Joseph Bertram Droll Jr., a retired Sun printer who handled numerous breaking news stories, including the 1949 Lexington Market fire, died of congestive heart failure Sunday at Lorien Mount Airy Assisted Living. The longtime Overlea resident was 92.
Born in Highlandtown, he attended Sacred Heart of Jesus Parochial School and was a 1933 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School. As a teenager, he was an usher at the old Belnord, Patterson and Grand theaters. Later he became an assistant manager at the Linwood Theater in Canton.
Shortly after graduating from Calvert Hall, he took a job at the old Boone Press on Barre Street, near the current site of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. One of his first duties was to deliver about 500 copies of the East Baltimore Shoppers Guide to Southeast Baltimore.
In 1939, Mr. Droll joined the International Typographical Union and a year later he began part-time work at The Sun, showing up at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. in hopes of an assignment. In 1945, he was hired for the paper's 11:20 p.m. to 7 a.m. slot, known in newspaper parlance as the "lobster shift." He initially worked on advertisements.
When a senior worker retired, Mr. Droll started work on the news pages and became a makeup man. He retired in 1979.
In a written account he did for his family, Mr. Droll recalled a night in the composing room at the paper's old location at Charles and Baltimore streets.
"On the morning of March 25, 1949, I had sent the Second City [edition] to press at 2:15 a.m.," he wrote. "Then, at approximately 2:35 a.m., the phone rang on the foreman's desk. ... I answered it and Mr. Charles H. "Buck" Dorsey, managing editor of The Sun, informed me that a multi-alarm fire was destroying Lexington Market.
"There would be a tear-up on page one and he instructed me exactly which pages he wanted held," Mr. Droll continued. "Little did he know, or care, that there was only a small crew on duty - one make-up man (myself), and one Linotype operator and one floor boy in the news department. The rest of the crew had left for the night.
"I should use my own discretion and get help from the ad-room. I made up page one, with assistance from the ad-room handling the inside pages. We closed at 5:30 am using a 6:00 am ear in the upper right corner of the page where the FINAL ear goes.
"Mr. Dorsey thanked us for a job well done, his parting shot was that he was going upstairs to get a 'good slug' from a bottle that he kept in the bottom drawer of his desk - used for just such occasions."
Eventually, Mr. Droll earned the seniority to claim a day job, from 7 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. He then laid out The Evening Sun until retirement.
"His interest in current events in the Baltimore Sun and in the daily TV news continued until his death," said his daughter, Nancy Dankanich of Woodbine. "A highlight of his day was to read the news, fill in the crossword puzzles and read the comics."
Mr. Droll collected toy electric trains and stamps and was a letter writer and gardener. He was a Red Cross blood donor and was a weekly usher at Annunciation Roman Catholic Church in Northeast Baltimore, where he was a member.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 30 at Calvary Lutheran Church in Woodbine.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include a sister, Mildred Hrebik of Baltimore; and three grandchildren. His wife of 57 years, the former Margaret Oelschlager, died in 2001.