Canal Sans "Love"
Love Canal Site
Artist's Rendering of Griffon Manors
Griffon Manors Aerial View
Aerial View of Neighborhood Courtesy Google Earth
Court 8 Today (Courtesy of Google Earth)
What You Didn’t Hear About the Love Canal Disaster.
We all have heard some version of the famous story of the Love Canal Disaster? About the insidious, greedy corporation who dumped chemicals into an abandoned open pit as an easy way to unload their toxic waste baggage? They all took a stance, whether they sided with Lois Gibbs or Oxy-Chemical Corporation (Hooker Chemical Corp.). It doesn’t matter. There’s still plenty of finger-pointing, story-inventing and bad behavior to cover up on everyone’s part to go around.
This isn’t my fight. My duty is to give a voice to those “poor souls” who got the ultimate shaft. I speak for those folks who resided on the same neighborhood blocks as the “Lois Gibbses”, and endured the same genetic defects, chromosomal damage and disease that the “squeakiest wheels” endured. We are the people who were forgotten in the evacuations, press conferences, photo ops, congressional hearings and lawsuit awards.
If you aren’t familiar with the general account, I won’t waste your time by rehashing it. If you want to read the history, there are plenty of other sources that can give you an anecdote, (see end citations below for more).
Unknown History of the Initial Uproar
In August of 1978, I was ten years old and lived in an obscure housing project, named “Griffon Manors” that was populated predominantly by Blacks. It was situated in the center of the Love Canal community, abutting the toxic pit itself. The project consisted of twelve newly constructed housing units built sometime between 1960 and 1970, which held several townhouses and apartments. Most were in the shape of a horseshoe oddly enough. They were called “courts”. I lived in Court Eight. (I also must mention there was a senior housing complex surrounding a community center located in this same area, but much farther from the chemical dump.)
When the national news broke of the chemical mess and the contamination, there was a sudden flurry of activity in our area. Local and national news media converged upon us vying for a scoop. Bluebird Bus Lines were contracted by state and local officials to evacuate the area. What a raucous! I remember being in a crowd of kids “touring” the large buses parked at the foot of every court. We were in complete awe of their expanse and the toilets installed on them. We asked each day when we would depart and where we were going. Even though the daily driver was always a different face, he would smile and give the same response, “I don’t know. Not long now.” It was just a “dog and pony show” for the cameras. Even as children, we knew we had been abandoned the day media left and the buses stopped showing up.
How Griffon Manors Came to Be Our Home
It seems the housing project was reconstructed to serve two purposes: 1) Alleviate the housing shortage for Blacks in Niagara Falls, 2) and continue to propagate the forced segregation of Blacks and Whites. Shocked? Well don’t be. White real estate agents refused to rent or sell to Blacks at that time. It is well documented that Blacks were relegated to reside in only certain quarters of the city on the north and south ends.
Blacks had begun formally migrating to the north after emancipation from slavery. Niagara Falls, New York was a well-established Underground Railroad stop, and a small percentage of Blacks, already suffering from overcrowding had settled previously. After World War II, they came in larger numbers seeking employment. The continued migration exacerbated the problem to evolve into a slum-like, unsanitary existence.
Using the Civil-rights Movement as a guide, Niagara Falls Blacks organized and rallied for equal housing and employment through non-violent protests and boycotts. Eventually, gaining some ground by being granted the ability to move into the low-income housing of Griffon Manors. The managing city department, Niagara Falls Housing Authority, demolished the old units rented exclusively to whites and constructed new, spacious housing units for all. Treatment of Blacks by the Authority was generally fair and respectful.
The Blacks had only won the battle; however, the war was still in progress. Basically, they were still as segregated as ever. Hardly any White or Hispanic people remained within the housing complex. It was located on an isolated stretch of land in the middle of the suburbs. Except for some small businesses, a firehouse and two schools located on the fringe of the community, no other typical amenities (such as grocery and clothing stores, movie theaters, restaurants, etc.) existed within walking distance or via one bus route. The nearest hospital was miles away. If there was an emergency other than a fire, tenants of Griffon Manors had to find their own way. The presence of ambulances and police cars were a rarity in the area unless there was a major disaster ensuing.
As I mentioned, I was ten at the time it all happened. I knew of the chemicals long before it became common knowledge. I attended 99th Street School, which typically sent us home for lunch. The year prior, my best friend and I skipped lunch to explore the areas around our school and the surrounding neighborhood. She had discovered a basset hound that was very sick and wanted me to take a look. She took me to a row of residential houses on 101st Street, being careful to remain in the alleyways to keep from being detected by the homeowners.
