Our history of heroes

By on June 27, 2012

By: RON REEDY Special to the Record, Staff Writer



Photo courtesy of Ron Reedy
World War I soldiers parade down North Broad Street.

The theme for the 195th Fourth of July celebration in Lititz Springs Park is "Our American Heroes." We look back historically to those Independence Day festivities in the Park which honored those who served in the Armed Forces. However, let us start at the beginning with the establishment of the Revolutionary War Hospital located in Lititz, followed by the early development of the Lititz Springs Park and the Fourth of July celebrations.

Revolutionary War Hospital

The most momentous event in Lititz ever known came when General George Washington commandeered the Brother’s House as a military hospital during the American Revolution. The first of the wounded soldiers were from the Germantown and Brandywine battlefields. They arrived Dec. 19, 1777, and soon others followed. Altogether, upwards of 1,000 wounded soldiers of the Continental Army, and a few Hessian prisoners of war, were attended to in the Brother’s House hospital.

Early development of

Lititz Springs Park

The first reported use of Lititz Springs Park as a pleasure place was in May of 1778 when Tobias Hirt, a local music teacher, and a small orchestra of the village’s young men gave evening concerts. This lively entertainment was viewed as trifling and too worldly by the "Aufseher Collegium," the Moravian governing authority. But the convalescing soldiers from the hospital at the Brother’s House immensely enjoyed the concerts.

First Fourth of July celebration

The first recorded Independence Day observance held in Lititz Springs Park was on July 4, 1811. The young people of the village felt a need to observe America’s Independence in the newly laid out park. The village band, organized in 1810, entertained along the "Big Springs." However, the "Aufseher Collegium," the Moravian Board of Overseers, disapproved of the merrymaking.

First of the continuous celebrations

It was not until 1818 when the Moravian Governing Authority, who did not want to show a lack of patriotism, now encouraged the townspeople to celebrate the Fourth of July. The event included a banquet, homemade fireworks, and music by the village band. This informal festivity initiated a continuing tradition of annual patriotic demonstrations in the Park.

1864

The first Fourth of July in Lititz Springs Park that recognized "American Heroes" was the celebration of 1864. The event was held as a benefit for the sick and wounded soldiers of the Civil War. Crowds brought picnics to the Park and listened to speeches by Rev. A. C. Weidekind of Lancaster and by Col. J. W. Fisher, and a concert by the Union Band of Lancaster. In the evening came the lighting of the park grounds with over 3,000 candles followed by a fireworks display.

1899

The 1899 Fourth of July celebration recognized the Spanish-American War. The day was ushered in at 5 a.m. by the ringing of all the church bells in Lititz, arousing the soundest sleepers and telling them that the much-looked-for day of days is at hand. About 2 p.m. a parade by the Lititz Springs Council, Junior Order of United American Mechanics took place.

As darkness set in, the illumination of the Park grounds, for which great provision was made, was begun in clock-like manner. The illumination consisted of a number of new ideas, one representing Admiral George Dewey, who defeated the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay in the Philippine Islands.

The pyrotechnic display was set off on the adjoining baseball grounds. Besides rockets, flower pots and Roman candles, one represented Admiral Dewey and another the America Eagle. The largest crowd in ten years witnessed another successful Independence Day in Lititz.

1919

"Welcome Home to the Boys" was the slogan of the various committees that were at work shaping the events for the celebration of 1919. Efforts were made to hold a celebration that would surpass any former Fourth of July celebration because this was the best way for the citizens of Lititz to show their appreciation to the boys who had and were still serving in the military during World War I.

This was the first concerted effort to officially welcome the boys home from different branches of the military. The citizens were very proud and felt they owed them a big thank you. The welcome home event featured a military, industrial, civic and mummers parade. All the boys in uniform, no matter what part of the county they came from, were admitted throughout the day to the Springs grounds and the baseball games. A free dinner and supper were served in the new town hall/fire house.

