Historians, genealogists and other curious researchers can now dig into some historic newspapers from Bloomington, Indianapolis, Bedford, Hammond, New Richmond, Sullivan, Smithville, and tiny Orland up in Steuben County. While our available run of Hammond’s Lake County Times currently includes just three years (1920-22), we’ll add issues of that great paper back to its start in 1906 in coming months.
Our newest batch also includes a controversial choice for Hoosier State Chronicles, but one which is of enormous historical value: the Ku Klux Klan’s Fiery Cross. From the early to mid-1920s, the Klan edited and printed its influential Indiana State edition from the Century Building in downtown Indianapolis at a time when the Invisible Empire was largely headquartered in Indy. Although HSC and the Indiana State Library in no way endorse the views of the KKK, we trust you’ll find The Fiery Cross a fascinating read. The paper is an integral part of the history of radical right-wing politics, nativism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, the battle over religion in public schools, and American attitudes toward immigration. Cast a glance at American politics today and what seems like old 1920s news is still hugely relevant.
We expect that some members of the public might be offended by our making The Fiery Cross available on the web, but we stand by its value as a historic document. If you’re looking for a strong anti-Klan perspective, many Hoosier editors took a stand against the group in the 1920s. We recommend several papers available in Hoosier State Chronicles: the African American Indianapolis Recorder, George R. Dale’s ferocious (and humorous) Muncie Post-Democrat, and the great Indianapolis News. The microfilm collections of the Indiana State Library also contain two other notable Indianapolis newspapers that opposed the KKK. These are the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indianapolis Times and the Indiana Catholic & Record, forerunner of the Catholic archdiocese’s current newsletter, The Criterion.
Although the Indiana Klan’s heyday ended in the late 1920s, we would also like to point out that Hoosier State Chronicles makes available the Jewish Post & Opinionfrom the date of its inception in Indianapolis in 1933 all the way up to 2005 — a paper that has fought for many decades to raise awareness of racism in the U.S. and abroad.
Here’s a full list of what’s new on HSC this month:
What’s the connection between Quakers, whalers, cancer and onions? Here’s some unexpected medical history from the Hoosier State.
While flipping through a few of the oldest Indiana newspapers, we ran across several “vintage cures” — including a couple of surprising ones for cancer, a disease that was as feared in 1816 as it is now, though the pioneers suffered from exponentially lower rates of it.
Oddly enough, the first remedy here, which claims to be able to treat cancer with onions, might not be bogus.
Modern medical research agrees with “folk” doctors on one thing, at least: regardless of the real havoc wreaked on your breath, garlic and onions are potent cancer-fighting foods. These veggies rank up there with broccoli, wild berries, ginger, olive oil, and a daily glass of wine as one of nature’s best weapons against tumors.
Onions have figured into medical practice for far longer than chemotherapy and radiation. Alternative practitioners and cancer patients often claim that vegetable-based remedies are at least as effective as chemo and radiation therapy — and they avoid the psychological side effects. Red onions, containing high amounts of a “flavonoid” called quercetin, are a strong antioxidant, antihistamine, and natural antibiotic. Quercetin helps protect cells and DNA against damage and reduces cholesterol and inflammation. Not only do onions lend a hand in preventing cancer to begin with, they seem to help rid the body of it.
Believe it or not, an onion remedy for cancer appears (as a reprint) in Indiana’s oldest newspaper, the Vincennes Western Sun. This 1811 remedy — published when Vincennes was still the capital of Indiana Territory and just a few months before the Battle of Tippecanoe — isn’t too far off from the “onion juice therapy” still touted in alternative medicine.
It’s doubly interesting that the list of “signers” who vouched for the cure is headed by a woman, Jane Starbuck.
Genealogical records indicate that the Jane Starbuck who had apparently gotten involved in “folk medicine” and tried to help cancer patients was probably a Quaker named Jane Taylor Starbuck (1755-1834). Her “receipt” (i.e., recipe) for an onion-based cure made its way into the Vincennes Western Sun by way of a copy of the Raleigh Star that was brought from North Carolina to the Wabash Valley and read by editor Elihu Stout. (The Western Sun contains almost no local news, which would have traveled by word of mouth in a small place like Vincennes. Stout, however, was always eager to pass on news from back East and down South.)
Jane Taylor Starbuck lived in Guilford County, North Carolina, birthplace of several thousand Quakers who began moving north to Indiana just before the War of 1812. Most came for new land, but many came to get away from slavery, which most — not all — Quakers opposed. Jane Taylor Starbuck seems to have stayed in the South, but her son Edward Starbuck, who also endorsed the cancer cure, joined the Quaker exodus to the Midwest. Edward, born in 1777, settled just east of Fountain City in Wayne County. His brother William Starbuck, another Quaker pioneer, is thought to have bought twenty-one slaves in North Carolina before he came north — a clever move against slavery, perhaps, since he set them all free when they got to Indiana. (Even free African Americans moving north often traveled with and settled near Quakers for protection.)
