious theme of the assembly now echoed with the undertones of Americanism and anti-Communist viewpoints.

Planning and Committees

Buffalo’s John O’Hara was designated as the Eucharistic Congress president and auxiliary Bishop Joseph Burke as chairman. The honorary title of Patron for the Congress was bestowed upon Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York.  The planning, technical production, and organization of the programs occurred a year before the event. Bishop O’Hara established an executive committee 

This group consisted of Bishop Burke as chairman, Monsignor John Nash as vice-chairman, Monsignor Eugene Loftus as executive secretary, and Father Leo Smith as treasurer. This group then formed twenty-eight functional committees with a monsignor appointed as an Honorary Chairman and a priest as an Active Chairman. All priests serving in the diocese of Buffalo were obligated to work for a committee.[viii]  However, only a few priests per committee were required to fulfill any of their obligations. Paradoxically, the laity was not invited to participate in any pre-planning production or formally assigned to any committees until after the Congress commenced.

The Executive Committee, having developed the theme of “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” divided the program into three headings. Grouped under the title “Christ our Way” were issues pertaining to the home, family, and “all manner of material interests” such as labor, social duties, and vocations. Schools, education, culture, and professional life were assigned to the caption “Christ our Truth.” Spiritual life, ecclesiastical, and sacramental life were designated as “Christ our Life.” Within each topic, general meetings and sectional gatherings were required. For each conference, three discussion points were suggested: devotion to the Eucharist, specific duties of each group, and a practical discussion forum.[ix]  The Theme and Program Committee further developed the agenda for Congress based on the discussion items.

Every committee was tasked with some facet of logistical, operational, and procedural aspects of the celebration. An initial group was the Arts Committee responsible for designing the seal and logo imprinted on all programs, posters, and badges. This committee consisted of twenty-four priests who requested that women’s various religious orders in the diocese forward drawings for consideration. 

Thirty proposals were submitted and evaluated by three commercial artists. The group selected a drawing by Sister Geraldine Rutkuski of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph in Hamburg, New York. Her design placed the Sacred Heart and chalice set against a red background in a heart’s shape. The words “Buffalo Centennial Eucharistic Congress” were placed on the periphery, and the words “The Way, The Truth and The Life” were placed above the chalice.[x]

Many committees were designated as “minor” as some clergy considered them not part of the Congress’s sacramental aspect.[xi] These included Traffic, Transportation, Public Safety, and Ushers. The purpose of these groups was to coordinate the free flow of the crowds at events, preserve order in public places, direct traffic, and obtain special public transportation buses and trains. However, there was no documentation to indicate the extent of coordination required with local police departments or public transportation companies.[xii]  The Health Committee concerned itself only with first aid stations at the various sites. 

Arrangements were made with the Red Cross and the city health department to respond to major emergencies.[xiii]

Internal notes from the Housing Committee revealed an early concern in finding accommodations for the anticipated gathering of 100,000 visitors attending the Congress. This group canvassed the city and suburbs, seeking lodging in parishes, private residences, schools, and, if necessary, provide cots to institutions for emergencies. Three months before the Congress, Bishop O’Hara sent a pastoral letter to all the parishes asking Catholics to house visitors and guests. Working with the city’s convention bureau, the Housing Committee secured 4000 beds in private homes and 2000 more in hotels.[xiv] There was no shortage of rooms during the Congress.

An essential but mundane group was the Registration Committee. They were responsible for all practical matters, which included managing fifteen information booths throughout the city and at all events. Their duties comprised the registration of attendees, assisted with housing and transportation, offered escorts as required, facilitated postal services for attendants, offer daycare for children, and operated a “lost and found” department. Laywomen, members of the Ladies of Charity auxiliary, performed the more significant part of this committee’s work.[xv]  It was one of the few areas where the laity was actively involved. Buffalo’s mayor Bernard Down regarded their services as vital to the success of the Congress.[xvi]

The more prominent committees were the Sacristy Committee, responsible for the preparation of liturgical equipment at all public and private Masses. The Decorations Committee was charged with the design, construction, and installation of all materials for public events. This included altars, platforms, canopies, and seating. 

