Monsters and Scary Tales.

Dear Islanders;

It’s Halloween weekend. Let’s talk about monsters and scary tales. And let’s start with the “King of the Monsters”—GODZILLA


Godzilla was more than just a goofy movie

There is nothing like being in Tokyo on a Friday night, with all the lights and color. You can almost imagine the many works of Japanese pop culture—from Super Mario to anime figures—coming to life in the electronic glow. And that includes Godzilla, looming over the skyline with that ominous score (second best monster theme after Jaws!).

Godzilla is considered by most of us to be a silly monster movie. And it is. But it’s more than that too. Godzilla, which literally is a combination for the Japanese words gorilla (“gorira”) and whale (“kujira”), is a metaphor for atomic power. The character is an elemental beast, like one of Lovecraft’s dark lords, which once awakened is beyond human understanding and indifferent to our plight. In later films, the meaning of Godzilla changed, but that’s what the post-World War II, first iteration of Godzilla was meant to represent: atomic terror.  Japan was in such a state of horror and shock after Hiroshima and Nagasaki that they created a supernatural beast to cope.

Western New York dealt with a few monsters of its own

Not so long ago, there were numerous sighting of supernatural beasts right here alongside Grand Island. The river was said to contain a serpent much like Loch Ness. There were numerous sightings. And there was a yeti like beast roaming in the gorge, covered in twigs and drooling. Beyond those two baddies were other curious tales, like stories of herds of glow-in-the-dark deer. And much like Japan, all of this had some connection to fears of the atomic age.

Our region was once the home of some of the most cutting-edge weapons and aerospace research and production facilities in the world. There would never have been a Fat Man and Little Boy—the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—without the work done in secret plants and factories right in our region. Niagara Falls has been called the Los Alamos East for its role in the Manhattan project. This is not some conspiracy theory; it’s part of our nation’s documented (yet little known) history. And when the top-secret work was at its height, the cloak and dagger goings-on (including the men in the silver radiation suits and the sunglass wearing agents in black sedans) triggered the imagination of our community.

Although most—if not all—of the infrastructure that helped make the bombs is gone, part of the contamination remains. And along with that contamination is the contamination from chemical companies that took advantage of Western new York for decades, dumping deathly waste wherever they could find a spot. God only knows what lies in those giant mounds of dirt all around our region, lurking, silently in the darkness. Your mind races back to Lovecraft. I would be remiss to say, however, if not for the Army Corps of Engineers and its clean up efforts, we may even be worse off.

After news reports, several residents called

Why do I delve into all of this? Well, there was recently a story on the local news about radiation sites in Western New York, including some alleged sights on Grand Island. Several people called me to express their concerns. And honestly, I had few answers. I was unaware of the full extent of the history of contamination. But I’ve been doing my research. The alternative would have been to disregard the story and go about my day. But I felt I had a duty to dig in. And I also am trying hard to learn more about the air pollution that affects our town. More on this later! Hint, mark the date--December 3rd. I'll explain why next week. 

We can’t shape the past, but we can shape the future.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you find solemn monuments to peace that are built over the ashes of cities that were once charred and coated in radioactive dust. Lush gardens and beautiful communities sit right on the spot where massive atomic bombs melted whole communities in a cloud of fire. Yet, these cities moved beyond disaster. If those places can reshape so dramatically, we can heal some of the environmental wounds from previous generations here as well.

Western New York is beautiful. That’s why I came home. I feel it when I look at that dark blue river, when I cross over the bridge and feel the world fall behind me, and especially at this time of year with the pumpkins ripen and the brilliant orange and yellow leaves fall. But we must take the good with the bad, and we must be aware of our history to prepare for our future. We should never let pipeline operators, flyby night construction companies, or has-been factory owners take advantage of us again. 

Update on the State of the Art "Welcome Center

As you may have read in the Dispatch last week, Grand Island has been selected as the location for a planned NEW state of the art "Welcome Center" that will be located just off the thruway.  The welcome center will not be some tourist trap or rest stop. It will feature a Taste NY Market offering locally-made and produced food and beverages and three interactive I LOVE NEW YORK digital kiosks for visitors to learn about the region’s history, Grand Island’s history, and the myriad of destinations WNY has to offer.

Special thanks to Chamber President Eric Fiebelkorn, along with Deputy Supervisor, Jim Sharpe, who helped me make the case to the Governor that Grand Island is a natural choice for the center. And thank you to the Governor, for hearing us. We already welcome the world. It's time we do it right and tell our story in the process!
With highest regards,