By Carol Luschas
Between 1864 and 1914, over 400,000 people emigrated from the Baltic region. Pennsylvania became home to one of the largest concentrations of Lithuanians in the United States. Many Lithuanians settled in the small coal mining town of Mahanoy City in northeastern Pennsylvania. As the Lithuanian population grew, so did the need for a newspaper printed in its native tongue. A Lithuanian press would provide contact and communication with the outside world. A newspaper would educate immigrants and help them adjust to a new life. It would simultaneously play a key role in organizing and preserving Lithuanian language and culture. Most importantly, the papers printed in the United States would be free of czarist censorship and suppression.
Worldwide, the Lithuanian periodical press was dominated by newspapers published in the United States for an extensive period of time. In 1889, eleven of the eighteen Lithuanian newspapers printed anywhere in the world were published in the United States! Due to ongoing repressions of the press in Lithuania (spaudos draudimas), the remaining seven were published in East Prussia. The most successful and widely circulated paper took root in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.
Domininkas T. Boczkauskas (Dominik T. Boczkowski or Bačkauskas) was born in 1846 in Kupriškiai Serniškiai, Lithuania. He was a skilled musician and served as the church organist for the villages of Alvitas and Griškabūdis. He was a patriot, and along with other citizens from the Pol- ish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, participated in the insurgency (sukilimas) against the Russian Empire in 1863-64. Ultimately, the uprising was unsuccessful and resulted in even tighter Russian control. Punishments were severe, public executions were commonplace, and deportations to Siberia were massive.
After enduring many years of Russian oppression, Boczkauskas left his homeland, arriving in the United States in 1879. He was fluent in both Lithuanian and Polish, and began working for a local newspaper. From 1883–85 he edited the Polish newspaper, Ojczyna (The Fatherland) in Buffalo, New York. In 1886 he became the first editor of Vienybė Lietuvninkų (Lithuanian Unity) in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, which had a large Lithuanian community.
While working at these newspapers, Boczkauskas realized that what the Lithuanian population needed was an easy-to-read paper covering local, national and international news. He decided to settle in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, where on July 27, 1888 he established his own Lithuanian newspaper, Saulė (The Sun), the second of its kind in the United States. Boczkauskas’ goal was to educate and enlighten his countrymen. An Evening Herald article describing the history of the newspaper states, “Most readers belonged to the laboring class and his objective was to make them good freedom-loving citizens, a tribute to their native land as well as the United States.”
Saulė employees recalled that the first issue was printed in a cramped, dark and cool cellar on the corner of B and Pine Streets in Mahanoy City. Boczkauskas worked long hours with the assistance of his 15 year-old daughter, Liudvika (Liudwika), and 13 year-old son, Pranciškus (Francis). Because he did not have his own printing press, Boczkauskas had to physically transport the heavy lead-based type to an English-language print house. He did this in the sweltering heat of summer and the ice and cold of winter.
With time, he obtained enough money and resources for his own printing equipment. In 1896, the newspaper moved to a larger building located at 523 West Spruce Street, and then to 520–522 South Street Alley. At first, Saulė was a weekly publication. In 1902 it was expanded to a semi-weekly (Tuesday and Friday) publication. Marking its 20th anniversary in 1908, the celebratory Saulės Kalendoris reported that the newspaper had sixteen employees.
Saulė newspaper reported the important news of the day to its readers. On September 30, 1888 it described the establishment of a new Lithuanian Catholic parish in Mahanoy City – St. Joseph’s Church. Saulė also closely covered news relevant to coal miners, including the anthracite coal strike of 1902, which demonstrated the power of organized labor and unions in the U.S. In addition, the paper printed humorous articles, brief fictional stories and a gossip column, which appealed to the workers.
