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Joe Harp, journalist for 59 years, dies

June 17, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Joe Harp would have hated this story. Newsmen aren't news or at least they shouldn't be, he once said.

But when Joseph Moody Harp died early Tuesday at the age of 89, it was news - a recognition of nearly 60 years of journalistic excellence and public service to the Hagerstown community he loved.

Harp had spent the last years of his life at Homewood of Williamsport, slowly fading away with the ravages of Alzheimer's. He died at Washington County Hospital.

His younger son, David W. Harp, said the signs of the illness started showing up in November 1986 when his father began having trouble remembering things like how to get to Baltimore where David Harp and his family live.

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Soon Harp was unable to remember how to get around Hagerstown and the decision was made to move him to Homewood so he could remain close to his friends in the community.

Born in 1908, Harp graduated from Smithsburg High School in 1925.

After a summer of digging ditches, picking peaches and doing other odd jobs, he got a job at The Herald-Mail on March 25, 1926.

With the words "can you work nights?'' from general manager Samuel Phillips, the new cub reporter Joe Harp headed upstairs to the newsroom at the old Herald-Mail building at 25 Summit Ave.

He worked for the company for 59 years.

"It was Maryland Day when I took the job and it was Maryland Day when I quit,'' Harp said in 1985 when he retired as executive editor.

In the early days on the job, much of the national and international news came in by Morse code, which was translated by telephone operators on their typewriters, Harp recalled in a written account of his life.

In May 1927, Harp reported on Lindbergh's Atlantic crossing for The Morning Herald, taking the information over the telephone from the Associated Press because the operators had gone home for the day.

In 1932, a blizzard knocked out wire services to the newspaper and arrangements were made with ham radio operators to get news bulletins from a Pittsburgh radio station.

Another time, Harp learned of the death of John Philip Sousa and he went home so he could listen to the Lowell Thomas radio broadcast of the event.

Harp took notes and rewrote the news for The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail the next day.

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, young Joe Harp and Neill Baylor, then editor of The Morning Herald, rushed into the office to put out a special edition with news of the event.

"We thought we knew how to do everything necessary to get a paper out,'' Harp once told a young reporter. "But we couldn't figure how to melt down the lead to make the type.''

Coupled with Harp's dedication to his job was his humanity and impact on his co-workers.

"I never worked with him on a day-to-day level but he was a legend here,'' said Dennis Shaw, former associate editor of The Herald-Mail. "He was a symbol of the way newspapers should be.''

Gloria Dahlhamer, who worked with Harp for many years, said the first words she heard when she applied for work at The Herald-Mail were from him.

"Can you spell?'' he asked the then Gloria Moser.

When she answered yes, she was hired, five hours after she graduated from high school.

"He was a boss, a mentor and a friend, and sometimes, a father,'' Dahlhamer said. "Joe was a gentleman as well as a gentle man.''

Several years after his retirement, Harp took a nine-page history of his life into The Herald-Mail and asked Librarian Jo Ann Smith to file it away and save it for the right occasion.

In it, he spoke of his roots, his family and his life at the newspaper.

At the end of the piece, Harp, known for his sharp editing pencil and demand for short, concise stories, lived up to that philosophy.

"How best to end this narrative? It's easy. A period.''

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