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Fallen Skywalkers finally memorialized

A multiyear effort led by three sisters whose father died during construction of The Skyway culminated in a ceremony and signage.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Relatives of men killed during the construction of Buffalo's Skyway bridge in the 1950s finally saw their loved ones memorialized during a ceremony and sign unveiling on Wednesday.

2 On Your Side has been following their efforts since first telling Western New York about them in a story that aired in February of 2019.

Wednesday was the culmination of the push, primarily led by three sisters who lost their father, who was among a group of workers who performed a dangerous job that earned them the name "The Skywalkers."

These iron workers and riveters were a brave bunch who walked beams without the harnesses and safety nets, which would become standard in more modern times.

Many of the Skywalkers were Mohawk, including Mitchell LaClair, who in April of 1955 was killed after a sudden gust of wind blew him off the bridge deck as he attempted to move a scaffold. 

LaClair fell 90 feet to his death near the intersection of Main and Perry streets, at the site of present-day Canalside, leaving behind a wife and three young daughters.

"It's something that we worked for all these years," said Florence Golba, who was only 4 years old at the time of her father's death and has no memory of him.

Celeste Coleman never knew her father, as she wasn't born until six months after he died. Ironically, she was born just two days after the Skyway officially opened in October of 1955.

"I keep seeing the birds flying up here right where my father had fallen and...I know that he's happy," Coleman said following a ceremony to honor their father and two other Skywalkers who suffered a similar fate during the bridge construction.

June Mafoud was 8 at the time of LaClair's passing and is the only one of the three sisters with any clear memory of their father.

"He probably would have said, 'What's the big deal? I'm just going to work, just doing what I'm supposed to be doing, taking care of my family and bringing home a paycheck,' " said Mafoud, who also recalled being told that her dad had an accident and would not be coming home on the fateful day when he had gone to work on his day off, in order to earn extra money to buy her communion dress.

Originally, the sisters were pushing for the Skyway to be renamed the "Fallen Skywalkers Memorial Bridge" and had some support for that in the state legislature.

For now, however, the only distinction for the sacrifices made by their dad and others is a sign ceremonially designating the intersection of Perry and Main streets as Skywalker Way.

"But the thing of it is that right now, it's kind of surreal, it's like an out-of-body experience," said Golba, as the three stood steps from where their father fell.

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