If the name “Starbuck” means more to you than coffee, you’ve probably read Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. The Starbuck family, into which Jane Taylor married in 1776, were prominent whalers on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. While the Starbuck who served as chief mate of Captain Ahab’s doomed Pequod — sunk by the white whale in the South Seas — was a fictional cousin of these Hoosier pioneers, Melville’s story was based on the very real fate of the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship that was crushed and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820. The Essex’s crew, floating around the Pacific Ocean on rowboats, were reduced to cannibalism and drew lots to see who would die next. One of the unlucky victims was a teenage sailor from Nantucket, Owen Coffin.
Now if the name “Coffin” means more to you than a casket, maybe you’ve visited the home of the “President” of the Underground Railroad, Levi Coffin, in Fountain City, Indiana. Coffin’s house is just a few miles from Edward Starbuck’s farm. One of the bravest men in Hoosier history, Levi Coffin was another ardent Quaker from Guilford County, North Carolina. He moved to Indiana in 1826 and began funneling escaped slaves toward Canada almost as soon as he arrived.
Like the Starbucks, Levi Coffin was originally from New Garden, North Carolina, but had Nantucket family roots. He almost definitely knew Jane Taylor Starbuck and her son Edward. (Both families belonged to the New Garden Quaker Meeting.) Coffin himself was a cousin of Jane Starbuck’s husband, William, who was a Nantucket native, reared among the whalers and seafarers of colonial Massachusetts. From his Indiana farmhouse, Levi Coffin showed as much fearlessness as his New England cousins and grandparents did sailing the remote seas.
(Levi Coffin, 1798-1877, who with his wife Catherine fought the cancer of slavery and survived to see its death, lived just north of Richmond. Their Indiana home has been called the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad. They helped thousands evade slave catchers.)
In his memoirs, Coffin mentions an Edward Starbuck. He and the man who offered a cancer remedy in 1811 appear to be one and the same. (Coffin wrote that an Edward Starbuck also helped him found an anti-liquor society in Fountain City — then called Newport — in 1830, when the fugitive slave conductor was also beginning a “War on King Alcohol.”) Edward Starbuck himself lived on a farm between Whitewater and Fountain City, a few miles from Ohio. At some point, Starbuck apparently left the Quakers to become a Methodist minister.
Here’s the onion cure — which called for more than onions, by the way. It also required puccoon root (blood root), used in both European and American Indian pharmacology for generations as an antibiotic. (American Indians also used it as a dye.) The Western Sun of Vincennes printed this alleged cure on June 9, 1811.
A decade later, “cures for cancer” were still coming out in American newspapers. The 19th century turned out to be a golden age of questionable — if not downright dangerous — panaceas, some of them offered by doctors, some by quacks. Even some university-trained practitioners swore they could make a patient cancer-free.
It’s hard to blame anybody for trying, but this cure, reprinted in the Richmond Weekly Intelligencer in 1822 and which seems to recommend some kind of cauterization, would be impossible to vouch for.
What is Indiana’s connection to one of Europe’s greatest unsolved mysteries: the whereabouts of Russia’s lost crown jewels? While some of the historic diadems are now back on display in Moscow, in the 1920s many were considered missing. Some are still unaccounted for. (One of the most credible stories claims that these famous gems lie buried in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.)
In 1922, former Indiana governor James P. Goodrich was allowed to take an unexpected peek at the elusive Romanov treasures when he went to the Soviet Union on a humanitarian aid mission. And what he saw in Moscow bedazzled him.
Goodrich, a native of Winchester, Indiana, was governor during World War I. A lifelong Republican, he is best known for signing statewide Prohibition into law in 1917. (He was also governor when women won the right to vote and when Indiana’s state park system was founded.) As a banker with a knack for investments, Goodrich was well-known for his success at marketing war bonds in Indiana, where sales skyrocketed. Yet the governor himself barely the survived the war years. In 1917, he contracted typhoid fever while visiting a northern Indiana prison. Then, a year later, Goodrich — like Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 — was struck by a streetcar, an accident that nearly killed him and left him walking with a cane for the rest of his life.
The Hoosier governor ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920, losing to Warren Harding. Yet once Goodrich was out of the governor’s office in 1921, President Harding persuaded the banker to accept a humanitarian post in the new Soviet Union.
Tsarist Russia had collapsed during World War I. During the Russian Revolution, Tsar Nicholas and his family were executed — reportedly while wearing hidden gems sown into their clothing — and the country engaged in a bloody civil war. Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks came out on top in 1922, the year Goodrich arrived in Russia. Yet by then, the combined effects of war, revolution, and famine had killed, and were still killing, millions.
Americans had already gotten involved in bringing humanitarian relief to hungry, war-ravaged Europe. In addition to the work of American Mennonites, Jews, and Quakers, future U.S. president Herbert Hoover was directing the new American Relief Association (ARA).
