During the 1920s the KKK was active in Hastings and even little towns like Roseland and Giltner. There wasn’t a black person nor a Jew in Roseland or Giltner, and very few in Hastings. How could a hate organization attract hundreds of members in this area? No one knows when the local chapters were organized nor by whom. They sprang up following the militant patriotism and extreme anti-German, anti-immigrant sentiments aroused by World War I. They called their gatherings “Patriot Meetings.” They believed in Americanism–White, English-speaking, Protestant, Americanism. And for a time in the 1920s, several hundred local men, many of them prominent business and professional leaders, were members.
Dentist C. A. Phillips was the kleagle of the Hastings Klan, and he proudly displayed a sign in his waiting room. “If you’re not a loyal American, get the ____ out of here.” He wanted everyone to know he was the exalted savior of local purity and patriotism, and seldom wore a hood during parades. The other members weren’t so brave; they kept their hoods on during cross burnings and parades.
The first local account of Klan activities appeared in the Hastings Daily Tribune on August 17, 1923 announcing a “Big Meeting at Prospect Park.” The speaker was a Rev. Bates from Salina, Kansas who wore the white robe, but not the hood while he spoke about protecting women, limiting immigration, full-fledged Americanism, and law and order. The attendance was “large” according to the Tribune. A year later in September 1924 there was an even larger Klan gathering at the park. It was estimated that between 3,500 and 4,000 attended, many from surrounding towns.
Why would people join a hate group? Some thought it was a patriotic organization, some enjoyed the secrecy and intrigue, some thought they were “saving their way of life from foreigners,” some were coerced. Local businessmen feared they would be boycotted if they didn’t join—although the Stein Brothers, proprietors of the largest mercantile firm in Hastings, refused. Some of the members were ministers, especially Baptist ministers.
Sunday, May 11, 1924, Rev. A. P. Renn was closing a series of evangelistic meetings at the First Baptist Church in Hastings when the door swung open and a couple dozen white-robed, hooded and masked characters marched in, single file, to the pulpit where they asked the Rev. to lead a prayer. “All knelt reverently” the Hastings Democrat reported, although Baptists ordinarily don’t kneel during church services. Before leaving they gave the church a nearly $180 offering. The congregation cheered as the Klansmen marched out. The Democrat, a weekly newspaper, came out on May 15th. That night the church burned to the ground. The Klan offered a $500 reward for arrest and conviction of those responsible. The state fire inspector never charged arson, the reward was never collected, and the Baptist minister left town.
Joseph Daugherty died from a hunting accident in March 1925. His fellow Klansmen held a full-dress funeral at the Methodist Church in Hastings. Robed Klansmen were pallbearers and about 250 robed Klansmen escorted the body to the cemetery.
Hastings Klan meetings were held in the Armory at First and Lexington, in the Odd Fellows Hall on Second Street, and in the Brandes Building at Second and Burlington. The Imperial Wizard visited Hastings in July 1925. Welcome flags were displayed along streets, and windows displayed cards welcoming the Wizard. About 600 to 700 Klansmen paraded down Burlington Avenue to the fairgrounds (located where Hastings High School currently stands). The parade was lead by a masked horse and hooded rider. The Hastings Drum and Bugle Corps, and bands from York and Franklin marched in the parade. A large cross was burned in front of the crowd of 5,000 in the grandstand. The Wizard spoke against Catholics and the Pope, a foreigner. He went on to say “The foreign born are not 100 per cent American as long as they retain their own societies and practice old world ways…Those who will not be American must be sent back to where they came from.” He also spoke against parochial schools, Jews, Negroes, and unions.
The Klan appears to have reached its peak membership about 1926, controlling politics in many communities, even electing state officials. However, in 1926 the Klan Grand Dragon in Indiana was sent to prison for murder; and Klan politicians were indicted for corruption. Bad publicity caused national membership to decline from three million in 1926 to 30,000 by 1930.
In this area there were few blacks or Jews, and few labor unions. That left only the Catholics for the Klansmen to hate. The cross burnings that weren’t symbolic were against Catholics, to cause fear, to warn them not to get into politics, nor to marry into “Decent Protestant American Families.”
Following is a November 1986 interview of Bert and Edna Kline Trausch concerning their memories of KKK activities in their neighborhoods.
