The Lititz Halloween Riot of 1908

By on June 11, 2014

In 1908, downtown Lititz was the scene of one of the most disgraceful and alarming disturbances in its history. On Saturday, October 31, Halloween night, a riot was in full swing on the streets when the Fourth Ward marching club of Lancaster came to Lititz to take part in the Republican rally held at the Springs Hotel. Intoxicated, they started trouble, and without reason, beat a number of innocent citizens.

In all started when the Fourth Ward club left Lancaster at 7 p.m. that evening by trolley, and arrived at Lititz about 8. They took part in the parade, in command of Edward Caldwell. It was alleged that at different times, members of the club remarked that they intended to “do up” the town. After the parade, a fifteen year-old boy who was celebrating Halloween tossed some corn on a Fourth Warder near the hotel. Two of his companions with red coats knocked the poor boy down. Charles Beck started to pick the boy up, but as he did, he was knocked down and badly beaten for his efforts.

Around this time, John M. Pfautz, chief Burgess of the town, arrived at the scene. He told the Lancaster men who he was and asked them to behave. They told him they did not care who he was, nor for anything he could do. Harry Sheaffer, another citizen, arrived at about the same time and was quickly knocked down by the Lancaster men. They beat and kicked him, breaking his nose, burning his ear and injuring him. He was hurt so badly that Dr. Hertz was called.

Dr. Lewis N. Moyer, a druggist, not knowing what had happened, bent down over Sheaffer. “Are you hurt, Harry?” he asked. “At that instant a torch grazed me” said the druggist, “and it hit Sheaffer in the face and a blow sent him down over Sheaffer. There were nothing but red coats about me and I wondered where the Lititz people were,” he stated.

Moyer was dragged along the pavement and was beaten and kicked. They next turned upon William B. Oehme, the barber, who took refuge in his shop in the Rudy Building. Howard Evans was also struck on the head above his right eye with a torch by Frank Dussinger, a member of the Fourth Ward gang. Jacob Wenger, Chester Hoffman and others were also struck with lit torches. While six and seven men at a time jumped upon their victims, others from the gang formed a circle around them. Facing the crowd and brandishing their fire, they held off any person who tried to help.

The alarm spread rapidly through the town and the number of enraged Lititz citizens increased. At first they stood by, uncertain what to do, blinded and bewildered by the brazen attacks like deer in headlights. When Burgess Pfautz saw that something had to be done to stop the bullies, he ran home and grabbed a revolver. All the while, the Lancaster crowd gained additional anger.

With several deputies at his side, Burgess Pfautz did his best to cease the riot, but was singled out for attack. The Burgess kept a cool head, dodging the strikes aimed at him. The leader of the ward shouted out that he was not afraid of any man in Lititz, but before he finished his sentence, a town blacksmith broke through his guarding torch, and sent him falling to the ground.

The townspeople were becoming more and more enraged, but the Lancaster mob stuck together, with close encounters becoming numerous between the rioters and the residents. A rush was then made for the Burgess. Pulling out his revolver, he fired in the air and then aimed at the red coats. When the men saw that he meant business, they became alarmed. When the Lititz residents saw they had a leader, they charged the Lancaster men at full force. At once, six of the bullies fell to the ground and showed no interest to keep fighting. Due to their uniforms, members of the “red coat posse” were easily distinguished as they ran, and were closely pursued by the Lititz crowd. Many were caught, and those who had roared before like lions were now pleading for mercy.

Fleeing back to Lancaster, some of the evil-doers were afraid to access Broad Street, so they ran through Lititz Springs Park, eventually making it to the Lititz turnpike. Some caught trolley cars back home, while others walked the whole distance on foot. Pfautz and his deputies went all the way to Kissel Hill, catching four men along the route as they were about to board the trolley. Taken back to Lititz and placed in jail were: Edward Caldwell, William Campbell, Frank Dussinger and Harry Sears.

Lititz looked quite tranquil in 1908. But, on Halloween night of that year, a riot threw the streets into chaos. (Photo from the Sketch Mearig Collection)

Lititz looked quite tranquil in 1908. But, on Halloween night of that year, a riot threw the streets into chaos. (Photo from the Sketch Mearig Collection)

The trolley car that picked up the men who escaped also carried two innocent girls who had attended a party in Lititz. The drunks fought among themselves and used foul language all the way back to Lancaster. The conductor was struck twice, and begged the men to consider the ladies who were present. The girls, badly scared, saw great relief when the car reached Lancaster. The gang members were a miserable looking lot by the time they reached their destination. Doctors had a busy time tending to their wounds, even sending several of the perpetrators to the hospital.

The next day, the Burgess fielded many telephone calls from Lancaster politicians who wanted to get the men out of the jail. In the evening, County Chairman Samuel W. Diller with M. G. Sheaffer, Esquire came to Lititz, but when they heard the correct story, they refused to bail them out. Later that day, there was a gathering of about 100 people who discussed the unfortunate affair. Torches, sticks, and campaign caps were picked up all around the town and were kept as souvenirs. As far as property damage, a huckster stand which stood along the pavement a few hundred feet west of the Springs Hotel was turned over when the crowd began running, and a kettle containing oyster soup was thrown in the street. Additionally, a large plate glass window at Bomberger’s hardware store was broken by a stone, a number of which were hurled during the melee.

The following Monday morning, the prisoners were given a hearing before Squire Derr. Campbell was discharged, and had nothing charged against him. Caldwell, however, paid a fine; and Dussinger and Sears were held for rioting, assault and battery; furnishing $300 bail each.

The riot of 1908 was the hot topic in town for many weeks and months. All told, it was one of the most disgraceful scenes to ever take place in Lititz.

Cory Van Brookhoven is President of the Lititz Historical Foundation and has authored several books on topics involving Lancaster County history, including Lititz. He welcomes your comments at coryvb@hotmail.com.

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