Hoover, a geologist and Quaker from Iowa who had spent years living overseas, where he managed mining operations in Australia, China and Russia, was also a successful businessman. During World War I, he managed food drives to help war-torn Belgium. As director of various food initiatives, Hoover — known as “The Great Humanitarian” and “Master of Emergencies” — worked with the American Friends Service Committee and other groups to bring aid to millions of desperately hungry Europeans, including Russians, who soon found themselves caught in one of the deadliest famines in human history.
Herbert Hoover was a friend to Russians, but not to communism. He wanted Russians to see Americans’ generosity, and America to see the results of communist cruelty. When James Goodrich and his wife Cora left Winchester, Indiana, in 1921, sailing aboard the SS Kroonland for Europe, this was partly so that the former Hoosier governor could witness “what the real difficulties of this foolish economic system [Communism] are.” Goodrich agreed to come and learn “the truth about Russia,” which turned out to be more horrifying than he bargained for. He would spend two years there, off and on, as an ARA commissioner. Yet ten years before the U.S. finally recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, Goodrich urged opening up diplomatic relations — partly because he saw the USSR as an unavoidable fact and partly because the survival of millions of humans might be found to rely on American aid.
Almost as soon as Goodrich got to Russia, he began to witness signs of a massive, mostly man-made disaster. Like most famines, the one that killed six million Russians in the early 1920s was almost completely avoidable. Nature wasn’t the biggest culprit. The real killers were politics, greed, war, and deliberate human cruelty.
As early as 1919, Hoover’s food administration had offered help to Russia on the condition that Western relief agencies be given control of Russian railroads. This was to make sure that food reached the people who needed it. Lenin turned down that offer. During the Russian Civil War, armies used food as a weapon, stealing it from peasant farmers. Russian peasants didn’t often support the Communists, and when they saw their food being stolen, many farmers cut their production back. Other peasants, especially wealthier ones, were accused of hoarding food. By 1921, Lenin — whom Governor Goodrich met — was ordering that food be deliberately taken away from peasants to crush their resistance to the revolution.
As he toured parts of the rural Volga region, Goodrich saw almost no dogs. Dogs had been turned into sausages. He found small children shivering and crying in sheds, abandoned or orphaned and living off cabbage leaves. Many Russians were on the edge of death. One winter, he saw a man eating green bread. Asked what it was, the man told him this was “camel’s dung mixed with grass.”
Though Goodrich saw mass graves, he was spared some of the worst sights, which involved cannibalism. Yet his testimony about the Russian famine helped double the amount of relief authorized by Congress. He encouraged American cooperation in rebuilding Russia, which, he suggested, would partly require the export of American tractors.
At the height of the famine, it is estimated that the American Relief Administration was feeding about 10 million people a day. This was only possible after Lenin finally agreed to let Western aid groups feed his own people.
So where do the crown jewels come in?
Although the Bolshevik government rejected capitalism, it needed more than just Western food. It needed Western money. As in Ireland during the Famine of the 1840s, Lenin’s government was exporting grain for cash while millions starved at home. Money from abroad was to be used to build up Soviet industry. Yet in addition to money from grain, the Bolsheviks also looked for outright loans from the West.
As collateral, Lenin was willing to use the most valuable items the Communists could get their hands on — the imperial Russian crown jewels.
The American press was full of wild stories about these gems in the 1920s. As the South Bend News-Times told Hoosiers with disgust the Romanov dynasty’s orbs, scepters, crowns, and dazzling pearls were thought to be worth about 60 billion dollars, “equal to all the money that will be earned this year by all Americans combined,” the editors thought. The Hoosier paper considered the allure and value attached to those fabled gemstones “preposterously ridiculous” — especially when so many humans were dead or dying of hunger.
To keep their treasures safe, the Romanov family had broken up the jewel collection, sending some of it to a monastery in Siberia. According to a 2009 story in the Los Angeles Times, another pile of the gems was clandestinely buried in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert when a Russian aristocrat who was hauling them to China got attacked by bandits. He later fled to America, married an American silver heiress, and never made it back to dig up the jewels.
Though Lenin’s government had confiscated some of the stones and was offering them as collateral on foreign loans, the only Western country that took up the offer was the new Republic of Ireland. After photographs were taken in Moscow in 1922, the Russian imperial crown traveled to New York City, where it was given to Irish revolutionaries in exchange for a loan of just $25,000. Almost forgotten, the Tsars’ crown stayed in Dublin until 1950, when the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin finally repaid the loan and got the crown back.
On a trip to Russia in June 1922, Goodrich had an unusual experience. One morning he was approached by a Soviet official and asked if he wanted to see some unnamed government property. Goodrich was annoyed, thinking this was probably going to be a pile of furs in a warehouse. When he and his wife Cora arrived, however, they were introduced to a jeweler, who started showing them a book full of photos of rare gems.
To the Goodriches’ surprise, the jeweler then had three iron chests brought out. Once the latches were broken open in the presence of “Red Guards,” the former Hoosier governor and first lady found themselves staring directly at the dazzling Russian crown jewels.