You mentioned memories of the Klan from your childhood.
Bert. I grew up on the NE1/4 Section 10, Roseland Township. I remember the Klan had a big meeting one and one half miles south of where we lived. It was in the fall of the year, about October. I don’t remember the year. It was in the 1920s. Dad and I drove down around the west side of the section; we were going to see what was going on. They were all dressed up in their sheets and hoods. We tried to crawl up where we could hear, but they had guards posted all around, so we couldn’t get close enough. They talked and then they burned a big cross. It was out in a pasture.
Did you know who any of the people were who were involved?
Bert. No, how would you know, they all had hoods on. They came out from Hastings. It was on Schifflers farm. Maybe Schifflers were members of the Klan. I don’t know.
How many people were involved?
Bert. Hundreds it seemed like. Lots of them drove by our house on the way out. They needed a big open space because there was so many of them. I think they came out by Roseland because they wanted to scare the Catholics.
Did the Klan make any threats to the Catholics in your area?
Bert. I don’t think so, but we were always uneasy about them. The Catholics didn’t like them burning crosses, the symbol of Christ. The cross they burned was big, maybe ten feet high. It was wrapped in burlap so it would burn. They lit it at the bottom.
After this cross burning, did the Priest mention it in church?
Bert. I don’t remember that he did. The people were all talking about it. The neighborhood was riled up about it. It was mostly Catholics around here. Some of the neighbors said “We should have had a big mean bull to turn loose down there in that pasture.”
Did anyone get the license numbers off the cars?
Bert. Not that I remember. They came out there and it was dark when they left. It was just getting dusk when they came out. The whole meeting lasted maybe an hour and a half.
Was there any chanting, yelling or cheering at the meeting?
Bert. We couldn’t get close enough to hear. The guards were all around. They had the road blocked with their cars so no one could drive down past where they were meeting. We drove up from the west around the section, parked at John Schmitz place and waked up towards the meeting. We could see the guards, they didn’t see us. I suppose if they had caught us, they would have beat us up.
Edna, when you were growing up in the 1920s between Trumbull and Giltner were there Klan meetings there too?
Edna. Yes, at Giltner and around there. I don’t know of any right in Trumbull. Grand Island had big meetings too. I remember Valentine Smith was our neighbor. He went to some Klan meetings and then after that he wouldn’t talk to Dad any more. He was mad at the Catholics. In a few years he got over it and was friendly to Dad again. That was after the Klan fell apart around there.
At Giltner the Catholic Church had the main building and on the back was the sacristy built on. Well, the Klan members told around that the back room was full of guns and ammunition. They said the Catholics were going to try to overthrow the government. It was so absurd that only an idiot would believe it. But the Klan members believed it.
Were there cross burnings near where you lived?
Edna. Yes, but I never saw any. I don’t know the locations. My folks would talk about it. When I was little I listened to the adults talk about the Klan and I was scared. We didn’t know why they had to wear hoods and burn crosses. I think they were ashamed to admit who they were.
Why did they loose their membership?
Edna. I don’t know. Maybe the people got smart to what they were. I do know that when they had those meetings, they wanted money from their members. I know that one of my friends at school told me her father went to the meetings. He didn’t really want to go, but he went. They wanted money from him. He didn’t want to give them money or to belong, but he was pressured into it.
Do you know the names of any Klan members around Trumbull?
Edna. Ray Arnold, Velky, can’t think of his first name, and Valentine Smith. Smith didn’t have any money; I don’t think they bothered with him too much. They wanted money.
Sister Theodore Kline [Edna’s Aunt] taught our school [before she went to the convent] , Happy Hollow School, before I went, when just Josephine went to school. They had trouble that year. The Ku Klux Klan moved in there, and they hated the Catholics. They had a meeting right in the middle of the school year and voted her out. We were the only Catholics in that school.
Bert. I remember they said around Roseland that the Catholics had guns in their church basements. The Catholics were supposed to be going to start a revolution. Maybe they thought we were going to shoot the Klan. (laughs)
Do you know the names of any Roseland area people who were members of the Klan?
Bert. Well I don’t know if I should say. I know Hoylman was in the Klan. When Hoylman lay dying, Frank Tolksdorf, our neighbor, said “Hoylman is going to hell on a hay stacker.” The only other one I heard was in the Klan was Dan Snyder.