Local architect Alfred Baschnagel was hired to assist with the multiple projects, and various contractors were employed in the construction of altars and platforms. The Processions Committee functioned as a quasi-military unit. It was responsible for transporting dignitaries to and from their scheduled events and for all religious processions, which generally included musicians, school children, and clergy. Members of this unit worked closely with the Buffalo police to coordinate activities and maintain a significant transition among all the proceedings.[xvii]


The Radio Committee and the Publicity Committee coordinated their assignments. In the weeks before the Congress, the Radio Committee conducted a series of broadcasts titled “A Novena of Broadcasts” to encourage Congress’s interest. Initially, this was a local affair, but these broadcasts were transmitted throughout much of the eastern United States within a couple of weeks. These programs proved vital in promoting the upcoming Eucharistic Congress. During the four days of the Congress, all services were broadcast over the radio to much of the United States and Canada.[xviii] The Publicity Committee issued daily press briefings. They assisted members of the local religious and public newspapers and the Associated Press and United Press News Services. Representatives from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Studios were invited to record a motion picture history of the Congress. Unfortunately, these recordings have been lost.[xix]

A Great Demonstration of Faith

With the preparations completed, dignitaries from around the world arrived for the opening ceremonies. On Monday afternoon, September 22, 1947, the train transporting New York’s Cardinal Spellman and Cardinal Motta of Brazil and Cardinal Guevara of Peru arrived at Buffalo’s Central Terminal. Buffalo Bishop O’Hara and an enthusiastic crowd of 70,000 welcomed them.[xx] A motorcade transported the dignitaries to St. Joseph’s New Cathedral, where 4,000 of the faithful prayed with the clergy for the success of the Eucharistic Congress.[xxi] Later that evening at Kleinhan’s Music Hall, the official start of the Congress began with the Civic Reception attended by the clergy and public officials. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra performed accompanied by soloist Jessica Dragonette who sang several selections highlighted by Verdi’s Ava Maria.[xxii]

In his welcoming remarks, Mayor Dowd called the Congress “a great demonstration of faith, a great demonstration of loyalty to God and nation; to the principles of morality and patriotism.” Bishop Burke continued that theme in his speech. He declared that only faith in the Omnipotent God could bring peace to nations that accepted “godless ideology or the imposition of their slavish way of life through force or bloody revolutions.” In their opening remarks, both Bishop O’Hara and Cardinal Spellman spoke of the accomplishments within the Diocese of Buffalo in the last hundred years. They also stressed how the Eucharist was at the center of peace in a war-weary world. [xxiii]


Approximately 15,000 worshippers gathered in Civic Stadium for the opening Pontifical Mass on Tuesday morning September 23. The celebrant was Archbishop Cicognani, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States. The homilist, Cardinal Spellman, referred to the Eucharist as the Sacrament of Peace and urged all Catholics to be “faithful in love and service to God and each other.” [xxiv]  Spellman warned that in the pursuit of peace and liberty, we must “rededicated ourselves to the service of God and following Christ for only then will there be a rebirth of freedom and democracy throughout the world. For he who loves God loves right-right, which is the might of any true republic, the basis of her liberties and foundation of her peace.” [xxv]  The afternoon and early evening programs consisted of sectional meetings focused on specific topics. These conferences addressed issues pertinent for teachers, nurses, press and radio, office workers, and social workers. Local clergy chaired each group, and individuals knowledgeable in that particular area conducted lectures. The venues for these meetings were at various hotels and parishes in the city.[xxvi] The day’s events concluded with the General Assembly held at Memorial Auditorium attended by 20,000 faithful. Several preeminent clergymen presented speeches to the enthusiastic crowd. 

