Museum’s ‘newsiest’ exhibit

By on June 13, 2018

Extra! Extra! The History of the Newspaper in Lititz exhibit runs through December 2019

With a population of just over 4,000 in the 1930s, you wouldn’t expect a community like Lititz to have three separate newspapers.

“It was pretty unusual for such a small town to have three newspapers, but for about four years, Lititz did,” says Cory Van Brookhoven, president of the Lititz Historical Foundation and curator of the Lititz Museum’s newsiest exhibit, “The History of the Newspaper in Lititz.”

Those newspapers were the Progressive Weekly, the Lititz Express and the Lititz Record. In 1937, the Lititz Express and the Lititz Record merged to eventually be known as today’s Lititz Record Express.

In the museum’s exhibit, the historical foundation looks back at some 143 years of journalism in Lititz. Many of the items in the exhibit come from Van Brookhoven’s own collection of newspapers, printing memorabilia and advertising. Van Brookhoven is a newspaperman himself. For several years, he had been a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express, building a reputation as Lititz’s historian, writing about historic buildings and intriguing historical figures. Just this year, Van Brookhoven joined the staff as a full-time writer.

“This exhibit is very close to my heart,” says Van Brookhoven. “Especially now.”

His grandfather Robert “Sketch” Mearig played a major role in Van Brookhoven’s interest in Lititz history. Mearig was a mail carrier for the Lititz Post Office for 32 years and an avid collector and historian. Many of the postcards in the exhibit came from Van Brookhoven’s grandfather, who saved memorabilia and knew just about everything about Lititz.

The oldest newspaper in the museum’s exhibit is an authentic issue of The Litiz Gazette from 1875. That was back when Lititz was spelled with only one “t” in the name of the town that was founded by the Moravians.

The time-worn issue of the 143-year-old newspaper is slightly tattered and spotted over the many years. That’s one of the challenges of saving old newspapers and what’s known as ephemera. Paper has a way of disappearing over time. It must be handled carefully and protected from the ravages of time. That earliest “town” newspaper was printed by the Lancaster County Newspaper Alliance for just two years. It was owned by Lancaster beer baron J.J. Sprenger, who was known for his Sprenger’s Brewery. Back then, Lititz was a pretty dry town, but nowadays, the fact that this early edition was owned by a beer mogul seems appropriate, with the success of the fundraising Beer Fest by the Ambucs. 

There was a definite push-and-pull between more progressive newspapers and conservative newspapers in Lititz over the years to follow. In 1877, John Zook and E.Z. Ernst started the first Lititz-published newspaper, the Sunbeam. Zook was very conservative in his thinking and eventually published the Prohibitionist newspaper, which predated prohibition in the U.S. by many years.

The Sunbeam was all about “literature, education, and general intelligence.” A subscription was just 75 cents for a year. For another 25 cents, customers got extra perks, like stationary, a revised New Testament or Kendall’s Horse Book. The Sunbeam folded in 1881, but evolved into the Lititz Express, which was a joint effort of Zook and C.N. Derr.

In 1877, the Sunbeam, later to become the Lititz Express, was in direct competition with another newspaper that was born that year, the Litiz Record. It was started by John F. Buch. For more than 50 years, the two papers competed with each other, finally merging in 1937.

Zook’s very conservative views were expressed in The Prohibitionist, which was published from 1893 to 1896. The four-page, oversized publication was filled with rules and regulations of the

Prohibitionist Party, along with Bible verses and wholesome words of wisdom. Interestingly, while Zook was editor of the Lititz Express from 1882 to 1937, he accepted advertising from distilleries, breweries and taverns. Another newspaper that debuted in 1906 was the Lititz Times, which was printed at 66 North Broad Street by former school teacher Edgar H. Enck. The paper lasted just two years. As it turned out, there wasn’t quite enough interest in this newspaper throughout the town.

The Progressive Weekly proved to be a tougher contender, started in 1934 by Keehn’s Printing Company on East Lemon Street. It lasted 22 years, finally folding in 1956 to the more popular Lititz Record and Lititz Express combo.

An extremely rare and original copy of The Lititz Gazette, published by beer Baron J.J. Sprenger between 1875 and 1876, is just one of the many items currently on display at the Lititz Historical Foundation.

The newspapers of Lititz were owned and published by some pretty unique characters, like Zook and Buch. From 1938 to 1962, one of those characters was Bill Young, who owned and published the Lititz Record Express at a tiny office and printing press at the rear of 22 E. Main St. in downtown Lititz. Young retired and sold the newspaper to Robert Campbell in 1962, but Young continued to share his wit and wisdom in his “Mid the Turmoil” columns that appeared each week. Young stopped by the office every week to drop off his column and keep an eye on his beloved newspaper.

The Lititz Record Express has made its own history over the years. On Aug. 15, 1945, the end of World War II featured one of the biggest type headlines in newspaper history. The headline had a huge “PEACE!” in large type with “THANK GOD” in slightly smaller type.

“It’s believed to be the largest headline ever to appear in any newspaper in the US,” says Van Brookhoven. The exhibit has an original issue of the history-making front page. There are also many other intriguing displays, including postcards, calendars, booklets and other printed items created by the local newspaper printing presses. In addition to printing newspapers, the printers kept in business by printing stationary and other items.

A cat-lover with the Lititz Express had some fun back in the 1930s with a “Looking Through the News” promotion featuring a curious cat poking its head through the front page of the newspaper.

“We hope everyone has fun with our newest exhibit at the Lititz Museum,” says Van Brookhoven. “It really has been a labor of love for me.”

Extra! Extra!The History of the Newspaper in Lititz exhibit runs through December 2019, but you won’t want to miss it and read all about it. Exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the Lititz Historic Foundation’s Lititz Museum, located at 137-145 East Main Street, Lititz. To learn more, visit lititzhistoricalfoundation.com

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com. 

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