We had only walked a short distance when the odor hit me. To say it smelled like sulfur is a disservice. It smelled more of a foul concoction of sulfur, manure and bug spray. So wretched, I had to put my sleeve over my mouth to breathe. My stomach turned in knots, and I begged her to turn back. She egged me on by telling me the story of the poor dog with sores all over its body and almost unable to move.
Finally we arrived at a dog house. The ground around the house was an oozing “life form” filled with puddles of brownish-Black goo. I thought it was mud, but it moved and bubbled like oatmeal cooking in a pot. When we approached the dog house, our sneakers became lodged in the goop. The smell was overwhelming! I refreshed my protests knowing instinctively that I needed to get the heck out of there. She pressed me to be patient, and began whistling to beckon the dog from the house. Out came an abomination of nature. It was clear that the skeletal remains of peeling, rotting flesh before me were once a beautiful, pedigree basset hound. Its bloodshot eyes and barely wagging tail showed its gratitude for our visit and desperation to be rescued. She pulled out a piece of bologna and fed it. I couldn’t take anymore. I abandoned her and began to run back to school.
Once at school, I was horribly nauseous. I must have looked terrible, because my teacher immediately marched me down to the school nurse. To my surprise my best friend was already there being yelled at by the nurse and principal. “Where were you?” “Why did you go there?!” they shouted. I knew the next step would be to contact our parents. Believe it or not, I didn’t get punished nor did she. We were so ill our parents were too concerned to punish us. I paid for it anyway by spending the rest of the day in the bathroom sick to my stomach and with a very intense headache. Many days thereafter I endured that same chronic headache.
In the years since, I have been diagnosed with an array of reproductive problems from endometriosis to uterine cysts. Although I have no scientific proof, my worst exposure was at time just before I experienced puberty. I speculate there might have been some correlation.
Many of my female friends and family members have also suffered such ailments and worse. My best friend and her sister were never able to conceive a child. Their pregnancies ended in miscarriage. My sister gave birth to a son with a detached retina who is now legally blind in one eye. My daughter has the same defect. Family members have died of various cancers. I could go on and on about the multitude of health issues that have affected those I love. Many of us are no longer around as a result.
To be fair, minimal testing was offered to the residents of Griffon Manor after some protest years later. No tenant’s health issues were ever attributed to Love Canal and his/her medical expenses reimbursed. It’s pretty obvious that two generations of medical costs would bankrupt a company, local government and federal government. Some even tried to stick it out until the end, for fear they would be ultimately over looked. They were finally driven out sometime in the mid-80’s with a stove, refrigerator and $400.00.
The housing project was subsequently demolished, which makes me pose the question, “If it is to be assumed that we weren’t in danger, why demolish the complex?” To this date it remains vacant.
Our beloved 99th Street School was also demolished. Built in February 1955, its walls had been a pillar of education and had seen many children successfully come and go. The school’s population of several hundred students was relocated to the inner city to an abandoned school taken out of moth balls for the purpose. Strangely enough, the Board purported the school was originally taken out of service due to declining population, but once the faulty plumbing and leaking roof had been experienced by teachers and staff it was clear the place was a dilapidated shack. The School Board confirmed this notion by closing down the school the following year. Its student population was dissolved and strewn about the city.
What is clear is that the lawyers and officials for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), school district, and the State of New York disregarded our need to relocate from the chemical dump. We were left to our own faculties to find housing elsewhere without the government help given to the privileged few. If anything, they still to this day deny the toxins caused any health problems. I guess the Blacks of former Griffon Manors are still considered “second-class” citizens, because we lived in public housing and didn’t own the land we resided on.
In 2004, the EPA closed the book on the Superfund site declaring the site clean and habitable. This is forever debatable.
In the end, the statute of limitations has expired, the lawsuits have been paid and the topic has been buried with the demolished housing project and middle-class starter homes. It’s all obscured by the plastic liner and topsoil of what is now known as “Black Creek” Village.
You might question what awoke the “bee in my bonnet”? That’s easy enough. I’ve always wanted to speak, but the microphone was never open to us. I resign, now that I have set the record straight.
Love Canal Images Today: http://www.rochesternet.com/rides/lovecanal/index2.htm
Love Canal Timeline: http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/nature/lovecanal.html
David T. Hanson, Photography Exhibit, “Imaging a Shattering Earth”: http://www2.oakland.edu/shatteringearth/artists.cfm?Art=35
Love Canal History:
Love Canal Homeowners Association Fact-pack (No mention of housing project except in the diagram of the neighborhood on Page 7):