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Walking the hall of history; Historic headlines in York, Pa., papers over the years

I’ll never forget what I did on Saturday, Sept. 19, 1998.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I got to witness the final day of baseball immortality. Cal Ripken Jr. played in his 2,632nd consecutive baseball game for the Baltimore Orioles, a 5-3 victory for the O’s over the visiting New York Yankees. It was Ripken’s final game of his record-breaking consecutive game streak. Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s once-thought unbreakable record on Sept. 6, 1995, by playing in his 2,131st game. On Sunday, Sept. 20, 1998, he decided to sit out for the first time in his career.

Historic headlines evoke the question: “Where were you when…?” I’ll never forget what I was doing when JFK Jr.’s plane crashed over the Atlantic in mid-July of 1999. I was en route to North Carolina for a family vacation at the Outer Banks.

A sixth-grader, I attended the game with my parents and brother. Thanks to tickets my dad got from his boss at The Sheridan Group, we had seats directly behind home plate.

We didn’t know that we had borne witness to history though until we woke up Monday morning and read about it in the York Daily Record.

The York Dispatch’s article, “The end of the Iron Age,” by Dan Connolly, along with dozens of other historic front pages of the York Daily Record/York Sunday News and The York Dispatch, is framed on the wall of the composing room, a section of our Loucks Road building where implements are created that allow us to print the paper.

I get the privilege to walk through “composing,” as it is known colloquially around the office, on Friday and Saturday nights en route to getting a few copies of the Lebanon Daily News to check for any glaring, “big-type” errors that can be caught at the last minute.

The York Dispatch’s front on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008, the morning after President Barack Obama’s victory over Republican John McCain.

Ever since the first time I made the 192-step trek to the upper loft of the printing press to grab a couple Lebanon papers, I have been fascinated by the decorum on those white, concrete walls.

On Jan. 17, 1991, the YDR’s front page told readers that the U.S. had bombed Iraq. News media coined the phrase “bombs over Baghdad” as Operation Desert Storm was chronicled. We even ran a local reaction piece written by none other than Michael Argento.

In mid-July of 1991, July 15 to be exact, readers learned about racial unrest in downtown Hanover in an article that referenced people shouting “get the niggers out!” At least 30 people were arrested that Sunday night and into Monday morning near the Hanover square. Many in the crowd said they were there to “chase blacks out of town.”

The York Dispatch’s July 15, 1991, front page, chronicling the racial unrest that took over Hanover that summer.

There’s the Aug. 24, 1992, article telling of Hurricane Andrew; President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration; his 1998 impeachment; and the deaths of iconic figures such as Dale Earnhardt in February of 2001; Princess Diana in September of 1997; and the mysterious plane crash in July of 1999 that led to the presumption and ultimate conclusion that John F. Kennedy Jr. was dead.

Who can forget the snow-packed blizzard of 1993? The Feb. 2, 1998, storage tank explosion at then-titled York International that left one “veteran worker” dead and 20 injured? Or in 2001 when then-York City Mayor Charlie Robertson had to defend himself against murder charges stemming from the July 1969 race riots and the murder of Lillie Belle Allen?

“A nation asks why; At least 15 dead in school massacre;” “Vicious attacks stun nation; Enormous death toll feared;” “Blast: Who did it?”

The previous headlines are three that hang framed in the composing room and, without a date or even a hint, I’ll bet many of you could identify. They are, after all, arguably the three most horrific events in America’s history. And it only takes six words: Columbine (April 21, 1999), 9/11 (September 12, 2001), Oklahoma City bombing (April 20, 1995).

Memorable headlines, be them local or national, tell the story of our past. They help mold our history and provide a permanent scope through which to view prior events.

If you lived in York during 2001, you have to remember this mess.

To walk these halls and glance at these headlines makes me proud of my line of work. Journalism is the purest form of storytelling. It is news; breaking and current events from around the globe. And that’s something that will never change about this industry.

Our work, unlike that of many, can be examined by the naked eye. It can be held, viewed and scrutinized. It is archived and preserved. What is put in print is essentially set in stone, or the closest thing to it.