Boston’s Cardinal Cushing praised Buffalo’s first bishop, John Timon, for his leadership. The Cardinal then described how the diocese’s bishops, and those throughout history, were the shepherds of the flock who must be vigilant against those who try to divide priests and people.[xxvii]


Renowned radio preacher Msgr. Fulton Sheen delivered the most anticipated speech of the night.[xxviii] His lengthy talk concentrated on several subjects germane to the time: faith, morals, and the American way. Sheen began his address disgusted that “politics has become the new theology” and that the “passion and zeal, once associated with the cause of God, has now been transformed into fanaticism for Caesar.” He lamented that now, in Christian history, atheism has a political form and social substance, while the “separation of Church and State finally became the separation of religion and State.” Sheen then continued with a condemnation of divorce, stating that society lost its “hold on the natural law”. Consequently, the “family, which is the unit of society,” felt dispensed from its moral obligations. He equated divorce, like a traitor in the home, with traitors among the nation’s citizens.


Sheen referenced the twin twentieth-century evils of the Nazis and the Communists as modern man “has lost his way; he has thrown away the map.” 

The Monsignor condemned those secular attitudes and economic movements as indifferent to the Church and civilization. Only the Cross of Christ had the power to unite the “friends of Christ and also His enemies.” The Eucharist was Sheen’s solution to the evils of the world. In a world of suffering, it was the Eucharist where “the forces of religion will rally” and only the Eucharist can feed men's starved souls. He concluded his discourse with the declaration that “we shall prove to be the greatest revolutionists of our revolutionary times” through a proactive devotion to the Eucharist in atonement for the world’s sins.[xxix]  The following day the Buffalo Courier-Express reported that the crowd responded with “devoted enthusiasm and applause in renewing their faith” at the words of Msgr. Sheen.[xxx]  


Three Pontifical Masses were celebrated on the morning of Wednesday, September 24, at various sites. The official opening Mass of the Congress was the Children’s Pontifical Low Mass conducted at Civic Stadium where a special altar and canopy, modeled after the altar at St. Ambrose in Milan, Italy, was constructed.[xxxi]  Cardinal Spellman’s sermon stressed that the Eucharist was a Sacrament of Peace. Yet his remarks were more of a warning: “the atomic age seems to have brought but a grim interlude in our decade of despair.” The Cardinal urged the faithful to pledge their faith in Christ, “for even God cannot make a peaceful world without peace-loving men to help Him.” [xxxii]


At St. Joseph’s New Cathedral, the Oriental Pontifical Mass was celebrated. The liturgy was lead in the Byzantine Slavonic Rite, and the attending priests belonged to the various churches of the Eastern Rite in union with Rome. Bishop Daniel Evancho, coadjutor Bishop of Pittsburgh Greek Rite, delivered the homily. He emphasized that Congress was truly an ecumenical event since the Church was “neither Latin nor Greek nor Slav: it is Catholic.” The Bishop, in his appeal for unity, talked about the history of the Eastern and Western churches describing how they were more similar than different. Ivancho asked the faithful to pray for the churches in Eastern Europe because of its bishops and priests' death and imprisonment by Communists. He reminded the crowd that as Americans, they should be thankful for their freedom and liberties. With the conversion of Russia, the “Providence of God will again be open to Catholic influence.” [xxxiii]


The third Mass of that day occurred at Hyde Park Stadium in Niagara Falls, New York, where another impressive altar and canopy was erected. The homilist, Cardinal Bernard Griffin Archbishop of Westminster, England, declared the Eucharist as a Sacrament of Unity. The Cardinal preached how the Eucharist was an expression of fellowship with Catholics throughout the world that brought all the faithful together. However, the homily explicitly addressed the persecution of Catholics in the first half of the twentieth century in Spain, Yugoslavia, Germany, and Russia. Griffin viewed the Mass and the Eucharist as the “Sacrament of Unity that will keep Catholics together during these terrible days of persecution.” [xxxiv]  The Cardinal urged Catholics to “unite against the common enemy of Communism and materialism. It is the Mass that will unite us.” [xxxv]  He advocated for abolishing the barriers of race and nation to unite the Catholics of the world in true spiritual unity. The diocese’s newspaper described the reaction to the Cardinal’s sermon as a “clear call for self-sacrifice in promotion of peace and unity that is enjoyed in our blessed nation.” [xxxvi]


