Lititz’s pastime ‘Inside the park’ homerun Baseball theme on deck for 196th Fourth of July

By on June 12, 2013


STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff

, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Ron Reedyâ?©Lititz will celebrate its baseball heritage during this yearâ??s Fourth of July. This is a photo of the Ideal Chocolate Company (now Wilbur) baseball team in the 1920s.

Every July for nearly two centuries, Lititz has gathered at its landmark park to celebrate American independence in grand style. It’s a day filled with tradition, from thousands of candles along the stream to the newly-crowned queen who lights them. And each year there’s usually something new to keep the program fresh, like the addition of a celebrity drummer as part of the headlining act.

But long before Frankie Muniz of "Malcolm in the Middle" fame was hired to perform with his York-based rock band Kingsfoil, it was baseball that kept the Fourth from faltering in Lititz.

In the summer of 1863, America was embroiled in civil war, and the sound of cannon fire from the battlefields of Gettysburg was a frightening reminder that this war was close to home. In the grand scheme of things, the usual Fourth of July celebration which had been ongoing since 1818 didn’t seem appropriate. However, some gathered at the Springs to play a game of baseball in recognition Independence Day. It was that game, played within earshot of this country’s deadliest battle, that maintained Lititz’s cherished Fourth of July streak.

"Baseball, the relatively new game at the time, saved our storied annual celebration as well as our claim that Lititz has continuously celebrated our nation’s founding for 196 consecutive years," said Tim Reedy, secretary of the Fourth of July’s executive planning committee. "It was said that the punishing sounds of artillery from the Battle of Gettysburg could be faintly heard throughout the Lititz countryside."

Not wanting the townspeople to get into harm’s way, Lititz leaders decided to stay indoors rather than venturing outside to attend a celebration in that summer of ’63. So the Springs were unusually inactive that day, except for a few fearless boys, names unknown, who decided to play ball.

"Baseball in Lititz is very much a part of our past and should be honored during the present and into the future," Reedy added.

Bill Dussinger, co-chairman of Lititz’s Fourth of July committee along with Sgt. Kerry Nye, created the classic baseball logo for this year’s celebration.

"Next to Christmas, The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday," he said. "Red, white and blue, the flag, fireworks, freedom … it’s all about the Fourth of July. It’s the United States’ birthday! And this year in Lititz we are celebrating with a baseball theme. Who doesn’t like baseball? Baseball is as all-American as it gets! This year’s celebration will be amazing; we have added some new things to the mix that will make things more customer-friendly to our visitors, as well as some new things to make it fun for everyone. Plan to come early, make a day of it."

Four days of celebration begins with the traditional Lilacs Softball Tournament on June 30. The championship game will be played at Ambucs Field behind the park at 4 p.m. This will be followed by a free patriotic concert by the Air National Guard Band of the Mid-Atlantic (6:30 p.m. at the bandshell).

New to this year’s celebration is Lititz Night at the Barnstormers. Lititz will sit together as a community at Clipper Magazine Stadium Tuesday, July 2. This year’s Queen of Candles court will be there and 300 tickets have been set aside for Lititz residents. Advance tickets are now available at the Lititz Welcome Center (train station) at the reduced price of $5 (with voucher). The game starts at 6:30 p.m.

The Lititz Lions Club will sponsor its annual patriotic parade July 3, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Residents should take note that the parade route has changed this year. Sgt. Nye explained that the change was necessary because the borough recently implemented a permanent detour route for all downtown activities. This is intended to make detour work more efficient for the borough’s public works department. A free concert by Flamin’ Dick and the Hot Rods will follow the parade in the park.

The big day is July 4 in Lititz Springs Park (rain date, July 6). It will be a day full of family entertainment. Festivities include the 24th Annual Baby Parade, panning for gold with General Sutter, an apple pie eating contest, a performance of Abbott & Costello’s "Who’s On First?" live music from several bands (including Kingsfoil, which features Frankie Muniz on drums), the 72nd Queen of the Candles Pageant, the 170th Grand Illumination of Candles and fireworks set to music. Factor in all the food and games, and it will be a full plate at the park. Also, those who attend could win a new car (more details in next week’s paper).

Gates open at noon on the Fourth, and the park is featuring new pricing for this year’s event. Admission is $10 for anyone 13 years and older. Everyone under 13 is free. Also, the park will be accepting Visa and Mastercard for ticket payment, and there will be an ATM on premises. All proceeds are used to maintain the park for future use.

Gettysburg, Lititz and baseball

Until recently, it was believed that there were no Lititz-born soldiers at Gettysburg. During a May 30 coffee meeting with the editor on the front porch of the Young Men’s Business League, Bill Oehme brought a copy of the June 16, 1893 Lititz Record which confirmed his great great uncle was on the battlefield while a few Lititz boys were on the ballfield some 60 miles to the east.

Park historian Ron Reedy added that information to his research, which will be featured as background in this year’s park program:

One hundred and fifty years ago in 1863, the historic Battle of Gettysburg was fought in and around that quaint Pennsylvania town from July 1 through July 3. This epic battle, which was the turning point of the war, lead all the Civil War battles in the number of causalities.

In 1861, at the age of 36, William Washington Oehme from Lititz, enlisted in the Co. D, 99th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Out of 63 men from the villages of Lititz and Warwick who served in the Union cause, Oehme is the only known one to have fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. His 99th Regiment, which participated in numerous conflicts, was hardly in position when the battle burst upon it and raged with an unparalleled fury, leaving half of its number killed and wounded on the field.

Gen. John F. Reynolds, who commanded the "left wing" of the Army of the Potomac, was raised and educated at John Beck’s Academy for Boys in Lititz. On the morning of July 1, as Reynolds was supervising the placement of the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment, he yelled "Forward men! For God’s sake forward!" At that moment, he fell from his horse, mortally wounded. His command was passed on to his senior division commander, Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, who is mistakenly credited with inventing baseball. For the Union side, the death of Reynolds was more than the loss of an inspiring leader because it removed from the equation the one person with enough vision and sense of purpose to manage the battle at Gettysburg.

On Nov. 19, 1863, four months after Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous two-minute address, which is acknowledged by many historians as one of the most memorable and powerful speeches in American history.

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