In Greencastle, a century-old homecoming celebration catalogued in photos

GREENCASTLE, Pa. (WHTM) – This week marks a special time in one Franklin County borough: a time for everyone to come home.

“Wonderful teachers. Mr. Conrad, and I can’t name them all, Ms. Martin.” Gail Hartman remembers of high school.

“Don’t forget Mr. Witmer,” a friend reminded her. “Mr. Witmer, yes. Mr. Witmer,” Hartman said with a laugh.

She sat at a long table at Mrs. Gibble’s Restaurant on Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by former classmates from her time at Greencastle High School.

“And every time we had a class picture,” she motioned to her friend, “her and I were side by side.”

Those were the days of black and white photos. This is the GHS class of 1946. The classmates, all in their late 80s now, made it back for the reunion, but something else about the gathering rings a bell.

“They gave it out in 1935 for Old Home Week,” Hartman said, holding up and ringing a literal bell, “and my mother got me one. I was 4 years old.”

Old Home Week; it’s a hallowed phrase in these parts.

“Oh my goodness,” one man now living in Mississippi said in the borough square Wednesday morning, “it’s exciting.”

“Everybody gets to meet somebody that they haven’t seen for 25 years,” Elaine Guthrie said. It’s a borough-wide reunion that happens every three years.

“Well,” Lucille Christophel said, “it’s for all of us old folks.”

“We have people from Washington state, from Florida, from Tennessee,” Guthrie explained.

A woman’s shirt summed up the sentiment of the week-long celebration. It reads, “Our branches are worldwide, but our roots are in Greencastle, PA.”

The first celebration was in 1902. A year before, a concert singer named Philip Baer suggested in local papers the town hold an “Old Boys’ Reunion.” The next August, they did.

The borough has the picture to prove it. “This would be the original photo from 1902,” Frank Klink said, opening a book about the celebration to a page showing a group of men in suits, many sporting mustaches that can only be described as old-timey. “And ever since then they’ve been taking one every three years.”

The photos of everyone in the square are displayed at Old Home Week headquarters. Stopping by to find people you know in the old pictures is a tradition in itself.

“We come and we try to point ourselves out,” Wendy Witmer, there with her kids Levi and Emma, said. “And that’s one of the reasons we wore the bright colors, so we can find ourselves a little easier next time.”

“It’s amazing that it’s gone this long, that people still come down,” Klink said. “It’s also amazing that they come down here on a Wednesday afternoon to get in the picture.”

Hundreds of people packed themselves together, several rows deep, late Wednesday morning, posing for history: Old Home Week photo number 39.

“The big thing is if you have a newborn in this town, you want to be in the front row so that you can look back every year,” Charlotte Richardson, a photographer with Central Photo Company, said. “It’s a little bit of a fight between the parents to make sure their kids get in the front row.”

“We do try to get our same spot every year. It’s our little tradition,” Lori Leckron said. “We waited from 9:30 until 11:30 to get our spot.”

Just a couple minutes later, several photos had been taken around the arc of people, to be stitched together into one panoramic.

“Just see America as it kind of used to be,” photographer James Ivey, who’s taken the shot for the last 40 or so years, said of the celebration. “Small towns, real people, you know, family.”

Events for Old Home Week run through Saturday night.

Web Extra: Watch an extended version of Chris Davis’s report here:

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