In addition to the biweekly newspaper, every Wednesday Boczkauskas also printed a light-hearted weekly publication called Linksma Walanda (Happy Hour). He also printed books, short stories, calendars and prayer books, which were well-liked among the coal miner families. His most popular publication was “One Thousand and One Nights,” which had three printings. From 1888 to 1905 Saulė published 85 titles with a total press run of 53,250 copies. He also published textbooks, song books and a yearly almanac, the 1898 edition of which had a print run of 4,000 copies. These popular books served not only as a source of information, but also as a tool for education, and through these books many illiterate Lithuanians became inspired to learn how to read.
1912 issue of Saulė (pictured on the cover of LH). The top story describes a strike at the American Thread Company. The bottom article describes a rich hotel owner who left behind a will and testament be- queathing $25,164.91 and two cats, with the provision that the money could not be distributed as long as the cats were alive.
The newspaper’s language style was old-fashioned, written in a dialect that was understandable by all Lithuanians, and the topics were written for the “common man.” According to Giedrius Subačius in Studies in Baltic and Indo-European Linguistics, what made Saulė unique was that it did not comply with the standard orthography of the time. The newspaper used alternate, older orthographic features that were popular in mid-nineteenth century Lithuania. The newspaper was typeset using the Polish convention of writing “cz” and “sz” for “č” and “š” (even his own surname, both Lithuanian and anglicized, was usually written with “cz”). The Saulė paper was among the last to accept the modern Lithuanian alphabet.
Domininkas Boczkauskas, died on February 25, 1909. Despite a long illness, he remained at his desk, working almost to the end. His three sons, William D. Boczkowski, Francis W. Boczkowski and Victor L. Boczkowski acquired ownership of the newspaper after their father’s death. William became the president and business manager, his brother Francis became the editor, and Victor, co-editor.
By 1916 Saulė moved to a large three story wooden building on the corner of South and A Streets. On July 27, 1920, Saulė celebrated its 32nd anniversary. The paper continued to be published on Tuesday and Friday and reached a great number of Lithuanians throughout the world. With readers in many of the world’s cities, it had the honor of having the highest circulation of any Lithuanian paper published at the time. Saulė continued its mission of fostering community ties and providing domestic and international news for the Lithuanian diaspora.
Saulė took pride in the fact that it maintained a non-partisan viewpoint when reporting on pertinent news of the day. The newspaper covered the activities of the National Guard sent to keep peace during times of social unrest. It wrote stories about arrests and clashes between picketers and coal company police at various collieries. It described incidents of sabotage at mining operations and strikers stopping trolley cars to attack passengers suspected of sneaking to work at out-of-town collieries. All these events were reported fully, factually, and fearlessly.
The “sun” finally set on this historically significant Lithuanian newspaper on June 26, 1959. Today, the Saulė printing house at the corner of A and 337–339 South Street in Mahanoy City is vacant. A few copies of Saulė remain in the archives of the Knights of Lithuania Council #144 Lithuanian Cultural Center at 37 S. Broad Mountain Ave., Frackville, PA.
Saulė is now a historic paper record immortalizing the lives and times of 19th and 20th century Lithuanian immigrants in the United States. But when it was founded 129 years ago, the newspaper was dynamic and alive and very much involved in those lives. It helped inform and unify a broad community. And it often did so by making people laugh. It was an amazing gift to its readers for many years!
SAULE KEPT LITHUANIANS INFORMED
IT WAS 100 years ago this year that the "Sun" began to provide illumination for the Lithuanian community of Mahanoy City.
Saule (Sun) published its first edition as a Lithuanian language newspaper on July 27, 1888. At its peak, the paper number 9,000 subscribers in the United States and abroad.
A number of competing Lithuanian periodicals from other areas had circulation in the region at various times during Saule's history, but none were as successful and long-lasting as Saule.
For 71 years, the Lithuanian "Sun" served readers throughout the anthracite region as well as in many other states and even across the ocean. Wherever people were interested in the latest Lithuanian doings, they looked to Saule to shed light on the news.
Although the newspaper stopped publishing in 1959, the job printing end of the business is still in operation 100 years later, occuping the the large wooden structure which for years has been the Saule Building at the northeast corner of A and South streets.
