Only in York County

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York County Christmas memories from Tom Keasey

This is a scene from a very Only in York County Christmas tradition. Here, Whistlemaster Don Ryan rehearses Christmas carols on the factory whistle at New York Wire in York in 2011. The whistle was moved to Metso at 240 Arch St., York, which has hosted the event since 2013, even after its closure. (YDR file photo)

Today’s column is a little different – instead of a variety of memories, I have a bunch of neat Christmas stories to share from longtime reader and commenter Tom Keasey of York Township. I hope they will help get everyone in the holiday spirit!

They thought Santa Claus didn’t come

Tom writes, “This story goes back to the mid-1950s… A year or so earlier, we had welcomed a little wire-haired fox terrier puppy into our family so my sister (11), brother (9) and me (5) thought, how could Santa Claus top a puppy? It was our family’s tradition to decorate the tree prior to Christmas and let Santa Claus place the presents under the tree after we went to bed.”

He continued, “One Christmas Eve our parents were invited to go out to a party with friends or co-workers, so Mom asked our Aunt Cora to sit with us for the evening. They must have partied too hard, enjoying too many adult beverages. When they got home, each apparently passed out into a deep sleep on the couches in our small living room. A few hours later, three heads peeked out from the two bedrooms at the top of the stairs. In unison, we all cried ‘Santa Claus didn’t come!!,’ because there was nothing under the Christmas tree. When I say nothing, I mean NOTHING! – Not even a shred of paper or a bow which might have fallen off a package.”

He went on, “Mom and Dad were awakened by our wails of disbelief that Santa Claus missed our house. Mom and Dad scrambled to come up with the ‘lame’ excuse that Santa Claus was running behind, so he only had time to leave our presents in the attic. The next year, Santa Claus was extra giving; I can remember three bicycles and other presents setting next to the Christmas tree. From that time on, until they passed, Mom and Dad never went out again on Christmas Eve unless it was to attend our church’s 11 p.m. service. Each year when I reminded Mom of the night Santa Claus didn’t come; she’d get mad and say “you’ll never forget that,” and I’d tell her that kind of dispelled the myth of Santa Claus for us.”

Tom, I’m so sorry for how that must have felt at 5 years old, but I needed a laugh today and this provided it! Thank you for sharing that story!

Whistle concert

Tom also wrote about one of York County’s Christmas traditions, the York Factory Whistle Concert. Tom had been worried, as many people were, that the tradition would not continue in York County. I’m happy to say the concert will again take place in 2017 – set for 12:15 a.m. Dec. 25 at Metso Minerals, 240 Arch St. in York, the YDR reports. This marks the 63rd year of whistlemaster Don Ryan playing carols for the public.

Tom wrote about this truly “Only in York County” event: “Beginning around 12:15 a.m. and lasting for nearly 30 minutes, Mr. Ryan, assisted by his son, uses a factory whistle to create the notes which make up the well-known carols we’ve all come to know. This tradition goes back at least 60 years, when Mr. Ryan’s father, who lived in Emigsville, started playing Christmas carols on a factory steam whistle used to signal shift changes at the now-closed New York Wire Cloth located along the 400 block of East Market Street.”

Tom continued, “Several years ago, the boiler needed to create the steam and other equipment fell into disrepair and it was at the same time the company was contemplating its future in York. Fearing this York tradition might be lost, a group of community leaders formed a committee to seek an alternative way of, and a new location to preserve the ‘Whistle Concert.’ A large mechanical air compressor was rented and the management at Metso Minerals on Arch Street agreed to allow their whistle to be used.” Tom mentioned that since Metso had announced its closing, the future of the concert was somewhat uncertain. However, according to a recent YDR story, “Metso said two years ago that it was closing its Arch Street factory in March of 2016. The building is still owned by Metso.” So, they’re still carrying on, at least for now, Tom!

Then Tom added, “Going back to my past, Westminster Presbyterian Church located on North Queen Street (just beyond the center field wall at PeoplesBank stadium) and around the corner from the now-Metso complex has been my family’s church for nearly 90 years. The steam whistle concert was played every Christmas morning. Just as the service was letting out, we could hear the beautiful notes floating through the air from the Wire Cloth’s steam whistle that was just blocks away. Sometimes, we’d stand around outside of the church listening to the carols, or drive over with windows open and park close to the Wire Cloth complex. Now WPC has changed the time for their Christmas Eve Service, so it no longer coincides with the beginning of the whistle concert.”

And, he concluded, “To me, hearing the whistle concert meant it was, and will always mean, it’s Christmas. Regardless of the weather, at 12:15 a.m. I’ll put a coat, hat and gloves on and go sit outside to enjoy the whistle concert. If the weather and winds are right, the concert can be heard for miles around York. Some persons say the sounds are eerie; I’ve told them you just need to listen closely. A few years ago, the Ryan family produced a CD of one of their whistle concerts which still might be available through the York County History Center. … May this unique part of York’s past be preserved well into the future.”

Tom, I certainly hope it will! And if you’re not local, you can catch this year’s Christmas morning concert live-streamed at and

Have questions or memories to share? Email me at or write to Ask Joan, York Daily Record/Sunday News, 1891 Loucks Road, York PA 17408. We cannot accept any phone calls with questions or information.