Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories, 1965–1973

by Sherry Buchanan
published by the University of Chicago Press, 2007; 180 pages, cloth, $25.00

For generations of Americans, it was an icon with the decidedly distinctive click. Invented by George G. Blaisdell, the first Zippo® lighter was manufactured by the Zippo Manufacturing Company, Bradford, Bradford County, seventy-five years ago, in early 1933. Now, a new book graphically chronicles the lighter’s role as a keepsake, good luck charm, and constant companion for American GIs during the Vietnam War.

In 1965, journalist Morley Safer followed American troops on a search-and-destroy mission into Cam Ne. When the Marines he accompanied reached the village, they ordered the civilians to evacuate their homes — simple grass huts with thatched roofs — which they set ablaze with their Zippos. Shortly after the event, CBS televised Safer’s report on the incident, which was among the first to paint a harrowing portrait of the war in Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson responded furiously to the segment, accusing the correspondent of having “shat on the American flag.” For the first time since World War II, American men in uniform had been depicted as destroyers instead of liberators. Society’s perception of the war — and the Zippo lighter — would never be the same.

In Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories, 1965–1973, author Sherry Buchanan shows that the Pennsylvania-made lighter was far more than an instrument of death and destruction. For the American soldiers who wielded them, they were a vital form of social and political protest as well. With dramatic photography, this stunning book showcases the engravings on lighters used by American soldiers during the height of the controversial conflict, from 1965 to 1973. Drawn from the extensive collection of Zippos amassed by American artist Bradford Edwards — his given name no relation to Bradford, Pennsylvania — the lighters demonstrate how they became talismans and companions for American GIs during their tours of duty. Through a dazzling — at times dizzying — array of images, readers see how Zippo lighters were used during the war and discover how they served as a canvas for both personal and political expression during the Age of Aquarius. Many were engraved with peace signs, marijuana leaves, and slogans steeped in rock lyrics, sound bites, combat slang, and antiwar mottos of the time, including DEATH IS MY BUSINESS AND MY BUSINESS HAS BEEN GOOD, NAPALM STICKS TO KIDS, NEVER AGAIN, and WAR IS HELL.

The engravings on lighters featured in this copiously illustrated volume are at once searing, caustic, sentimental, humorous, but always moving, running the full emotional spectrum with both sardonic reflections and poignant maxims. Part pop art and part military artifact, they collectively capture the mood of the sixties and the darkest days of Vietnam. Edwards, who believes hundreds of thousands of Zippos were used by soldiers in Vietnam, explains that although the humble, chrome-plated brass lighters weighing slightly more than two ounces were utilitarian, they were also “very personal items” and “powerful documents,” adding, “These documents are etched in metal. It’s not sterile, it’s not flighty, it’s not pen and paper. It’s etched in metal. The only thing closer to eternity is stone.”

Vietnam Zippos contains a number of wartime photographs, a listing of lighter engravings, glossary, and notes.

Reputedly the most popular museum in northern Pennsylvania, the Zippo/Case Museum is located in Bradford.


Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier

by Paul B. Moyer
published by the Cornell University Press, 2007; 216 pages, cloth, $39.95

Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley was truly a dark and bloody ground, the site of mayhem, murders, and massacres (see “Forty Fort Meeting House: The Architecture of a Union” by Vance Packard, Winter 2008). The region’s turbulent history was the product of a bitter contest over property and power known as the Wyoming controversy. This dispute, which raged between the mid-eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, intersected with conflicts between whites and native peoples over land; it was a jurisdictional contest between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, violent contention over property among settlers and land speculators, and the social tumult of the American Revolution. In its later stages, the controversy pitted Pennsylvania and its settlers against “Wild Yankees,” frontier insurgents from New England who contested the Commonwealth’s authority and soil rights.

In Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier, Paul B. Moyer argues that a struggle for personal independence waged by thousands of ordinary settlers lay at the root of conflict in northeastern Pennsylvania and across the revolutionary-era frontier. The concept and pursuit of independence was not limited to actual war of high politics; it also resonated with ordinary people, such as the Wild Yankees, who pursued their own struggle for autonomy. With vivid descriptions of the various levels of this conflict, the author shows that the Wyoming controversy illuminates the process of settlement, the daily lives of settlers, and agrarian unrest along the early American frontier.

Wild Yankees includes several illustrations, among them maps and portraits, a select bibliography, and an index.


Rising from the Wilderness: J. W. Gitt and his Legendary Newspaper: The Gazette and Daily of York, Pa.

by Mary A. Hamilton
published by the York County Heritage Trust, 2007; 342 pages, cloth, $29.95

For more than fifty years, Josiah William “Jess” Gitt (1884–1973), was a maverick small-town newspaper publisher whose elite friends included Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, Harry A. Wallace, I. F. Stone, and Gifford Pinchot. He took a financially struggling newspaper in rural York County and built an internationally known and often controversial member of the Fourth Estate. Regularly referred to as a “stubborn Dutchman,” Gitt applied his personal principles to the public trust, his Gazette and Daily, of York. He used the newspaper as his vehicle to disseminate “the news all the time without fear or favor, bias or prejudice,” a statement he placed on the publication’s banner.

Rising from the Wilderness: J. W. Gitt and his Legendary Newspaper: The Gazette and Daily of York, Pa., is a biography of both an individual and a newspaper, whose histories are largely inseparable. The editor and his newspaper attracted worldwide attention in 1943 when they backed Harry A. Wallace, the Progressive Party’s candidate for the presidency. The Gazette and Daily was the nation’s only commercial newspaper to endorse Wallace, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s former vice president. Gitt and his newspaper joined Progressives and others who questioned the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the Vietnam War. He staunchly supported the Civil Rights movement, amidst an often dangerous social climate.

J. W. Gitt gave legions of prominent journalists their start. “If ever American journalism had a hero,’ wrote author Richard J. Walton, “it was he, but, alas, his brave newspaper was published in a small Pennsylvania city and not Washington or one of the metropolitan centers. Literally, and sadly, a voice in the wilderness.” But not necessarily so, contends author Mary A. Hamilton in her introduction to Rising from the Wilderness. She asserts Walton’s biblical reference is a public cry of triumph and hope. For most of Gitt’s half-century as publisher, he operated with the hope that what he believed would triumph. “This biography will illustrate how the man in both his professional and personal life promoted positive goals,” Hamilton writes, “by insisting on independence of thought and action.”

Pennsylvania Heritage published Mary A. Hamilton’s article on J. W. Gitt entitled “A Voice in the Wilderness” in the Fall 1992 edition.


These Just In . . .

A number of new and recent books about Pennsylvania history have been received by Pennsylvania Heritage’s editorial staff, which has not yet had the opportunity to review them, but wishes to share news of their availability with readers.

Philadelphia Guide to Performing and Visual Arts, by Jim McClelland, published by Stackpole Books, 2007; 84 pages, paper, $14.95.

Bellefonte and the Early Air Mail, 1918–1927, by Kathleen Wunderly, published by American Philatelic Society, 2007; 102 pages, paper, $20.00.

Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth’s Late Paintings of Lancaster, by Betsy Fahlman, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007; 207 pages, paper, $39.95.

Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship, by David Fleming, published by ESPN, 2007; 320 pages, cloth, $24.95.

Helen Clay Frick, Bittersweet Heiress, by Martha Frick Symington Sanger, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007; 408 pages, cloth, $40.00.

The Art and Science of William Bartram, by Judith Magee, published by the Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007; 264 pages, cloth, $45.00.

Death in the Mines: Disasters and Rescues in the Anthracite Coal Fields, by J. Stuart Richards, published by The History Press, 2007; 128 pages, paper, $19.99.

Life, Liberty, and The Mummers, by E. A. Kennedy III, published by Temple University Press, 2007; 192 pages, cloth, $35.00.