On June 14, 1922, Goodrich recorded in his diary:
It was a perfectly marvelous collection. The old Czar’s crown, the crowns of the Czarina and the various members of the royal family, with diamonds varying from one to 200 carats, all of the purest water, and wonderful color. Crowns of diamonds, of diamonds and pearls, emeralds, rubies and amethysts; collars, bracelets, necklaces. The scene beggared description. I never saw anything like it; it did not seem possible there could be so many jewels in the world.
He looked at the gems “until my eyes were weary with the blaze of light.”
When this news got back to America, the press jumped on the story about the Hoosier governor’s encounter with the “royal toys.”
The South Bend News-Times stated that “Mrs. Goodrich wore a crown worth $4,000,000 which had belonged to the Empress Elizabeth. . . The governor remarked he didn’t want to see Mrs. Goodrich become accustomed to wearing $4,000,000 hats.”
Details about which jewels they saw are sketchy, but the crowns may have once been owned by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. Among the greatest gems in the collection is the famous Orloff diamond. An ancient stone first mentioned almost 2,000 years ago in India, that diamond had been stolen from a Hindu temple in the 1700s by a French soldier and later came into the hands of Catherine the Great as a gift from her lover.
Governor Goodrich wasn’t entirely sure why Lenin’s representatives showed him the crown jewels. He guessed it was so he could go home and assure the U.S. government that the Soviets hadn’t broken up the hugely valuable collection. Even communist countries needed capital, yet diamonds and pearls were useless to the Communists unless they could be exchanged for money. Used as a guarantee on loans, the Romanov gems would, it was hoped, help the USSR develop industrially.
The American government wasn’t interested in the jewels, but the press and public definitely were. Stories started to crop up. In January 1923, a special agent from the U.S. Treasury Department told the New York Times that the crown jewels are “hardy perennials and bloom the year round. We count the day lost when we don’t get a report about them.”
In Brooklyn that month, a rumor was going around that James Jones, an African American seaman who had sailed on a vessel out of Vladivostok, Siberia, was actively smuggling jewels for Soviet agents. In 1920, Jones mysteriously died at sea off the coast of Gibraltar. His embalmed body was sealed up in a metal coffin — alongside the crown jewels, so the story went.
Federal officials from the Treasury Department dismissed the tale at first. But by February 1923, reports of suspicious activity around Jones’ grave at a military cemetery in Brooklyn forced the War Department to station an armed guard there. To save expense on the guard, the coffin was exhumed, as heavily-armed soldiers stood by. No crown jewels were found inside, but “reports” continued to come in.
James Goodrich lived in Winchester until his death in 1940. Though he never approved of Communism and insisted that Russia’s new government was no better than “cheap east side politicians and shopkeepers,” it was said that the only time he ever approved of a Democratic politician’s actions was when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized the USSR in 1933.
In June 1923, when the news came out that Lenin’s government was still exporting grain — even as millions of tons of it came in from American farmers — Herbert Hoover’s ARA shut down its aid operations in Russia. The Soviet government took over the feeding of its own people, but had to work for years to undermine the good impressions that American relief workers had made. Yet when Stalin came to power in the 1930s, “execution by hunger” continued. In 1932-33, a decade after the first famine, another six million people in the USSR were starved to death in the name of revolution.
A few weeks ago, we ran a post on how peach stones, chestnuts, and coconut shells got enlisted into World War I. In 1917, the U.S. government began a campaign to gather fruit pits and other agricultural waste that could be used in manufacturing charcoal filters for army gas masks — a life-saving device partly invented by Hoosier chemical engineer James Bert Garner.
The “war to end all wars,” of course, failed to do so. Twenty years later, America was on the verge of an even worse conflict. And in 1942, the familiar specter of junk rallies and war-bond drives returned to American newspapers.
Across the U.S., papers advertised the army and navy’s dire need for rubber, scrap iron, and “anything made of metal.” Most of the ads were nationally syndicated, and no one local newspaper can take credit for these darkly comic illustrations of ordinary domestic items turned into deadly weapons.
Like a scene from Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, old radiators, lawn-mowers and worn-out tires were turned into instruments of fighting and killing, from rifles and shells to grim-looking gas masks and hand grenades.
The government’s scrap conservation campaign broke down the math. This ad comes from Dale in Spencer County, Indiana, just down the road from Lincoln’s boyhood home and the small town of Santa Claus.
Drawn by an illustrator for the Conservation Division of the War Production Board, the illustrations were taken out and paid for by the American Industries Salvage Committee. Business at local scrap yards was booming in 1942. The ads stated that scrap material would be purchased at government-controlled prices.
In what was actually one of America’s first recycling programs, the call went out for refrigerators, garbage pails, broken garden tools, lengths of pipe, burlap bags, manila bags, copper wires, zinc, lead, tin, and any kind of old rubber. Rusty scrap metal, the committee reminded Americans, was “actually refined steel, with most impurities removed — and can be quickly melted with new metal in the form of pig iron to produce highest quality steel for our war machines.” In 1942, the U.S. armed forces — just months after Pearl Harbor — needed an additional six million tons of scrap steel for weapons production.