The committee in charge of decorating promised that the decorations would be the most elaborate ever seen in Lititz. Eight pillars, each 24 feet high were placed at the eight corners of the streets of North and South Broad and East and West Main in the town square. The pillars were covered with white muslin. The bases had stripes of red, white and blue, and near the top were small flags. They were connected with streamers and four large banners with the inscription, "Welcome Home," stretching from pillar to pillar.

The people of Lititz were asked to decorate their homes in keeping with the special efforts being made. A very effective decoration was placed in front of the home of Robert Russel. On one side of his home were the letters, "Welcome," and the figures 150, and on the other side was a laurel wreath enclosing the figures 15 and the words, "Our Fallen Heroes." At the town square a large wreath was placed with white ribbons attached bearing the names of those who died in service.

The town was overflowing with people at an early hour. The program for the day opened with the ringing of the church bells at 6 a.m. and at 9 a.m. the Ringgold Band of Reading and the Lititz Concert Band gave concerts on the Springs grounds.

The main event of the day was the grand parade which began in the early afternoon. All the local soldiers and sailors, who were home, paraded. In addition to the military personnel, the local Red Cross, the W.C.T.U., the Sunday Schools, the public school children, the civic orders, the G.A.R. and the Sons of Union Veterans took part in the parade. The first division was military, the second and third divisions were civic, the fourth, fifth and sixth divisions were industrial, mummers and horsemen.

The Stiffel-Freeman Safe Company constructed the most elaborate float in the parade. It represented the majestic white ship "Victory" and was a huge affair with machine guns and full equipment over 50 feet in length and was propelled by several concealed horses. Several employees gave three weeks of extra time to build the float under the supervision of Harry Gorton, who designed the float.

In the evening the Springs Grounds presented the usual pretty picture with the illumination of the candles and Japanese lanterns. The illumination was brilliant; the new feature being the dates "1776" and "1919" and the word "Victory" above the head-end. In the pool below were the words in illuminated letters, "Welcome Home Heroes," and following the grand illumination the fireworks were set off on the baseball field.

Lititz celebrated its most successful Fourth. The various persons who arranged the program had the satisfaction of seeing their well-laid plans meet with wonderful success. It was a memorable occasion for all who attended most noticeably the soldiers and sailors.

World War II

The Fourth of July 1942 was the 100th anniversary of the first candle illumination, which took place July 4, 1843. To commemorate this historic event the Park’s Executive Committee inaugurated the first Queen of the Candles Pageant. The Committee had also hoped to have a huge parade, however, aware of its patriotic duty to cooperate in aiding the national defense effort, the plans for a parade was abandoned. To conserve much needed war materials, the fireworks were also omitted.

The souvenir Program Cover read "First in our hearts . . . foremost in our loyalty — this wonderful America whose boons and benefits we of modern generations are only now beginning to appreciate! Let everyone of us do his part to keep America First, so that the great heritages belonging to freedom-loving Americans may go on through the years."

Lititz was justly proud of the 176 boys from the vicinity who were in the Armed Forces of the United States Army, Navy, Marines and Air Corps. They were also proud to have a young lady as a member of one of the Medical Units, so necessary in the war for freedom. These young folks were fighting for freedom which was gained with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, whose anniversary was being celebrated. All boys in uniform were admitted to the Park free of charge as the guests of the Fourth of July Committee, with the hope that they have an enjoyable time.

The Fourth of July of 1943 was a big success with an estimate of 5,000 persons in a unprecedented wartime celebration. The affair, despite conditions brought on by the war, was declared a "very satisfactorily" financial success. Band concerts were performed by the Lititz High School Band and the Lititz Community Band. The Baby Parade judges were three members of the Women’s Army Corps from Lancaster County. All of these features had a distinctive patriotism note, transforming the day’s celebration into an expensive demonstration of home front morale There were no fireworks.

