Niagara Gazette

December 8, 2013

GLYNN: Reporter taps into phone line to get scoop

By DON GLYNN don.glynn@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Cliff Spieler, a former Niagara Gazette reporter and editor, had an uncanny skill for getting a news story, despite the obstacles.

 In pre-computer days, under deadline pressure, it was common practice for a reporter to jot down the facts and call the story into the newsroom where a rewrite staffer would handle the copy. Spieler was fast and accurate. He was a pro at covering all bases in a breaking story.

I was reminded of his unique talents when I read a chapter in the new book, “DiCarlo: Buffalo’s First Family of Crime,” by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona (Volume 11-From 1938). As you might expect, there are countless references to Stefano Magaddino who is the 1960s was considered the “irrefutable lord paramount” of an organized crime territory that stretched from the Buffalo-Niagara area to Toronto. The Magaddinos were well represented at the infamous 1957 crime convention that drew more than 50 underworld figures to the tiny town of Apalachin, N.Y., about 15 miles from Binghamton.

Magaddino’s case, like those of his mob friends, was in and out of the federal court for years, Nothing much came out of the crime convention except the harsh reality that the Mafia was still alive and healthy. In the end, the government ‘s case was reduced federal gambling charges.

Magaddino’s lawyers consistently made excuses for their client. Finally, U.S. Commissioner Maxwell Edmund Maxwell decided that if Magaddino was too ill to appear in the Buffalo federal court, he would simply travel to Dana Drive, Lewiston, to perform his role: to arraign the bed-ridden Magaddino, 77. Since it was impossible to allow all the media to invade the home, the group elected Spieler as the “pool reporter.” An excellent choice; he knew all the players (having covered the crime beat for years) and was bound to capture every detail in the makeshift courtroom.

After the arraignment, Spieler stood on the front lawn and filled in the reporters on everything that was said. (He even noted that Magaddino, wearing green pajamas, was propped up in bed and resting on his “queen-sized” mattress. When all the questions were answered, the reporters started scurrying for a phone. The closest one was Mount St. Mary’s Hospital, off Military Road, at least five minutes away if they were lucky to find a parking spot.

Spieler would beat them all to the punch. He simply walked over to a telephone pole by the road (he had made specific arrangements with the area Bell Telephone Co. manager) and plugged into a reserved line to dictate his story to the city desk at the Niagara Gazette. 

Some days a little planning goes a long way.

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BOOK NOTES: A new children’s book, “Johnnie’s Adventures: Lewiston’s Underground Railroad,” by Porter Historian Suzanne Simon Diez and illustrations by the Rev. Rex Stewart of the First Presbyterian Church, Youngstown, is off the press. Book signings are set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 14 at The Dory Trading Post, Main Street, in the village and after worship services Dec. 15 at the church.

In the wake of Thursday’s column (about local history books) some readers asked where they could purchase those publications. The Book Corner, 1801 Main St., has all the selections there were listed. In fact, it has one of the best collections in Western New York.

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TRIVIA QUIZ: Franchot Tone, a move actor once married to Joan Crawford, was the son of Frank Tone, a scientist and first president of the Carborundum Co., founded in Niagara Falls in 1891.

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COURT CHATTER: A friend in Philadelphia sends along this gem taken from a court stenographer’s transcript.

Attorney: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?

Witness: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.