Sectional meetings occupied the remainder of the day’s schedule.[xxxvii]  The Sectional Meeting for Mothers reflected the perspective of that time. The main address, presented by Mrs. William Berry of Greensboro, North Carolina, concentrated on the “evils threatening the Christian home.” She asserted that adherence to Christian ideas was the “surest guarantee to living a moral life.” The proper venue to learn about God and the Church was in the home. However, she chastised those children who lost their respect and esteem for the home. Her main concern was with young girls who were no longer “attracted to the domestic arts” and raised a family because “they prefer to be businesswomen, secretaries, sales girls or join the women’s military forces-anything that will take them away from home.” She believed it resulted in juvenile delinquency and a higher divorce rate. Mrs. Berry believed that the solution was a Christian society “when the political order will be in conformity with Christian ideas” but until then, “we must be heroic.” [xxxviii]


Similar ideas permeated other Sectional Meetings. At the assembly for nurses, Msgr. Albert Rung of Buffalo briefly praised nurses for their selfless dedication to healing the infirmed. The remainder of his speech was preoccupied with ensuring that Christian values were evident in nurses and nursing care. The Monsignor affirmed that “nurses must be morally good and spiritually zealous to work good in others” failure to do so allowed for mediocrity. He also placed a substantial responsibility upon them. Rung regarded nurses as combatants on the front line in the battle against atheism and un-Christian systems: “Religion in nursing is the antidote to the false ideologies now seeking recognition, the cure for aversion to the Church, your part in the struggle of the Church against evil.” [xxxix]   


At the Holy Hour for Youth, Bishop George Leach of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, spoke to young Catholic girls and boys about finding their place in life. Leach affirmed that the One True Church was the “teacher where you know the true value and meaning and purpose of your life.” It was the Church that provided the moral and spiritual control to America’s youth. The Bishop told the youths that “you are America’s strongest guarantee of liberty” and “true liberty is an ordered liberty.” [xl]  There was no record of the audience’s reaction to the sermon.


The speeches in each sectional meeting, presented by either laity or clergy, reflected three fundamentals. There was a moral decline in society, and only faithful adherence and devotion to the Eucharist could reverse this trend. The Catholic family was the nexus to a moral revival. Next, atheistic political and economic forces besieged the Church. In many of the lectures and sermons where the words Communist or Communism did not appear, the implied meaning was obvious. Finally, words such as freedom, unity, liberty, American traditions, Christian principles, and Catholic family life found their place in nearly every address. These themes tacitly engulfed the Congress, which, at times, appeared to be a religious-political rally.


The final event of the day was the Holy Hour at Civic Stadium. A crowd of over 50,000 attended this solemn prayer service.[xli] In his homily, Cardinal Samuel Stritch of Chicago reminded the crowd that the kingdom of God would arrive when “all men’s hearts open to the love of Christ the King.” He stated that the Greek and Roman cultures failed because they lived in a condition of slavery. Christ’s cross redeemed lives and gave dignity to the individual. The Cardinal explained that Christian thought was opposed to secularism and when men open their souls to Christ the King: “we do bring religion into our economic and social life. It is impossible for us to preserve and expand our democracy without bringing religion into public life. Washington and Jefferson saw this truth.” [xlii] The Buffalo Evening News reported that the crowd interrupted Stritch’s homily several times with applause and standing ovations.[xliii]


The final day of the Eucharistic Congress, Thursday, September 25, began with a Pontifical High Mass at Civic Stadium. The crowd of 42,000 worshippers prayed for peace and unity as they listened intently to the sermon of Archbishop Alexandré Vachon of Ottawa, Canada. He characterized the family as the “cell of human society” where the Lord entered the home through religion and the spiritual life. Vachon stated, “God will enter that home where there is love and peace,” and to find God’s love and peace, each person “must live with a clear conscience, in peace with God, with our neighbor and ourselves.” [xliv]


