Niagara Gazette

Columns

February 19, 2013

BRADBERRY: Out of the fire: Life from the ashes

Niagara Gazette — It still stands as a record that should never be approached, let alone broken; 15 children and three adults died in the Moonglow Hotel, in the worst fire in Niagara Falls’ history, Nov. 16, 1957. Annie L. Reid, then just 4 years old was pulled from the flames by her sister who found her hiding underneath her crib. Thrown from a second-story window of the dilapidated tenement building, little Annie miraculously survived the fire and lived to write a book about it.

Now 55 years later retired US Marine Corps First Sgt. Annie L. Chivers’ poignant memoir tells the heartbreaking, but inspirational story of one woman’s journey in the aftermath of losing nearly her entire family in one of the worst tragedies in the history of African American’s migration from the back breaking work in the cotton fields and farm life of Pigeon Creek, Alabama and other communities in the Deep South to live and work just as hard in the body breaking factories and farms of Niagara Falls and Western New York. During one of my many trips back home to Niagara Falls after moving away to attend school in 1965, I returned to my old neighborhood with a critical eye 40-some odd years later.

I chronicled my visit, recalling that I paced back and forth, up and down the now one-way Allen and MacKenna avenues, looking for familiar faces, finding instead, tin warehouses and vacant fields where my neighborhood once stood was now empty except for a few new garage-like structures and what looked like lines of tired old trucks, waiting for the rust to reclaim them.

The area, once one populated by small junk yards and immigrant factory workers who settled here from Hitler and Mussolini’s “Old Country” in Europe and Jim Crow’s Deep South, a neighborhood where the otherwise unwanted were forced to live in some kind of harmony on their way toward “Americanization,” now a wasteland.

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