The government also encouraged “good Americans” to give up something else: Sunday country drives and “joy-riding.” Unnecessary shopping trips to town and failure to use public transportation sapped gasoline at a time when Nazi submarines were torpedoing hundreds of oil tankers off the Atlantic Coast. Unnecessary driving and fast driving also added to the rubber shortage by wearing down tires. So did driving with the wrong tire pressure, as a Phillips 66 ad informed the patriotic public.
If only that conservation effort could have carried over into peace time. . . no matter how restless the joy-riding doggies got:
Since farmers were likely to have plenty of scrap metal hanging around their property, the salvage committee’s ads tended to target rural areas and small towns. Dale, Indiana, was one, but the illustrations appeared nationwide.
Beneath the dark humor of seeing a Japanese soldier knocked on the head with grandma’s laundry iron or her kitchen teapot, some of these cartoons were fairly racist. Though cartoonists are usually allowed to take liberties to provoke discussion, artists at all times –especially in war time — have sometimes helped destroy innocent lives.
The hysteria that targeted German Americans during World War I — when Indiana and many other states went so far as to criminalize teaching German to children — rarely occurred during World War II, though about 11,000 German nationals were detained. The same can’t be said of the fate of Japanese Americans, over 100,000 of whom were herded up and imprisoned in detention camps out West.
Yet as always, some Americans rose above hysteria and fear. In 1942, Quaker-led Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, became one of the few U.S. schools to allow Japanese Americans to continue their education during the war. The decision of Earlham’s President William Cullen Dennis, who cooperated with the Japanese American Student Relocation Council to admit six students from the newly-militarized West Coast, was controversial.
(Kokomo Tribune, September 30, 1942.)
In September 1942, the local branch of the Junior Order of American Mechanics, a youth group, sent Earlham’s president a resolution protesting the students’ presence on campus. The OAM was originally an anti-Catholic and nativist fraternal group organized in Philadelphia in 1844 to resist the hiring of “cheap foreign labor” (i.e., Irish). Richmond’s Junior OAM captured a lot of local sentiment and tried to encourage other “patriotic and fraternal orders” in town to follow suit. Richmond Mayor John Britten was forced to advise the FBI of the “hostile attitude of the community toward the students.”
(Rushville Republican, September 30, 1942.)
Dennis stood by his decision, citing that the move was in accordance with the school’s Quaker religious principles and “the ideals for which we are fighting.” Yet he refused to denounce the Federal government’s original decision to move them off the West Coast. The Japanese pupils — along with about 1,900 others now scattered across the Midwest and East — were kept under FBI surveillance.
Earlham wasn’t alone. A total of eight Indiana schools, all but one of them religious, admitted displaced Japanese Americans. These were DePauw, Valparaiso, Hanover, Franklin, Manchester, St. Mary’s (Notre Dame), Indiana Technical College, and Earlham. The Indianapolis-based Disciples of Christ also led a campaign critical of the West Coast interment camps and issued a resolution condemning the incarceration of 100,000 Americans without fair trial, calling it a mockery of American principles. That church was active in helping resettled families find jobs and housing across the Midwest.
(Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command in San Francisco, issued orders forbidding Japanese American students at Oregon State University from using the library after 8:00 p.m. Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 3, 1942.)
(Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 2, 1942.)
Edward T. Uyesugi was one of the students who came to Earlham in 1942. Born in 1922 and raised in Portland, Oregon, he was one of the ten students forced to leave Willamette University in Salem after the Federal “evacuation” of April 1942. In Richmond, Uyesugi studied biology. He also met Paoli native Ruth Farlow, who was studying Latin, English and journalism. Ruth, a Quaker, wrote for the Richmond Palladium (currently being digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles.) The couple went on to get married in Washington State in 1946.
Farlow had gotten her first teaching job in Oregon, but was fired after one semester for her marriage to a Japanese American. (“Interracial marriage” was frowned on in every state and was still illegal in many.) The Uyesugis eventually came back to Indiana, raising three children in Ruth’s native Orange County, where he worked as an eye doctor and she taught journalism at Paoli High School. In 1999, Ruth Uyesugi was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. She’s also the author of a 1977 autobiographical novel, Don’t Cry, Chiisai, Don’t Cry, a war-time love story set in Indiana and Oregon.
(Ruth Farlow, seated center, and Edward Uyesugi, right, both served on the editorial staff of the Earlham Post in 1944. Uyesugi wrote a sports column and also played on the football team.)
In 1942, Hoosier readers may have had their first encounter with a rising star in the world of illustration — Theodor Seuss Geisel, a third-generation German American originally from Springfield, Massachusetts. Geisel studied at Dartmouth and Oxford before joining the staff of the humor magazine Judge in New York City in the 1920s. His first published cartoon came out in the Saturday Evening Post in July 1927. Surviving the lean times of the Great Depression by drawing ads and logos for companies like General Electric, Standard Oil, and the Narragansett Brewing Company, Geisel got his first major national exposure during a Standard Oil campaign to market motor boat lubricants.
