Winter Adventures in Buffalo: Beautiful Botanicals, Father Baker and a Piebald Deer in a Cemetery

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Kids Sledding Outside the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, Lackawanna, N.Y.

Kids Sledding Outside the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, Lackawanna, N.Y.

Snow. It’s what’s expected during the winter in Buffalo, N.Y., and while visiting my family in Western New York for the holidays, a little snow didn’t stop our winter adventures. My mom and I headed to the City of Lackawanna to enjoy the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens and Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica and once again, I was surprised by Western New York treasures.

Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
The temperature was a balmy 20-something degrees yesterday with snow falling just enough to make driving a bit slick during the noon-time drive. A little snow doesn’t deter hearty Buffalonians who embrace winter outdoor activities as much as their beloved sports teams. In fact, outside the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, kids screamed with joy while sliding down the gardens’ hill atop plastic sleds in neon colors of green, yellow and orange.

I’ve lived in Florida just long enough to thin my blood and prefer my Buffalo winter activities to be indoors. This is why the Victorian conservatory housing the gardens was the perfect place to keep warm and soak up humidity. Yes, humidity. After being in Western New York for five days I’ve noticed how dry my skin has gotten and my body has been thirsting for a little humidity.

Opened in 1900, the national historic site is made of glass, wood and steel conservatory was built by Lord & Burnham, premier designers of Victorian glass houses. The tri-dome design was based on the Crystal Palace in Kew Gardens Palm House in England and is one of two remaining Lord & Burnham conservatories.

Stepping into Palm Dome, the first house you step into when entering from the front of the building, the tall, lush palm trees drew my eyes to the rounded ceiling of the stunning dome. The facility is a stunning piece of architecture housing a diverse collection of botanicals. Being the winter holiday season, the gardens were celebrating the Poinsettia Show and in every house there was a splash of red from the festive plant.

In a short period of time we walked under magnificent palm trees, through a rainforest and alongside cacti, ivy, bonsai, medicinal plants, and orchids. Most interesting to me was House 12 called “Florida Everglades” and houses mangroves, fish and other plants found in Florida’s River of Grass.

Here’s a little factoid I learned, the botanical gardens are 1,188 miles from the Florida Everglades.

Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, Lackawanna, N.Y., Near Buffalo

Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, Lackawanna, N.Y., Near Buffalo

Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica
After our visit, we walked over to Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica which is the final resting place of Venerable Nelson Baker and home to an estimated number of 1,500 – 2,500 angels in the form of paintings and sculptures. Growing up, I remember being told if my siblings and I didn’t behave we’d be dropped off at Father Baker’s Orphanage. But who was Father Baker?

In sum, Father Baker (1842 – 1936) was/is a big deal. He was a Western New York-based priest who served as assistant at the Limestone Hill Institutions in Lackawanna, N.Y., which included an orphanage, boys protectory and parish. He later took over the charitable organization that would become Our Lady of Victory Institutions and expanded the ministry to include a home for unwed mothers and infants, a hospital and industrial school.

One of the 1,500 - 2,500 Angels in Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, Lackawanna, N.Y., Near Buffalo

One of the 1,500 – 2,500 Angels in Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, Lackawanna, N.Y., Near Buffalo

For many children he was the only father they knew and was known as “Padre of the Poor” and “Little Man of God.” He built Our Lady of Victory which was constructed between the spring of 1921 and winter of 1925 and in 1987, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the initiation of Father Baker’s cause for canonization (in other words, he’s on his way to being an official saint).

The Basilica is quite amazing and I didn’t realize how “new” it is. It contains 46 kinds of marble and the pews are made with African mahogany. It also houses the remains of Father Baker in a tomb which were relocated in 1999 from nearby Holy Cross Cemetery. The Great Dome was once the country’s second largest behind the U.S. Capitol Building.

The Father Baker Museum is located below the basilica and walks visitors through the life of the Padre of the Poor including a replicated room and artifacts from his life. There’s also a gift shop featuring just about all your Catholic needs including mini-statues, rosaries, books, saint cards and jewelry. Tours are offered to groups and on Sundays individuals can join a guided tour. During operating hours the Basilica is open to the public to tour at their leisure.

Piebald Deer at Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna, N.Y., Near Buffalo, Dec. 26, 2013

Piebald Deer at Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna, N.Y., Near Buffalo, Dec. 26, 2013

Piebald Deer in Holy Cross Cemetery
“It’s a what?” I asked my mom as she said, “Jenn, look! It’s a piebald deer!”

My mom constantly amazes me because I’ve never heard of a piebald deer and she has. I swear, she knows just about everything!
Using a map which was probably 20 years old, we drove through Holy Cross Cemetery in search of our Irish relatives who were buried there in the early 1900s. We read names off headstones that affirmed Buffalo was rich with Irish descendants.

While we searched for specific sections, I noticed a few white-tailed deer walking among the headstones. It’s not my first time seeing deer but how often do you see them in cemeteries?

As we got closer, my mom was the first to notice the chocolate-brown and white deer which reminded me of a pinto pony or cow. The brown on its coat was darker than the other deer and was mottled with white. The other deer seemed to protect this white and brown deer by standing between us and it and then they eventually left together.

Wow! I’ve never seen that before and not sure I ever will. A piebald has a rare inherited genetic variation causing the white and brown coloring. This affects less than one percent of the white-tailed deer population.

We never found what we were looking for but had memorable day exploring and learning about a side of Buffalo I’ve never seen before and seeing an act of Mother Nature I will probably never see again.

To see the piebald deer in the video below be sure to expand the screen. If the video does not play view it here on YouTube.

For additional photos of my winter adventures in Buffalo visit my Flickr account.

Have you ever seen a piebald animal?

Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
2655 South Park Ave.
Buffalo, N.Y. 14218
Tel: 716-827-1584
www.BuffaloGardens.com

Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica
767 Ridge Rd.
Lackawanna, N.Y. 14218
Tel: 716-828-9444
www.ourladyofvictory.org

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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2 Comments

  1. Loved this!

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Judy. Happy New Year!

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