The Eucharistic Congress came to a formal end with the Eucharistic adoration and procession at Delaware Park in the afternoon. An estimated crowd of 200,000 pilgrims attended the benediction, having gathered in the park throughout the day.[xlv] Escorted by the Knights of Columbus and other honorary guards, hundreds of clergy and bishops walked through the crowd toward the specially constructed altar. Behind them marched the laity and representatives of the various Sectional groups and diocesan organizations accompanied by seven bands and choirs from various parishes who sang traditional Catholic hymns.[xlvi] At the altar, Cardinal Spellman placed the monstrance on the altar table where he venerated the Eucharist as the choir sang O Salutarius Hostia.[xlvii] He then lifted the monstrance, turned to face the crowd, and made the sign of the Cross with it. The Cardinal began his homily and the final prayer of the Congress, and with that, the Buffalo Eucharistic Congress concluded.[xlviii] 


Catholics and the community deemed Congress a success.[xlix]  The attendance for the four-day Congress was estimated at 557,000 pilgrims from all over the world. The weather was sunny and warm, and this contributed to the overflow of outdoor crowds at various venues.[l] Buffalo was praised for its facilities and welcoming disposition that enabled the “tens of thousands of hearts to thank God for His blessings to this favored land.” [li]   However, the economic impact on the city and region was unknown as there were no records related to the costs of hosting the Congress or what visitors spent on accommodations, meals, or travel.


The Congress was both ecumenical and international. Cardinals and bishops from Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, India, Sudan, Sweden, Syria, Uganda, and Ukraine participated, as did the Apostolic Delegate and Papal Legate. Clergy from the Eastern Orthodox rite was also present. Most of the bishops and auxiliary bishops from New York State and the Eastern and Midwestern sections of the United States were present. In total sixty-three members of the hierarchy and 1,400 priests attended the Congress.[lii]


The theme of the Eucharistic Congress was I am the way, the truth, and the life, but there was an underlying concept at work also. The horrors of the Second World War were still fresh, and the waves of Communist oppression in Russia and Eastern Europe were of serious concern for Catholics and Americans. Consequently, this Eucharistic Congress became a demonstration of faith in God and in the American way of life, as evidenced in virtually all homilies and speeches by clergy and laity. Prominent throughout the four-day event were the crucifix and the red, white, and blue of the American flag joined with the Vatican standard's white and yellow. At this particular moment, there would be no hyphen in the words American Catholic because, in Buffalo, the Cross and the flag symbolized this melding of Catholic faith and values with the beliefs and values of Americanism.

About the author: Paul E. Lubienecki, Ph.D., is a historian writing on local western New York history. Currently, he is completing his manuscript on the history of the Catholic labor schools in Buffalo and their influence on organized labor.

 [i]Previous Eucharistic congresses in the United States occurred at St. Louis (1901), New York (1905), Pittsburgh (1907), and Chicago (1926).

[ii] Bishop John O’Hara’s letter to the Diocese of Buffalo, The Union and Echo, August 8, 1947, 1. This was the official newspaper for the Diocese of Buffalo published weekly.

[iii] The Union and Echo, August 1, 1947, 1.

[iv] Program, The 41st International Eucharistic Congress, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 1976.

[v] Jay P. Dolan, The American Catholic Experience, (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1985), 350.

[vi] James F. Connelly, ed., The History of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. (Philadelphia: Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 1976), 427-428.

[vii] Bishop John O’Hara untitled radio address. Buffalo radio station WBEN, Sunday, September 21, 1947. Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Bishop O’Hara Folder, Archives Diocese of Buffalo (ADB).

[viii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Executive Committee Folder, ADB.

[ix] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Executive Committee Folder, and notes of Fr. Joseph O’Connor, ADB.

[x] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Historical Committee Folder, ADB.

[xi] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, notes of Msgr. Eugene Loftus, Executive Committee Folder, ADB.

[xii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, various committee folders, ADB.

[xiii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Health Committee Folder, ADB.

[xiv] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Housing Committee Folder, and notes from Msgr. John Carr, ADB.

[xv] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Registration Committee Folder, ADB.

[xvi] Buffalo Evening News, “Mayor Praises Success of Eucharistic Congress,” September 26, 1947.

[xvii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, various committee folders, ADB.

[xviii] Buffalo Courier-Express, “Buffalo Congress to Attract People from Empire State,” September 21, 1947, 1.

