Tour the Old Steel Town at the Center of ‘Lackawanna Blues’

A 264-acre preserve in Buffalo’s Lackawant to neighbourhood (north of Buffalo) is now known as Tifft Nature Preserve. A few small ponds and a few train tracks were all that remained in the 1950s and ’60s. If you’re a fan of Ruben Santiago-work Hudson’s on Broadway’s “Lackawant to Blues,” this is where you can find him fishing. In his autobiographical presentation, he often talks lovingly of his time spent there.

The setting for Santiago-play Hudson’s is 32 Wasson Avenue, where he was reared by his landlady, Ms. Rachel Crosby, affectionately known as “Nanny.” There are at least 25 characters from the area included in the 90-minute autobiographical one-man show (all artfully played by Santiago-Hudson in various postures, accents and cadences).

Ol’ Po’ Carl, a would-be chef and former baseball player, was among the lost souls, petty hustlers, and philosophers waxing poetry. Santiago-Hudson recalled a chat the two had about fishing during a rehearsal of the play in mid-August. (Old Po Carl dubbed him “doc” because there was always a potential Santiago-Hudson would be a doctor someday.) /

Then, he’d come over and say to me: “Hey, doctor! You curly-headed, ragged-headed rascal. Are you going fishing this weekend?’ “Yeah, I might go fishing,” is what I’d say. Instead of ‘fishing,’ use the phrase ‘going fishing.’

His advice: “You better get out there before they catch up all the fish,” he would advise. And I’d think, ‘He might be right, they caught all the fish!’ — I was 11 at the time. ‘How are you going to catch all the fish?’ I wondered as I grew older.’

Malik Rainey, a Buffalo-based photographer, recently travelled to Lackawant to take photograph the region at dusk. Images from the 1950s and 60s, which include photos of Santiago-Hudson as a child and Nanny with her husband, Bill, depict a town’s rich history and current state.

Text from the song “Lackawant to Blues.”

Lackawant to had a population of 19,949 at the time of the 2020 census. Bethlehem Steel was a major employer in Lackawant to in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the film “Lackawant to Blues” is set.

The steel plant went out of business in 1983. Where steel was previously made, wind turbines now whirl.

During an interview in August, Santiago-Hudson remarked that the play allows him to revisit and remember where he came from, and that he enjoys it.

“People ask me, ‘How did you get away?’ ‘How did you make it out?’ He said, “I didn’t want to leave.” “I had no intention of going anywhere.” No way was I going to leave! I never would have left Nanny’s house if she hadn’t made me go to college. It’s a matter of fact. Rather than leave Lackawant to, I’d rather take a job at the steel mill and remain here with these people.”