Nearly expelled from Dartmouth as an undergrad for drinking gin during Prohibition, the quirky illustrator had been banned from publishing cartoons in the college’s writing magazine. He got around it by signing himself “Dr. Seuss,” his middle name. (The name is actually pronounced “Soiss,” but the illustrator gave in to the American pronunciation.)
By 1942, Dr. Seuss — a fervent, scathing opponent of isolationists and pacifists who wanted to keep America out of World War II — was busy trying to lubricate public opinion instead of motor boats. Though frequently mistaken as a Jew because of his name and his appearance, Dr. Seuss was a German Lutheran.
(An anti-isolationist cartoon published in 1941, before America went to war against Germany, Italy and Japan.)
In the wake of American entry into the war — and before he was ever at work on The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat — Dr. Seuss drew cartoons for the U.S. Treasury Department as part of a war-bond drive. Roundly criticized since the 1940s, his caricatures of Japanese with buck teeth, pig noses and insect bodies came out in many American newspapers, including the tiny Dale News. Though Dr. Seuss deserves credit for apologizing for these cartoons after the war, the dehumanization of Asians may have influenced the U.S. decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945, an event that was less likely to befall a Western European nation.
While “Dr. Seuss” also depicted Hitler with a pig snout and animal body, Geisel’s 1942 cartoon of Japanese Americans receiving TNT and awaiting orders from Japan put him squarely in the tradition of fearing immigrants as “enemy aliens” — the long list of newcomers accused of undermining American safety and values. In the century before World War II, American periodicals were full of this material, some of it drawn by reformers like German American immigrant Thomas Nast. Only the characters changed — from Catholics, Jews, and Chinese to Germans, Japanese and Muslims.
(“Waiting for the Signal from Home,” Dr. Seuss, 1942.)
The “Tokio Kid” series, commissioned by the Douglass Aircraft Company and subsidized by the War Commissions Board, joined in on the recycling campaign. Posters showing the Japanese Emperor thrilled by Americans’ waste of items like scrap metal were little different from equally demonic depictions of the German Kaiser during World War I, but both episodes played off ethnic and racial prejudice. (Reform politics and bogus science were as guilty as everyday racism here. During World War I, “progressive” advocates of Prohibition had made identical charges against German American beer-lovers — for unpatriotically wasting grain. Dr. Seuss’ own father, brew master at the family-owned Highland Brewery in Springfield, Massachusetts, was driven out of his job when Prohibition shut the place down in 1919.)
As for social reform, that would have to wait for peacetime. It’s not clear who exactly cartoonist Nate Collier was satirizing when this illustration came out in the Dale News in February 1942, three months after Pearl Harbor. But we think we can guess.
When the Hagerstown Exponent published this headline in October 1923, the editor had gotten the facts wrong. The Ku Klux Klan’s powerful “Indiana Realm” had not bought itself a venerable institution of higher learning that summer. But it had come close. For a few weeks, Valparaiso University — sixty miles from downtown Chicago, and formerly one of the largest private schools in the U.S. — teetered on the brink of becoming a “Ku Klux Kollege.” Once praised as the “Poor Man’s Harvard,” in 1923 many feared the university was about to become a “hooded Harvard.”
“Valpo” is a thriving university today, with some of the best programs in Indiana — and has no connections whatsoever to the KKK. But a century ago, after its rapid rise to national fame, the highly-respected school was caught up in hard times. Yet its sudden nose-dive after World War I took many alumni and faculty by surprise.
Founded by Methodists in 1859, the original school — Valparaiso Male and Female College — took in students of all levels, from elementary to college age. The pioneer school was also one of the few co-educational institutions in America before the Civil War. That war wreaked havoc on enrollment, leading the college to close its doors in 1871. Two years later, it reopened as a teacher’s college. Until 1900, the school went by the name Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute.
Renowned for its economical tuition and low cost of living — as well as for admitting women and students from overseas — by 1905 “Old Valpo” enjoyed one of the highest enrollments of any private university in the U.S. With over 5,000 students that year, the school ranked just behind Harvard. Its affordability to working-class Americans led many to praise it as the “Poor Man’s Harvard.” (Harvard itself was sometimes jokingly called “The Rich Man’s Valpo.”)
Students from all over the U.S. and the world trained to be public school teachers here. Some were busy teaching English to immigrants employed at Gary’s new steel mills. Valpo’s programs in law, engineering, medicine, and dentistry were well-regarded. Its College of Medicine and Surgery had been brought over from Northwestern University in Chicago. When the college moved back to the Windy City in 1926, it formed the nucleus of Loyola’s medical program.
Harvard and Yale might have been too good to take out ads in Chicago newspapers. But this ad from 1905 appeared next to one for another great school on the rise, the University of Notre Dame.
