Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Newspaper remembrance

Newsboys' remembrance gathering includes bench-sitters Fred Rasmussen (left) and Ernie Imhoff. (Photo by Jim Burger)

Newsboys killed in 1924

honored at gravesite

on disaster anniversary

Toasts, tears are offered for them

... and for those killed at the Annapolis Capital

Time has a way of defeating memory, but a small group of diehard newspaper folks have kept alive an annual remembrance for five teenage boys lost in a tragedy nearly a century ago when the Chesapeake Bay steamboat Three Rivers caught fire off Cove Point in southern Maryland.

The victims were among the 59 members of The Evening Sun Newsboys Band,returning from a performance on the bay steamer on the Fourth of July in 1924. Five adults also perished in the disaster.

The boys rest under a semicircle of gravestones flanked by stone benches, all facing a seven-foot-high granite memorial and copper sculpture in Baltimore's huge Loudon Park Cemetery -- also the gravesite, in another section, of the famed  Evening Sun writer H.L. Mencken.

For many years, the evening newspaper held a memorial service there for the boys, and the tradition was revived about 1994 by a group of staffers including its last managing editor, Ernest F. Imhoff. The Evening Sun itself formally died -- some say it was murdered -- in 1995, four years after its staff, operation and content were merged with the surviving morning Sun, leading to a rapid decline in circulation.

Ernie worked for decades at the evening paper, and was its city editor on a snowy winter night in 1969 when I, as a cub reporter for the then-competing morning  paper, was covering a massive church fire across the street from his home in Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood. He invited me in from the cold, and offered a drink... brandy, as I recall.

I like to think of myself as an Evening Sun alum, despite having worked 40 years for the morning paper. I was acting night metro editor when, at the stroke of midnight one night in 1991, their staffs were officially wed. And I managed to get a few bylines on its front page during the final years of publication.

Now in his early 80s, his gait slowed enough to need a cane, Ernie is still presiding over the ceremony at Loudon Park, and was among 16 people who turned out at 9 a.m. today at the newsboys' burial site. It was also a family reunion, of sorts, because newspaper veterans have that kind of a bond -- dedication to their profession, and to each other. 

Dave Cohn calls out names of the newsboys, one headstone at a time. (Jim Burger photo)
There was news to share about the declining health of a colleague unable to attend, and lament for others who have died in the past year. There were toasts with whiskey and rye (and cold bottles of water for the few nondrinkers), and a reading by retired Evening Sun copy desk chief Dave Cohn of part of the newsboys' story.

It included the names of the dead, recited as Dave walked from headstone to headstone: Walter Clark Millikin and Thomas Ashby Pilker Jr., both age 13; Lester Alfred Seligman and Vernon Edward Jefferson, both 15; and the oldest of them, Nelson Appleton Miles, 17.

They were among the army of kids in that far-gone era who delivered the news.
Rasmussen and Joan Jacobson offer comfort as Ernie Imhoff speaks of the Annapolis Capital victims. (Jim Burger photo)

Ernie, tears welling up in his eyes, said their names should never be forgotten -- nor should those of the five others who were killed last week when a crazy man with a grudge opened fire with a shotgun at the Annapolis Capital, which is owned by the Baltimore Sun.

They were Rob Hiaasen, 59, assistant managing editor and former Sun reporter; Wendi Winters, 65, community reporter and special publications editor; Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, staff writer and longtime sports reporter; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant hired just eight months ago.

They, too, delivered the news.

Perhaps someday there will be a memorial place for all of them as well, in addition to the one in our hearts.

About 500 people attended a life celebration for Annapolis Capital shooting victim Rob Hiaasen Monday evening, and services for the other four are scheduled for this week and next. (Panorama photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Unfortunate typo in the reference to Rebecca Smith: "fired" should be "hired."