Niagara Gazette

February 26, 2014

BRADBERRY: Looking back to see ahead; historical fortune telling

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you are.”

James Burke (1936- ), Science historian, author


Like hundreds of other Niagarans and former Niagara Falls residents now living in other various places around the world, I received some very exciting news in my email yesterday from our precious local “Towne Crier”, my friend and colleague, Norma Higgs.

In one of the dozens of alerts that Norma takes her own valuable personal time and other resources to share information about upcoming events around town with anyone lucky enough to earn a position on her amazing mailing lists, yesterday Norma passed along this vitally important news from Michelle Petrazzoulo, director of the Niagara Falls Public Library announcing the restoration of “normal operating hours” of the Local History Department starting Monday, March 3rd from 5 to 8 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 until 5 p.m.

Much to my delight, Ms. Petrazzoulo’s message included the Burke quote above.

For some like me, that’s great news; not having access to the many thousands of archived documents, old newspapers, magazines, photographs, reports, studies, private collections, artifacts and trivia about our fair city has been a substantial handicap for anyone looking for their own personal family links to the development of this community in particular, and civilization in general.

Great news indeed; the restoration of nine hours per week is definitely a good step in the right direction, and there is hope that even more hours can be added later if resources can be identified.

In my view, any community that fails to understand and appreciate its roots will inevitably lose its way as James Burke and many others have so eloquently put it.

So, take advantage of the new hours and have fun plowing through your history, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you might find.

I have long appreciated Burke’s work. A Brit born in 1936, he is perhaps best known for his work as a broadcaster. Referring to his highly acclaimed and vastly popular series Connections and The Day the Universe Changed , Burke was once called by the Washington Post, “one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world”. Burke is also a founder of the Knowledge Project which will enable users to virtually travel through history to discover their own connections to history’s most amazing stories.

Among the dozen or so books that he has written, I particularly recommend American Connection: The Founding Fathers. Networked, 2007; Circles: Fifty Round Trips Through History, Technology, Science, Culture, 2000; and The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible and Other Journeys Through Knowledge, 1996, all available at the Book Corner, 1801 Main Street, in Niagara Falls, NY.

Coincidentally (?), at the same time I also received a message from my dear friends (they don’t know me from Adam, actually) reporters Niraj Chokshi and David Beard over at the Washington Post’s GovBeat (

They’ve apparently been working on a project and just happened to pick this particular moment to release the results of their focus on state and local government policy and politics. It’s a summary of 25 maps and graphs that, “explain America today”, graphically illustrating how we got here.

In the preface to their abundantly detailed report, they note that, “At the start of every year, government agencies, think tanks and businesses release sets of data and reports charting the nation’s social, economic and demographic course. Individually, each release of data offers a narrow snapshot of a narrow issue…voter attitudes, migration, unemployment, an assessment of policies, etc., but collectively they tell a broader story”.

In a nutshell, the data demonstrates what most of us already know, “The rich are getting richer” while the rest of us remain bunched up in the shrinking middle, assuming we ever made it there in the first place; increasingly, many don’t and fear their children never will.

These excerpts highlight their findings:

Who’s most well off. Using Gallup’s “well-being index” which relies on 55 metrics including, for example, rates of obesity, produce (fruits & vegetable consumption), smoking, depression, etc. Generally, according to the map, the Midwest earned top position while the South ranked worst.

• The top 1 percent have gained in every state. The richest one percent have gobbled up an increasingly large share of income reversing an earlier trend toward income equality; New York leads the pack.

• Big cities are less equal than the rest of the country. The rich are richer and the poor are poorer in the nation as a whole. Only Denver, Seattle and El Paso saw inequality shrink, the rest got worse.

• More than six million households in the U.S. have liquid assets worth more than $1 million. The greatest concentrations of wealth are along the Interstate 95 corridor.

• Where the breweries are. The number of brewery permits soared last year to new all-time highs. About one third concentrated in just four states: California, Washington, Colorado and Oregon.

• Where people are moving to and from. Using data from Atlas Van Lines, most states had a steady balance of people moving in and out, but most of the net gains are in Texas and the Northwest. We are still hemorrhaging here in New York state.

So, what can we gather from the data that might give the politicians and policy makers the tools they need in order to begin to nudge the numbers, charts and graphs in the correct direction?

I don’t pretend to know any more than this: If history tells us anything, it is that there are historically clear connections between what we do or don’t do and what we get or don’t get.

The report’s last few findings indicate that those states that plan for the future usually fare better than those that do not. “Virtually every state could do a better job at long-term fiscal planning according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; out of a total of 3,143 counties, at least half of all of the non-senior Americans without health insurance live in just 116 counties; that California, which produces most of the vegetables consumed in the U.S. is facing year three of an extended drought, and there is no relief in sight.

Compared with much of the rest of the country, Niagara Falls is looking as bright as ever if history is any indication of the future. As we continue to shovel our way out from under the decades of economic blizzards and storms, I am reminded again of FDR’s words when he visited Niagara Falls for the dedication of Hyde Park Stadium back in 1936.

He said, “I take great pleasure in coming to this dedication of this stadium today. There are many reasons why we ought to be proud of what we have been doing. This stadium, like many others in the country, represents a twofold effort. The first is to give work to people who need work, and the other is to build physical improvements for the future…And we are also building things like this stadium, places where we can come to watch baseball and football games. My only regret is that you have not a football game scheduled this morning”.

Makes one kind of wonder, just how far into the future can one see by peering into the not so distant past?

Contact Bill at

Contact Bill at