[xix] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Radio Committee Folder; Publicity Committee Folder and Official Program Buffalo Centennial Eucharistic Congress, ADB. Other minor committees: Music, Seminarians, Exhibits, Schools and Records, and History. The Lay Men and Lay Women committees were tasked with serving as ushers or information guides for visitors and guests. Of course, the chairmen of those two committees were clergy, not the laity.

[xx] The Union and Echo, September 26, 1947, 1.  Buffalo Evening News estimated the crowd at approximately “several hundred.” September 23, 1947, 2.

[xxi] The Union and Echo, September 26, 1947, 1. 

[xxii] Buffalo Courier-Express, September 23, 1947, 1.

[xxiii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder, ADB.

[xxiv] The Union and Echo, September 26, 1947, 2.

[xxv] Buffalo Courier-Express, “Cardinal Speaks at Opening Mass,” September 24, 1947, 1.

[xxvi] Official Program, Buffalo Centennial Eucharist Congress, 19-20, ADB. The Statler Hotel and Hotel Lafayette were utilized for these conferences.

[xxvii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder, ADB.

[xxviii] Dolan, The American Catholic Experience, 392-393. Msgr. Sheen was highly regarded for his national NBC radio program “The Catholic Hour” and by his dramatic and persuasive preaching style. His program was a blend of Catholic theology, moral values, and patriotic American ideas. 

[xxix] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder-General Assembly, ADB.

[xxx] Buffalo Courier-Express, September 24, 1947, 1.

[xxxi] Official Program, Buffalo Centennial Eucharist Congress, 22, ADB. Civic Stadium was centrally located in the city and used for professional baseball and football. The structure was demolished in 1988.

[xxxii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder, Cardinal Spellman, ADB.

[xxxiii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder, Oriental Pontifical Mass, ADB.

[xxxiv] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder, Pontifical Mass, ADB.

[xxxv] Buffalo Evening News, “Fight Communism Through the Mass Catholics Are Told,” September 24, 1947, 2. 

[xxxvi] The Union and Echo, September 26, 1947, 2.

[xxxvii] Sectional Meetings were organized for: Businessmen and Bankers, College Students, Dentists, Farmers, Lawyers, Mothers, Youth, Teachers, Social Workers, Press and Radio, Workingmen, Religious Women, Nurses, and Public Service Personnel. Official Program Buffalo Centennial Eucharistic Congress, ADB.

[xxxviii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder, Sectional Meetings, ADB.

[xxxix] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder, Sectional Meetings, ADB.

[xl] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Holy Hour Folder, ADB.

[xli] The Union and Echo, September 26, 1947, 3, published that 50,000 attended. The Buffalo Courier-Express, September 25, 1947, 1, stated that “over 33,000” attended the event.

[xlii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Holy Hour Folder, ADB.

[xliii] Buffalo Evening News, “Cardinal’s Speech Welcomed by Faithful,” September 25, 1947, 1.

[xliv] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, Speeches Folder, Pontifical Mass, ADB.

[xlv] Buffalo Courier-Express, September 26, 1947, “Largest Crowd in Buffalo Gather for Eucharistic Congress,” 1.

[xlvi] Buffalo Evening News, September 26, 1947, “Eucharistic Congress Ends with Great Procession,” 1 and Buffalo Courier-Express, September 26, 1947, “Largest Crowd in Buffalo Gather for Eucharistic Congress,” 1.

[xlvii] A monstrance is an elaborately decorated receptacle in which the consecrated Host is displayed for veneration.

[xlviii] The Union and Echo, September 26, 1947, 1.

[xlix] Buffalo Courier-Express, “Eucharistic Congress Closes to Great Applause,” September 26, 1947; Buffalo Evening News, “Mayor Praises Success of Eucharistic Congress,” September 26, 19471 and The Union and Echo, “Cardinal Praises the Faithful,” September 26, 1947, 1.

[l] Buffalo Courier-Express, September 27, 1947, 1.

[li] The Catholic News, September 27, 1947.

[lii] Buffalo Eucharistic Congress, “Facts of Importance,” ADB; of the clergy, nearly all of Buffalo’s 800 priests participated in the Congress.