The KKK in Kenmore?!

During the 1920s there was an increasingly negative feeling in the United States regarding immigrants and minority groups, particularly against African-Americans, Jews, and Catholics. Disillusionment with the results of post World War 1 recession, and the fear of Bolshevism, all helped propel Congress toward restriction of immigration during the 1920s. Only "traditional" northern and western European immigrants were encouraged to come to the U.S. - meaning white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant peoples. There was a tremendous growth during the 1920s of groups such as the Ku-Klux-Klan which stood for such beliefs. Over 5 million Americans associated themselves with the Klan at its zenith, over half of whom were residents of northern states. This incident occurred in May of 1924.

With a thousand men looking on, the fiery cross was raised in the Town of Tonawanda Saturday night. While the cross burned, 200 candidates were sworn into the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan with solemn ceremony. There was deep silence in the ring of onlookers while the white-robed leader addressed the candidates and administered the oath. Not a hint of disorder was there. When the ceremony was over, the big gathering broke up and quickly melted away. As the daylight was fading away, Saturday evening, Kenmore residents noticed scores of automobiles going northward, apparently belonging to the same party. The procession seemed endless, and there was no sign as to the identity of the owners. Some Kenmorites curiously followed. The procession went out Delaware avenue to the Shell road, to the Guide Board road (Eggert Road) and north on that road to the Tonawanda Gun club grounds, opposite the property of Fred Ebling.

As if by a plan well rehearsed, the automobiles were parked on the road and in the fields and the men gathered in a big circle. The lights of the automobiles made a brilliant scene, reminding former soldiers of a battle field at night without the roar of guns. The lights came from all directions as word of the strange doings filtered through the neighborhood. On an elevation in the middle of the field a huge cross was erected. It was 15 or 20 feet high and was covered with burlap. Around the cross were torches planted in the ground in a circle. A small group of men, who had donned white robes that had been carried in suit cases, took position before the big cross. The figures in this group were three men, the leader flanked on either side by two men carrying American flags. In front of these three were grouped in solid phlanx the 200 candidates.

While this formation was going on, white robed men moved about inside the ever-growing circle of spectators, scrutinizing those who stood there and keeping them back at such a distance that the men in the center of the field could not be recognized or the words heard. There was not a sign of disorder and the crowd was remarkably, almost uncannily silent. When all was ready, a flame was applied to the base of the cross and the fire quickly ran up to the cross bar. In a moment the whole was in flames. It lit up the surrounding country like daylight. The circle of smaller torches were lighted, and they showed red. It was a spectacle none of the witnesses will forget. The man standing between the two flagbearers began to speak. There was a "silence that could be felt" throughout the great gathering. The men in the circle could not hear what was said, a word reaching them once in a while, but they stood there for nearly an hour, watching intently the strange scene before them. It was like a motion picture, with the spectators part of the picture.

The leader spoke probably half an hour, then administered the oath of the order to the entire body of candidates. All the while the huge cross blazed and the torches glowed red, and the white robed men flitted here and there keeping the spectators back. When the ceremony was over the crowd quickly sought automobiles and within a remarkably short time the mass of machines wound in a double file up the road toward Kenmore.

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