Yet once enrollment peaked in 1907, venerable Valpo plunged into an unexpected, two-decade-long decline. After accreditation of American colleges and universities began at the turn of the century — partly driven by a desire to standardize high-school education and thereby “unify” the country — Valparaiso failed to win accreditation. Suddenly unable to transfer their credits, current and prospective students found the school a harder sell, especially as affordable new state universities, teachers’ colleges, and urban night schools entered the competition. Valpo’s lack of a football team and Greek life were another stumbling block, though it hurriedly scraped together a football program in the early 1920s and even played Harvard. (It lost 22-0 in its first game.)
World War I issued another blow. The famously affordable university had always attracted international students. (One of the more unusual of them was future Soviet Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin, “Stalin’s Man in China,” who would die in a Siberian gulag in 1951.) But after 1914, many of these students left to fight for their European homelands in WWI. When America entered the war against Germany in 1917, student military enlistment left Valpo’s academic and residence halls almost empty. And with plenty of war-related jobs now available to women, female students also tended to skip out on college for the duration of the war.
In 1919, Indiana passed a new law requiring private colleges to maintain a half-million dollar endowment. Cash-strapped Valparaiso University, burdened with a $350,000 debt (almost $5 million in today’s money) faced the real prospect of bankruptcy. The school’s trustees even tried to sell it to the state that year for use as a public teacher’s college, but the Indiana legislature declined the offer.
Holding on by a thread — and led by controversial president Robert Hodgdon, who turned out to hold fake medical degrees — desperate trustees and the equally-desperate citizens of Valparaiso sought new owners. That list of potential “saviors” grew to include the Presbyterian Church, the International Order of the Moose, and the owner of Cook Laboratories in Chicago, who wanted to turn the campus into a syringe factory and provide 1,000 jobs to townsfolk. (Their prosperity would have been shattered by the school’s demise.)
Then, in July 1923, a new bidder expressed interest.
For some residents of Valparaiso — which hosted a parade of at least 5,000 Klansmen in May 1923, an event that attracted 30,000 visitors from around the Midwest — the offer to take over the struggling school seemed like a God-send. Academics, alumni, and many students, especially “undesirable” Catholics and Jews, thought differently. Many teachers and students were ready to pack up and leave.
But incredibly, as far as the trustees were concerned, the question of selling Valparaiso University to the Ku Klux Klan mostly came down to whether that organization itself had the resources to made good on its own offer.
The efforts of the revived Klan proved more “sophisticated” than that which had died out in the 1870s. Klan rallies and parades occurred all over the North and West, from Chicago to L.A., from Oregon to Maine. And the flag they waved wasn’t the rebel flag. KKK membership in those years peaked in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, “ground zero” for some of the biggest Klan activity. D.C. Stephenson, the “Grand Old Man of the Klan,” operated mostly out of his headquarters in Indianapolis, a city that was almost taken over by Klansmen and Klanswomen; It was also a city that fought a valiant battle in the press, courts, and churches to discredit the “Invisible Empire.”
The “Second” Klan defined itself as a hyper-patriotic organization of white Protestant Americans and was more mainstream than at any other point in its history. During the ’20s, the Klan was less concerned with suppressing African Americans than with stemming the tide of new immigration coming from Southern and Eastern Europe — including to heavily-industrial towns like Gary, just thirty miles from Valparaiso. The Klan sought to cripple an imaginary conspiracy contending that Catholics wanted to destroy American public schools and hand the U.S. government over to the Pope. It also warned of the activities of “Jewish Communists” and anarchists in the wake of the Russian Revolution and the 1919 Red Scare. (The fear provoked by deadly anarchist bombings wasn’t entirely groundless, however.) Prohibition of alcohol, another cause taken up by the KKK, was a barely concealed way to crack down on immigrant culture.
These views were shared by thousands of Americans who didn’t belong to the Klan. The Invisible Empire even found strange bedfellows in Progressivism, including women’s suffrage advocates, who espoused some of the same “reform” ideals promoted by the “kluckers,” albeit with different objectives. Newspapers, big mansions, and church services lent the “hoodlums” in “nighties,” as a Muncie editor quipped, credentials that midnight lynchings in cornfields didn’t. In Indianapolis, the organization considered establishing a Klan hospital on North Alabama Street for white Protestants only. (The hospital was never built.) Acquiring a university would help the Klan project a cleaner image. And since Valparaiso was a teacher’s college, the Klan could now propagandize American children from within schools.
By July of 1923, the trustees of Valparaiso University and the Klan were talking. Representing the Klan was Milt Elrod, whom Stephenson had recently made editor of The Fiery Cross, the major KKK newspaper, printed at the Century Building on South Pennsylvania Street in downtown Indianapolis.
