If you want to get technical about it, I’m not actually related to the Niedbalski family of Dunkirk, New York. Aunt Rita is my great-grandmother’s sister’s husband’s sister (say that one five times fast!), but she’s always been a part of the Kuznicki clan. And because she never had any children of her own, she chose my grandfather–and later, my mom and her sister–as her family. I asked her once, years ago, to tell me about her parents–I’ve always loved her parents’ wedding portrait that’s hanging on the wall in her living room–but she told me that she couldn’t even remember their names. I made it my mission to find them, and I still keep up with the records available on her family, sending her new photos and articles as I come across them.
That’s how I found this latest newspaper article, and it’s like something out of a movie. It all comes back to Joseph Niedbalski, my Aunt Rita’s cousin; he was born on February 18, 1910 in Dunkirk to Jozef and Michilena (Kubasik) Niedbalski, and he had seven siblings: Mary (b. 1901), Stephen (b. 1902), Genevieve (b. 1904), Theodora (b. 1905), Leonard (b. 1907), Sylvester (b. 1911) and Clemens (b. 1914). He worked as a machinist at Brooks Locomotive Works–along with most of the men in my family tree–and he owned the house at 64 Armadillo Street. Joseph was married twice–once to Dorothy Szczublewski and again to a woman named Angela–and had two sons. But this story finds him on July 3, 1939, and it reads, “BOAT OVERTURNED IN ATTEMPT TO HOIST THE ANCHOR: Plight Was Seen By First Gulf Residents Soon After Daylight:”
Three hook and line fishermen, two from Dunkirk and one from Buffalo, were rescued early this morning after clinging to their capsized boat a mile off the first gulf for approximately three hours.
The men, Joseph Niedbalski, 64 Armadillo street, Walter Scyzpowlski, 67 North Ermine street, both of Dunkirk, and Paul S. Doty, 933 Exchange street, Buffalo, were saved by G. B. Ballard of Glen View, N. Y., whose yacht which was tied at the Central avenue wharf, answered the call for assistance.
When Ballard, who was operating his pleasure yacht, arrived at the scene of the near-tragedy, he found the three men near the point of exhaustion and clinging to the bottom-side-up craft. The men said they had been in the water since 1:30 this morning and Ballard effected his rescue at 4:45.
Police received a call from the Evangelical Training school in East Lake road that a small boat was upside down a mile off shore at that point and that three men were “hanging on.” Patrolmen Clifford and Centner were detailed to seek aid for the men and finally Mr. Ballard was found aboard his boat at the wharf.
He immediately made ready to cast off and with Patrolman Centner, dashed to the scene and hauled the men aboard. They said they were numb with cold and exposure in the water and chill morning air.
ANCHOR HELD TIGHT
The men had gone to the fishing grounds earlier in the evening and had been fishing until after midnight. One of the men, after the trio decided to go ashore, attempted to haul in the anchor, but the hook had become lodged fast. While giving a great tug, the boat flipped over, helped by small waves, throwing them into the water.
The fishing equipment including lines, poles, lanterns and biat boxes, pails, etc., was lost. When Ballard found the boat, the anchor was still “snagged” on the bottom and because of this, the boat could not float shoreward.
Later this morning, none of the men was any the worse for this experience but thanked police and Mr. Ballard for their assistance.
I’m pretty sure this scenario is my new worst nightmare–but I think Aunt Rita will love reading this story, too. I mean, a capsized boat? Hanging on for three hours? Being stranded offshore in the middle of the night? This story’s definitely something out of a movie. I guess the message of this one is to write everything down, record it for the next generation and always, always keep it close. Whether it’s a freak accident fit for the movie screen or a mundane Sunday afternoon at home, every story gives us clues about our ancestors’ lives, about who we are and where we come from. So don’t forget anything (easier said than done, right?); until next time–