November 11th, 2011 - Reported here. See/view video about these events here. Buffalo, N.Y. - Seneca Street, near the Larkin District was a bustling neighborhood not too many years ago. And in the 1950's there was a barber named Joe Battaglia. His shop was in an unassuming brick and clapboard building, and he and his family lived in the apartment above. While business was good, the world had it's troubles. It was the height of the cold war.
Battaglia was just an ordinary guy, a church-going, Italian Catholic, who could have never prepared himself for the message he received early one morning, or more importantly, the messenger. Common Council President David Franczyk remembers the old neighborhood story. "He had an idea that the virgin Mary appeared to him at night and wanted him to build a shrine to her as a message of peace and a message to go back and pray and so forth."
Battaglia described the vision as a glowing figure outside his window, looking like a brilliant white christmas tree. The barber then went outside and the figure began to take shape, he says, ultimately coming into focus as the blessed mother. He said Mary told him "don't be afraid, my dear, I have a mission for you." According to Franczyk "So he built this incredible shrine, and it took him a year to do it...you know, brick by brick by brick, incased in glass, with a statue of the virgin Mary."
Hundreds of people pass this shrine every day, most have no idea what it is. The vision has never been confirmed by the church, but the importance of this structure has been recognized by the city. After Mr. Battaglia passed away in the 70's, the property fell into disrepair, eventually being taken over by the City. In the 80's they considered knocking it down.
Advocates fought for, and won, it's preservation and the city maintained it until recently. It is now in the hands of private owners, who, along with neighbors, help maintain the structure and pay for the electricity. And Franczyk made a special effort to preserve the future of this little-known landmark. "My one condition for anyone that owned it, whether it be the city or now a private owner, that they must protect that statue as a neighborhood treasure." A treasure that sits, almost prophetically, just down from the corner of Seneca...and Lord.
The address of the shrine is 847 Seneca Street, Buffalo NY 14210.