I was Cinderella the day the Susquehanna River spilled over its banks in 1972. At least that’s how I felt.

I was only 22 but had been working five years at the local newspaper. I got hired as a part-time sports writer while in college but it turned into a career. The paper was a small weekly and guys like me — who could “wear a lot of hats,” as the old-timers put it — were invaluable. I could write but I also was an art major with a sense of page and advertising design.

I also could handle a camera, but everyone seemed to forget about that on Friday morning, June 23. That’s the day we all awoke to a swollen Susquehanna that was about to have its way with Wyoming Valley.

I remember the surreal look of the river as I gazed at it from the top of Butler Street on my way to work. That’s when the realization of how lucky I was began to sink in.

The night before I had been out carousing with my pal Danny Lorenzini. Two years younger than I, Danny had been a football star at Wyoming Area and was hired at the paper for a summer job taking pictures. Looking every bit the part of the fullback and linebacker he was in high school and then at Temple University, Danny had a creative side that belied his bull-like neck and bulging biceps. He taught himself photography while just a kid and developed film and photographs in a make-shift darkroom in his home. We became instant friends.

I don’t recall where we were the night before the flood, but I do recall the sound of Danny’s voice when I drove him home to West Pittston over the 8th Street Bridge in Wyoming.

“Oh my God, Eddie, look at the river,” he yelled.

It was practically up to the bridge.

Funny thing is, I can’t remember the route I took home. Were the two bridges in Pittston still open at midnight on June 22?

Fridays were busy enough at the small-staffed Sunday paper even with no news breaking so you can imagine the chaotic scene in the newsroom as everyone arrived.

“Pidge” Watson, whose father founded the paper, was running the show and didn’t have much time to give us our orders. His friend and neighbor George Bone was a pilot who kept a plane at the Forty Fort Airport. George had been ordered to get his plane out of there and that meant a tremendous opportunity for our little paper. Pidge was going along with George, and using the old single-sheet Speed Graphic camera he had mastered while working for the Stars ‘n’ Stripes paper when he was in the Army, would be able to get aerial photos.

He ordered staff photographer Kenny Feeney to get out and get shooting and put in a call to Danny, now stuck on the West Side, to do likewise. Then he turned to me.

“Eddie,” he said, “we need you to stay here and make sure all the ads get done.”

Computers were a long way off, but we did have state-of-the-art electronic typesetting and what was called “cold type” layout capabilities. In short, we were cutting and pasting. And while the rest of the staff mobilized to cover what was to be one of the biggest stories in the history of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I sat down at a light table, picked up a razor blade and cut out the words “16-oz. can” in 6-point type to paste next to “Green Giant green beans” in the Komensky’s Market ad. It was going to be a long day for reporters and writers out in the field, but an even longer one, I knew, sitting in the composing room “making sure all the ads got done.”

By the next day, the east side and west side of the river were cut off from each other and that presented a unique problem for our newspaper. There were only two pressmen in the region who could run our new offset printing press and one lived in Dallas and the other at Harveys Lake. The solution is the stuff movies are made of.

James “Spot” O’Donnell and Carl Rhodes wound up being transported via a row boat to the railroad bridge in Coxton and proceeded to walk across it, somehow ignoring the raging waters of the Susquehanna beneath their feet.

On Sunday morning, Pidge Watson loaded copies of the paper into a motor boat and distributed them all over the West Side for free. It featured a dynamic aerial shot of a flooded West Pittston on page one and was packed with additional flood photos. Not to mention, scores of caringly put together ads.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus