Curiosity about a neighborhood landmark inspired playwright Tom Dudzick to write “Miracle on South Division Street.”
In the 1950s Joe Battaglia lived above his barber shop along Seneca Street in Buffalo, New York. His barbershop, as described by reporter Pete Galivan of WGRZ-TV, was an unassuming brick building above which his family lived in the Hydraulics neighborhood of Buffalo.
Battaglia described having a vision of a glowing figure outside his window, like a brilliant white Christmas tree. As the figure took shape he saw it was the Blessed Mother who told him he had a mission to spread peace.
After Battaglia built a brick shrine and had a marble statue of Mary crafted, his word of peace spread. As Battaglia aged he passed care of the shrine onto a neighbor. In the 1980s the city of Buffalo intended to demolish the shrine, but advocates saved it.
Galivan featured Seneca Street on his Nov. 11, 2011 segment of “Unknown Stories: Our Lady of Seneca Street.” If you would like to watch the video it is posted on the web at http://southbuffalo.wgrz.com/news/news/60783-unknown-stories-our-lady-seneca-street
Dudzick walked past this shrine on his way to school each day and his comedy “Miracle on South Division Street” is based on this true local legend.
“Back in busy, bustling 1950s Buffalo, a block and a half from my father’s tavern, there stood a barbershop,” Dudzick said in his author’s notes. “Next to the barbershop was a 20-foot-tall shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary — a beautiful life-sized statue encased in wood, brick and glass.
“It’s raison d’etre? — well, legend had it that the Blessed Mother herself appeared to this barber and gave him a message concerning world peace. (She was in favor of it.) Whether this miraculous materialization actually took place is still a matter of conjecture, but, regardless, there it stood, this monument to a man’s faith for us impressionable kids to gawk at and wonder about.
“The nuns at St. Pat’s told us not to waste our prayers or coins on the ersatz saint as the mighty Roman Catholic Church had no intention of ever sanctioning this hokey miracle. And that’s how the matter stood at the time I left the neighborhood in 1964.
“Fast forward 45 years. My old neighborhood has all but disappeared. Businesses and homes have succumbed to hard times and neglect. Its denizens have fled to the suburbs and St. Pat’s is gone. But amidst the rubble of urban blight something still stands, dare I say, ‘miraculously?’ You guessed it, the shrine to the Blessed Mother — spared from the wrecking ball by a promise from City Hall, lovingly preserved by a handful of faithful residents, its creator long passed away.
“I made a pilgrimage to my old neighborhood a couple of years ago. I stood before the shrine — newly Windexed, freshly flowered, its mail slot still active with donations and requests for miracles — and I thought to myself, ‘There’s a story here.’ The real-life details of its origin were forever buried with the barber, so I needed to invent a family.”
Dudzick created the Nowak family, mother Clara and her three children Beverly, Ruthie and Jimmy who have a doozy of a story to share. They gather one afternoon for lunch to discuss Grandfather’s shrine. The revelations of a deathbed confession lead to uproarious and unexpected results.
Northeastern Wisconsin has its own Marian Shrine located near Green Bay. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Hope is situated on six acres of peaceful farmland and preserves the spot where the Queen of Heaven appeared to a young Belgian immigrant woman named Adele Brise in 1859.
The Vatican approved this shrine in February, 2011 making it the only site in the United States where an apparition of Mary has been declared “holy.”
As with most fiction, reality is an inspiration. The fictional Nowaks created by Dudzick are a real family on stage. They tease, support, fight, bicker, encourage, hug and love each other. We hope you stop by to visit with the Nowaks before they leave Oct. 20.
Join the Players early and relax around the bonfire in the beer garden before settling in for a stay with the Nowaks. For more information visit www.peninsulaplayers.com or call the Box Office at 920-868-3287. I hope to see you by the bay where the sun sets, the laughs bounce off the shoreline and the preshow bonfire burns brightly.
Audra Baakari Boyle is the Peninsula Players Business Manager, celebrating her 19th season by the bay.