View Full Version : A New years Custom That Still Echoes

28 Dec 03,, 18:34
Possibly the single best reason to ring in the New Year. In the mountains a few miles to the north.


A New Year's custom that still echoes
By Jon Rutter
Dec 27, 2003, 22:37 EST
Lancaster Sunday News

Dying folk traditions often inspire nostalgia, and maybe even TV specials, about the good old days.

But not the custom of shooting guns into the air to ring in the new year.

Police get occasional complaints about trigger-happy revelers but the habit seems to be fading away here.

"We still have people who do that,'' said Lt. David Presto, a state trooper in Lancaster. "I don't think it's a problem like it was years ago.'' The heyday of the old Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, when men used to tramp house to house and cap off rounds through the night, is long gone.

That's good, authorities say, because launching lead into the air always was a stupid, and potentially fatal, thing to do.

"What goes up must come down,'' said Officer Robert Fedor of the Southern Regional Police Department. "It's Newton's Law.'' He doesn't recall any deaths or injuries caused by errant projectiles.

Nor did Lancaster General Hospital spokesman John Lines.

But danger still lurks.

One New Year's morning several years ago, according to newspaper records, city police arrested a group of men firing guns from South Ann Street rooftops.

In the county's southern end, Presto said, "We've had houses struck already.'' The problem has been acute in big cities such as Detroit, where a stray bullet killed grandmother Sarah Latham on Jan. 1, 1996.

New Year's gunplay almost killed Joe Jaskolkas five years ago in Philadelphia. The randomly fired shot has tragically limited the teenager's life, according to a recent Philadelphia Weekly feature.

Nobody has been able to trace the projectile because it's still lodged at the base of the boy's skull.

A .22 bullet can fly one mile, said an Elizabethtown gun expert who asked not to be named.

Sunday News outdoors editor John W. McGonigle said a .30-06 deer hunting rifle held at the proper angle can throw a bullet more than three miles.

Even a spent slug plummeting straight down from the sky could be lethal, said Ed Karcher, chief of Brecknock Township police.

So on New Year's, hold your fire.

Considering the heightened terror alert of recent days, said county emergency management director Randall Gockley, shooting off a gun this season would be especially inappropriate.

"Common sense tells you it's a bad thing to do. Someone could very easily be killed.'' Still, the urge to shoot and otherwise raise celebratory havoc seems to be hard-wired into humanity.

Recent telecasts of the capture of Saddam Hussein showed joyful Iraquis blasting holes in the sky with AK-47s.

Lines recalled watching similar televised demonstrations in the Middle East in the past.

"The actual ordnance that was returning to earth after being shot in the air was significant,'' he said.

According to materials provided by Peter Seibert, president of The Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County, prehistoric peoples donned masks and yelled to frighten away demons.

In pre-Revolutionary War times, rifle volleys echoed as Pennsylvania Dutchmen "shot in'' the new year.

"A typical shooting party usually consisted of about eight men who made the rounds of the neighborhood from midnight till sunup,'' wrote Don Yoder in a 2001 book, "Discovering American Folklore.'' The party included an unarmed "wisher'' who chanted from memory a long New Year's wish in High German. After the recitation and rifle blasts, Yoder explained, the group was invited in for refreshments.

"The whole proceeding was done in the soborest manner possible, since this was a traditional ceremony that had to be carried out exactly, not a "frolic.' "' The custom died out around the turn of the 20th century, according to Yoder.

The shooting did not.

Gockley said he sometimes heard New Year's Eve gunshots as a youngster in Ephrata 30 or 40 years ago.

But police say the practice has dwindled in the past few decades as population has grown and the chance of clocking someone with a stray chunk of lead has risen.

"I think that tradition is dying out,'' said Karcher, the Brecknock Township police chief.

Still, Karcher said, old customs take a long time to disappear.

"Every once in a while when you're driving around down here, you may hear a blast that could be a shotgun.

"I don't think I've ever heard a rifle being shot. But shotguns I have heard.'' Fedor, who covers Pequea and Conestoga townships, said he "can't say for certain'' that some of the reports he hears on New Year's aren't gunshots.

"I know a lot of people down here have a shotgun tucked away.'' However, he continued, most of the bangs are fireworks. "We're not really getting complaints'' about gunfire.

The last random shooting incident occurred after Dale Earnhardt died at Daytona in 2001, Fedor said.

"A guy came out on his front porch and squeezed off a few rounds from his .357 pistol.''

28 Dec 03,, 19:24
Whenever i see people firing into the air on Tv etc i do alway wonder what ahppens to the returning bullets.

Two things spring to mind :-

* blanks
* surely there must have been a columbo episode where the victim was killed on the stroke of new year, but no one noticed the shots :)