This column is a century old this week. Happy birthday to a Lancaster County institution. The first column called “The Scribbler” appeared May 24, 1919. With a few years off here and there, the column has been informing and amusing readers ever since.
This centennial column will follow a question and answer format.
Is this the oldest newspaper column in the world?
Apparently not. The oldest, or at least the newspaper column that claims to be the oldest, is the Beachcomber, first published in the London Daily Express in August 1917. The Beachcomber lampoons contemporary life in the Mother Country.
Locally generated columns such as The Scribbler and Beachcomber used to be common. Many newspapers dumped such columns years ago to make space for more national and international news. In recent years, an emphasis on local news, but not necessarily local columns, has made a comeback.
Who created the Scribbler column?
In the spring of 1919, Robert E. Miller had just returned from service in World War I. He needed a job. Oliver J. Keller, editor of the Lancaster Examiner and Express, was his brother-in-law. Keller told Miller to write a newspaper column.
Miller wrote about a variety of subjects — Prohibition, Central Market, the degradation of movies — from May 24 to Oct. 1, 1919. Then he moved on and an anonymous scribe replaced him.
How did The Scribbler get from the Examiner and Express in 1919 to LNP in 2019?
The Examiner and Express merged with the Lancaster New Era in April 1920. The Scribbler remained in the New Era and then in the merged Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era (2009) that became LNP (2014).
How many individuals have written The Scribbler column?
Dozens, many identified only by initials. Sometimes the column was written by a rotating stable of reporters. The first person to write the column for an extended period was Gerald S. Lestz. Lestz began writing The Scribbler in 1957. The current Scribbler took over in 1979.
Each of these writers brought something special to the column. Some discussed serious issues. Some related town gossip. Gerry Lestz knew everyone in Lancaster and wrote about everything under the sun. His replacement emphasizes the history and culture of Lancaster County, with a touch of humor.
Why do you write the column in the third person?
When the current Scribbler (that is, “he”) inherited the column, it was written in the first person plural (that is, “we”). The column appeared on the commentary page along with editorials also written in the first person plural. That seemed confusing. And first person singular (that is, “I”) did not seem to suit the material.
So when the Scribbler referred to himself, he selected the third person singular. Several years ago, an old school friend discovered that someone who refers to himself in the third person is an “illeist.” So now you know.
How do you justify a column devoted to local “trivia” when the world is falling apart?
When the world is falling apart, readers need a change of pace. You read plenty about climate change, nuclear proliferation and political chicanery elsewhere. The Scribbler provides a break from the depressing stuff.
Who is your favorite newspaper columnist?
Dave Barry was the Scribbler’s favorite columnist until he decided to do something more constructive. One of Barry’s repeating gags was to concoct a “good name for a rock band.” One of those names that the Scribbler cannot forget, no matter how hard he tries, is “Nuclear Underpants.”
The Scribbler wishes he could be half as funny as Dave Barry, but he will settle for being a 100-year-old illeist.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at email@example.com.