Encountering obvious concern from much of the faculty and student body, Elrod assured the press that a Ku Klux takeover of the school would change nothing except the trustee board, which was to be packed with Klan appointees. The school would remain open to women and would be non-sectarian, Elrod insisted — though Catholic students were already beginning to drop out and enroll elsewhere. Ludicrously, Elrod initially claimed that the Klan would admit any applicant who met the proper “educational requirements,” including “Negros,” though he later admitted that the school would not have the “proper” facilities for African Americans. (The sad irony is that Valparaiso University did not admit African Americans even before the Klan tried to buy it.)
Few people — the trustees excepted, it seems — took Elrod at his word when he said that nothing else would change at the university except skyrocketing enrollment and the return of its once prestigious reputation. (There were rumors that it would be renamed “National University”). Yet Elrod’s enemies had already come out. In The Fiery Cross, he was busy singling out “un-American” and “alien” opponents. Elrod may have been quick to pick up on campus rumors that Catholic priests from Notre Dame had visited town, spurring the Klan to act soon and not be outbid by the “agents of Rome.”
Heavy opposition came from the press. Even in Indiana, major urban newspapers tended to be anti-Klan, including the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis News and most famously the Indianapolis Times, which won a Pulitzer for its battle against the group. Some of the sharpest criticism, however, came from George R. Dale, the wildly colorful and energetic editor of the Muncie Post Democrat. Dale, who endured death threats and assaults on his life and that of his family, ran a paper that could be called The Onion of its day. His paper, virtually one long, rambunctious op-ed piece, employed a folksy humor to give sucker-punches to the powerful “Indiana Realm.” Dale went on to become mayor of Muncie in 1930.
Editors and cartoonists nationwide– including E.H. Pomeroy, an illustrator for the Valparaiso Vidette — tore into Elrod’s proposal once it came out that he might, in fact, get hold of the $350,000 in cash needed to bail the school out of debt. (Elrod also promised that the Klan would set it up on a million-dollar endowment, twice the amount required by Indiana law.) As the story spread across the U.S., an illustrator in the New York Call went straight for the jugular, publishing a parody of Dante’s Inferno — “Abandon All Brains Ye Who Enter Here.” The cartoon depicts book-burning, classes in whipping and tar-and-feathering, a “Klinik” to teach “100% Americanism,” and a commencement day ceremony where students sport an unconventional new style of cap and gown.
Another critical broadside came from Helena, Montana. The writer in Helena’s Independent Record thought that a bout of education for “kluckers” might at least have a few salutary side-effects.
One editorial appeared in Robert W. Bingham’s Louisville Courier-Journal. Bingham fought a crusade against Southern poverty and criticized Fascism before even Franklin D. Roosevelt denounced it. “Ku Klux and Kolleges” may have been Bingham’s own editorial. It asks if there is no provision in the Indiana school’s original charter to prevent the sale to the Klan. The Courier-Journal also pointed out that many teachers in Kentucky had been trained at Valparaiso in its better days, and that Kentuckians should be concerned about its ultimate fate.
Though excitement among some Valparaiso citizens allegedly ran high, Milt Elrod was probably too quick to make blustery promises about the Klan’s own financial strength. His proposal to buy the school wasn’t a “joke,” but Elrod was a notorious booster and propagandist.
Through the sale of thousands of robes, newspaper subscriptions, and membership fees, the “Imperial hierarchy” of the Klan had amassed huge fortunes for itself. D.C. Stephenson had gone from being a poor coal dealer in Evansville to a wealthy man by age 33, but he squandered Klan money on liquor, women, cars, and a yacht. Even the $350,000 needed to buy the Valparaiso campus — not to mention the $1,000,000 offered as an endowment — was apparently beyond the ability of bumbling Klan leadership to come up with (or hang onto).
The American press and higher education breathed a sigh of relief when, after just a few weeks, Elrod feebly announced that the Klan had changed its mind due to “legal technicalities.” Some papers reported that — true to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s suggestion — a clause in the school’s original charter had been discovered, preventing control by any “fraternal, benevolent or charitable order” (an inaccurate description of the Klan, at any rate).
“Legal technicalities” caused by the school’s charter might be a myth, a clever way for both the university and the Klan to save face after the embarrassing episode. Most newspapers ran with it, but there seems to be little evidence that university trustees would have called off the sale if enough cash had been put down in front of them.
Fortunately, Valparaiso University never fell into KKK hands. With the corrupt Klan itself in disarray by 1925, and with Stephenson headed to the nearby state prison at Michigan City for rape and murder, any future Klan bids were out of the question.
In the summer of 1925, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod rescued the run-down, almost abandoned school. Lutherans at that time had several colleges and seminaries around the U.S., but no university. They announced vague plans to use it as a theology school or teachers’ college. Securing the deal was assisted by Reverend John C. Baur, a Lutheran minister and noted opponent of the Ku Klux Klan in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Under Lutheran guidance, Valparaiso University’s fortunes gradually turned around, though it barely survived the Great Depression. By the 1950s, “Old Valpo” once again ranked among Indiana’s and the nation’s best colleges, a reputation it still holds today.
Hoosier State Chronicles provides searchable access to several years of The Fiery Crosson our site.