Visitors to the Park, at least those near the Broad St. entrance, saw something in the way of ingenuity which would have made any Scotchman’s heart happy — excepting that his incident was not to save money but to help with the war effort. The first indication that anything was going on at the Broad St. bridge where the stream leaves the Park was when Scout Master Charles Regennas and a group of scouts appeared with an arrangement of screens and sieves. When the 10,000 candles were lighted in the Park during the ceremony, it took only a few minutes for the whole stream surface to become covered with tallow. As the tallow was collected along the barricade, the boys dipped it out with their sieves which consisted of buckets punctured with small holes which would let the water go through but would retain the wax. At the end of the evening they salvaged a total of 120 pounds of tallow which when refined made a total of 75 pounds of ideal grease for the local salvage effort.

An elaborate framework with candles outlined the basin at the head-end along with a floating service flag in the center, bearing a gold star in recognition of Pvt. William H. DeWald, the first Lititz son to be killed in the war.

The Fourth of July of 1944 attendance in the Park was approximately 8,000 persons. The crowd, although a far cry from those of pre-war days, was entertained throughout the day by a smooth running program set up by the Park officials. The Lititz Community Band was unable to furnish the musical entertainment because so many were in the armed forces.

Festivities started at 2 p.m. with a concert by the Lititz High School Band under the direction of Henry Steiner. Richard Wenger sang "On the Road to Mandalay" and Thelma Lutz sang "One Alone" and "God Bless America." The theme for the Baby Parade was "Pin-Up Girls." Many different ideas were used by the entrants such as victory gardeners, war bond salesman, pin-up girls, old fashioned coaches and many decorated in the national colors.

The music in the evening was by the famed U. S. Army Band, 3rd Service Command, Indiantown Gap, under the direction of Warrant Officer Lionel J. Kennedy. The Army Band made a big hit with the local people as the benches were filled around the Band Shell. Following the Queen of Candles Pageant and the candle illumination, the Third Service Command Band again took the spotlight and provided an inspiring scene which filled the people with pride and their thoughts turned to the mighty conflict and made them realize just what the boys over there were fighting for. A fitting ending for such a day as the Celebration of Independence.

The Fourth of July of 1945 proved one of the most successful in recent years. Attendance was the largest since before the War. With flags in evidence everywhere, the celebration as a whole proved an outstanding patriotic rally. A large number of service men home on leave or furlough as well as service men from other parts of Lancaster County were listed among those who were part of the afternoon and evening festivities in the Park.

The Lititz Service Association — an organization devoted to helping the boys in the military service — had a booth in the Park during the celebration, to which service personnel were asked to pay a visit and register. Residents of the community were also urged to stop by the booth and renew their annual membership in the organization, for through their support as citizens, the work would be carried on month after month.

The Fourth of July of 1946 saw another record crowd with band concerts, a Baby Parade, and the veterans displaying souvenirs and trophies. Lititz celebrated its first peacetime Independence Day in five years. While retaining most of the traditional events of the day the Park Committee listed several interesting innovations. One of the most interesting of these was an exhibit of war souvenirs and trophies displayed in the Round House located in the Park. The collection was loaned by local veterans and was arranged by a committee headed by Joseph W. Carl.

The collection included numerous beautiful pencil and water color sketches made by service men while serving overseas. There was no charge to see the exhibit and it was well worth the time to visit the display. The committee deeply appreciated the cooperation of those who contributed to the display and requested that visitors positively refrain from handling any of the items displayed.

1991

The 1991 Fourth of July celebration was not only a commemoration of the "Golden Jubilee" of the Pageant of the Queen of Candles but a recognition honoring the community’s veterans of the last several wars.

The extravaganza will be remembered by many for the emotional tribute to area residents who served in America’s last two major military conflicts. Before the Pageant, the Hon. Roy B. Clair, Jr., the Mayor of Lititz, officially honored the men and women from the Lititz area who served in the Persian Gulf (Desert Storm) and the Vietnam War. William Stauffer, a Vietnam Veteran, concluded the emotional tribute by singing "God Bless the USA," a stirring and patriotic lyrical piece written by Lee Greenwood, the popular star of country and western music. "America the Beautiful," a multi-media slide presentation, created and staged by Three R Productions, was then shown.

‘Lest We Forget’

We must never forget the men and women of Lititz and the surrounding area who served in the Armed Forces and especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. More HEROES, page A16