Throughout its century of operation, the business has been run by succeeding generations of the Boczkowski family. The current job shop operator, Edward, is a grandson of the founder.
A GLIMPSE of Saule's history is found in the paper's 50th anniversary edition of July 27, 1938, which carried the headline: "1888 Saules 50 Metu Auksninis Jubilejinis Nueris 1838"
The paper was founded by Dominick T. Boczkowski, whose goal was to educate and enlighten his countrymen. Most of the immigrants belonged to the laboring class, and Dominick wanted to make them good, freedom-living citizens, a credit to their native land as well as to the United States.
In 1886 he was living at Plymouth, Pa., editing the publication "Vienbe Lietuvninku" which later moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and published as a daily.
During his tenure at Plymouth, which had a large community of Lithuanian immigrants, Dominick took note of what the people needed and what they liked most, and he decided that he would one day have his own newspaper to serve these needs.
Two years later, with very little money but stout determination, he launched Saule as a weekly in Mahanoy City. One of the first news stories Editor Boczkowski reported was the creation on Sept 30, 1888 of a new Lithuanian Roman Catholic Parish, known as Saint Joseph's. Today, both are celebrating a century of serving Lithuanian Americans.
Saule's first quarters were in a little basement at the corner of B and Pine streets. It was there that Dominick put together his stories and pages. Saule had no printing press, so it farmed out the printing to one of the other local English language papers.
It took several years of working day and night, with the help of his three young sons, to build a circulation level necessary for a successful operation.
In 1896, the shop moved to larger quarters on West Spruce street, then to South street.
IN 1902, the advent of the violent six-month strike resulted in a decision of Editor Boczkowski to expand his newspaper into a twice-weekly publication.
The strike created a great deal of news to be reported to the thousands of Lithuanian immigrants who worked in the coal industry. Rather than cram all the news into one weekly edition, Mr. Boczkowski decided to print semi-weekly.
Lithuanian miners were so numerous that the United Mine Workers allowed them to form their own local mine union. Other UMWA locals were limited to workers at specific collieries - men who worked at the Mahanoy City Colliery belonged to the Mahanoy City Local; those at the North Mahanoy Colliery were members of the North Mahanoy Local, and so forth.
However, in the case of the Lithuanians, the membership was on a nationality basis regardless of which colliery the men worked at. The basis reason for this was good communication. Many of the immigrants hadn't yet developed a command of English, and in order to convey union messages to them with clarity, the UMWA used Lithuanian-speaking leaders to address the immigrant miners at their local union meetings.
SAULE PLAYED an important role in keeping readers informed of strike developments, which were the sensational news of the day. Reports were published on activities of the National Guard troops sent here to keep peace. There were news reports to be disseminated about the coal companies trying to operate collieries by imprting groups of workers recruited outside the region. There were stories about arrests resulting from disturbances between pickets and coal company police at various collieries. There incidents of sabotage at mining operations; of strikers stopping trolly cars and beating up passengers suspected of sneaking to work at out-of-town collieries. There were regular dispatches to report the progress of negotiations between the mine operators and the UMWA led by Johnny Mitchell.
All these events, reported fully, factually and fearlessly on the pages of Saule, helped the paper grow in popularity.
THE FOUNDER, Dominick Boczkowski, died Feb. 25, 1909. Despite a long illness, he remained at his desk almost to the end. His wife succumbed Jan. 13, 1915.
After the father's death, the paper's operation was continued by three sons who learned the business by working from childhood alongside their father. Frank assumed the post of editor; William D. became publisher; Victor L, co-publisher.
Frank also served 10 years as an interpreter for the county courts, and for many years was the deputy coroner for Mahanoy City and vicinity.
He was married to the former Cecilia Baranovski, a native of Shamokin, and they had three children: Francis became a district supervisor for Bell Telephone in Indianapolis; Florian was a well-known Mahanoy City electrical contractor with a shop at Catawissa and Pine streets; and Adeline became the wife of Scranton mining engineer A.J. Barauckas.
