This week we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the newspaper, but last month one of LNP’s most beloved columns — The Scribbler — turned 100, making it one of the oldest newspaper columns in history.
Jack Brubaker has been penning The Scribbler (which runs on Wednesdays) for four decades. Since 1979, Brubaker has chronicled life in Lancaster County, exploring the area’s history, sharing amusing anecdotes and exploring the origins of some of the county’s colorful colloquialisms. Just like the image suggested by the name of the column, Brubaker is a furiously prolific writer. He’s approaching 4,000 Scribbler columns and has written six books (a seventh is in the works), including “Down the Susquehanna to the Chesapeake” and “Massacre of the Conestogas.”
Brubaker, 75, who lives with his wife Christine in Manor Township, grew up in Bird-in-Hand on a duck farm that was part of the Underground Railroad. Brubaker is an avid student of history, though he refrains from calling himself a historian (“I’m a journalist who’s interested in history”), and the history of Lancaster County seeps into The Scribbler.
“I like to tell people it’s about the history and culture of Lancaster County with as much humor as I can get into it,” Brubaker said.
Now, as The Scribbler, Brubaker not only writes about history, he’s a part of history.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity:
Can you tell me a little bit about the history of The Scribbler column?
The first column called The Scribbler appeared May 24, 1919. It originated in the Lancaster Examiner —the Examiner and the New Era merged in 1920 and it continued with the New Era until LNP.
This has not been a continuous 100 years.
The first Scribbler had just come back from World War I. He did a serious opinion column for several months and then he left. Then it became an abbreviated column that various people wrote. For a while it was on the front page.
During the Second World War there weren’t enough people on the staff to do it. They just barely got out a paper. But before that, from 1929-32, there was no Scribbler, and I don’t know why that was. And from ’51-’57 (the column didn’t run). I have a feeling it was because nobody wanted to do it.
Gerry Lestz was the originator of The Scribbler column as it’s known today. He started writing it twice a week in 1957. He wrote it for 22 years, and I have written it for 40 years, as of last March.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I took several creative writing courses (at Dickinson College). I was interested in writing plays and short stories. I had a couple of my plays produced at Dickinson and Dartmouth and, I was told, at New York University. That’s where I thought (my career) was going, but it just didn’t work out. My college roommate said if I really wanted to write for a living, why not try a newspaper because that would force me to write every day. I was barely on my high school newspaper staff, and I had no interest in being on my college newspaper staff —I just didn’t have any interest in newspapers. I didn’t even read newspapers — except The Scribbler column and the theater column. I grew up reading Gerry Lestz. It was an easy way for me to learn about Lancaster County history.
Why do you think The Scribbler column has continued for so long?
This column has weathered a lot. There was a time when this type of local column was in every newspaper in the country. Then there was a time when it became not fashionable. Clark DeLeon used to write a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer for years and it was really good. He wrote it every day, five days a week. It was called The Scene and then (the Inquirer) killed it in the ’90s, when other papers started getting rid of that stuff. I guess they thought it was provincial. And it is provincial! Now we’re provincial again. I don’t think we could continue if we weren’t interested in what happens here.
How much of the Scribbler column comes from reader suggestions?
I wouldn’t have a column without reader input. I’ll often get suggestions from readers. Readers have been very helpful. I think The Scribbler is an important part of the paper. It’s important because there is an interaction with the community. And it’s not only old people who read it [laughs]. I read it as a kid and there are other young people reading it. History teachers read it. There’s not much local history taught in schools anymore. Periodically I’ll hear from a history teacher who uses the columns. Lawyers read it. Janitors read it. I never met a janitor who didn’t read The Scribbler.