A Space Age Mystery: Amherst Street Names

1:29 PM, Oct 27, 2012   |    comments
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Amherst, N.Y. - There are three streets in Amherst off of Niagara Falls Boulevard named after American heroes that many of us drive by every day without giving them a second thought.

Our story begins on May 25th, 1961 when President Kennedy put an audacious challenge to an America that was in a space race with the Soviet Union:

"I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth," said Kennedy.

It turns out that the Buffalo area would play a huge role in that effort.

It began when the X-1, a plane built by Bell Aerospace in Wheatfield broke the sound barrier in 1947.

Bell went on to design and build systems that were in a series of NASA missions, including the Apollo flights that would ultimately achieve president Kennedy's goal.

But the quest for the Moon did not come without tragedy.

Three astronauts -- Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were the crew of the first Apollo flight.

On January 27th, 1967, the three entered the Apollo 1 capsule for a test on the launch pad.

A fire broke out in the cabin and the three men were trapped inside.

All were killed and an entire nation mourned.

About five years after the tragedy in the early 1970s, Dick Brox and some members of the Amherst planning department were sitting around having lunch one day and, given Western New York's great aviation history, they thought about naming some streets in the town's new industrial parks after some pioneers of flight.

Dick Brox: "We named John Glenn, we named Amelia Earhart, and we named Curtis Wright and one of the guys said maybe we should name streets for the three astronauts who died in the fire."

But rather than honor the astronauts with signs in an industrial park, they decided instead to pick streets off of Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Dick Brox: "So by putting the three names on the Boulevard, people driving by everyday would see the astronauts names, they might wonder why, who were these guys?"

The men then took the idea to the town planning board.

Dick Brox: "They thought it was a good idea, honoring the various aviation pioneers and then the astronauts who had died in the Apollo One mishap."

And so that's how three consecutive streets off of Niagara Falls Boulevard just north of the 290, came to be named for Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White.

So from the mid-1970s through 1991 the three men were together, just as they had been in life, and on that fateful day on the launch pad.

But then in 1991, the town abandoned the street when no homes were built on it, and the Grissom sign was taken down.

2 On Your Side's Scott Brown has the story, and the answer to the space age mystery of what happened to Gus Grissom's sign.











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