William served a term on borough bouncil and as a member of the borough board of health. He was married to the former Sue Drabnis and they had four children: Roman and Eleanor are now living in New York state; Frances in Florida; Tillie, a retired teacher in Ridley Park, is deceased.
Victor was married to the former Rose Tomashfski of New Boston. They had two sons, both still living in Mahanoy City. Leon is a retired carpenter and Edward keeps the Saule job printing operation going.
WHEN THE last edition of Saule rolled off the press on June 26, 1959, the chapter closed on an important slice of history, not only for Mahanoy City, but for the Lithuanian community of the entire anthracite region.
In the pages of Saule were recorded scenes from the passing parade of Baltic immigrants who played a significant role in the development of a town, a region and a nation.
Webmaster's Note:Edward Boczkowski kept the Saule Printing office going for more than twenty-five years after the newspaper folded. He died in August of 1992.
Shortly before the Saule building was scheduled for demolition the historical society was able to gain access with the permission of the demolition contractor.
We had a short period of time to enter and retrieve as many newspapers and pamphlets as possible. The interior of the building was in horrible condition. The floor on the ground level had collapsed and well as the stairs leading to the second floor. We traversed a metal coal chute placed from the door sill to an area where an extension ladder to the second floor was placed. The newspapers were stored on shelves on the third floor of the building, but vandals had gained entrance during the time the building had been abandoned. Newspapers and phamplets were strewn everywhere. Still we were able to collect thousands of newspapers that were intact enough to be scanned. Many newspapers were stacked on the stairway leading from the second to the third floor. These were folded in four and had been that way for more than sixty years.
The demolition process happened quickly. The Borough of Mahanoy City had obtained the building and had it scheduled for demolition because of fear of fire. The historical society learned of the planned demolition only a few days before it was scheduled to occur. The demolition contractor who had come into possession of the building kindly agreed to allow us to enter the building to see what was inside.
The day after the demolition started a local collector of historical artifacts from the Ashland, PA area visited the demolition site and was greatly saddened to see the fly wheel of the Saule printing press sticking out of the rubble. He collects old printing presses and had just missed out on a great find.
In 2019 two years before the demolition of the Saule building, the historical society obtained thirteen bound volumes of the Saule from a collector. The bound volumes from the 1940s and 50s were in good condition which made the scanning process relatively easy. The papers had to be separated carefully from the binding because the pages were dry and brittle and would tear easily.
The formerly bound volumes of the Saule are now stored in archival newspaper boxes in the research room at the Mahanoy Area Historical Society. The scanned images have been sent to the Lithuanian Research and Study Center in Lamont, IL.
At about this time we began to wonder if there were newspapers in the abandoned Saule building. For years we had been told there was nothing in the building. We were unable to gain entry to the building because its poor condition had forced the Mahanoy City Borough to post a NO TRESSPASSING sign on the door.. After a time we began to here that persons had entered the building dispite the No Trespass sign and had found numerous scattered newspapers in the third floor storage area.
The second Saule scanning project would be much more difficult than scanning the thirteen bound volumes. Not a single intact bound volume was recovered from the dilapidated building. There were partial volumes with many torn and missing pages and numereous editions that had been folded, probably in preparation for mailing many years ago.
The papers were often mixed together and so had to be separated by month and year.Then a check was done with the Lithuanian Study Center to see which papers were missing from their scanned archives in Chicago.
Unfolding the newspaper without having it tear at the folds was a real challenge and made the scanning process much more difficult. The papers were oftoen covered in coal dust having been stored uncovered on steps and shelves for a lifetime. The scanner glass needed to be sprayed and dusted after just a few scans becuase of the black residue from the newspaper sheets.
The historical society has the use of a wide bed scanner which is used mainly to scan newspapers. We have scanned forty years of the Mahanoy City Record American and thousands of pages of the Saule. The scanner can process scanned images as jpg, pdf, tif and png images with one mouse click.You can see a pdf of the last edition of the Saule published at the link at the bottom of the page..