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:
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.
If you enjoy today’s “farcical newspaper” The Onion, in 1922 you might have sent in two dollars for a subscription to George R. Dale’s eccentric and fascinating Muncie Post-Democrat.
While The Onion lampoons everything from politicians to microwaves to bad tippers, George Dale — Indiana’s Jazz Age version of a Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart — focused his ridicule on a powerful group famous for wearing nighties and “mother goose caps” around cornfields at night. That group, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan, whose grip on big cities and small towns alike led to its near-domination of state politics in the 1920s.
Muncie and neighboring towns like Marion, Elwood, Fairmount and New Castle were once a stronghold of the Klan. Warding off physical assaults and threats on his life, Dale fought in the belly of the beast, bravely using humor to expose a group that lured in tens of thousands of Hoosiers, many from the middle class, under the banner of “100% Americanism.”
Hoosier State Chronicles, in cooperation with Ball State University Libraries’ Digital Media Repository, is proud to bring a long run ofDale’s Muncie Post-Democrat online, from 1921 through 1950. Here’s a brief bio of the man whose war on the Klan is still little-known outside Muncie, where he served as mayor from 1930 to 1935. We’re including some of his best comic barbs here, lobbed at the not-so-Invisible Empire.
In 1930, a writer named W.A.S. Douglas wrote a long piece in The American Mercury, a magazine edited by the acerbic literary critic H.L. Mencken. (Mencken was a famous enemy of the Klan, though his own views bordered on anti-Semitism.) Douglas recalled that he first met George Dale during the 1925 trial of D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Klan in Indiana and many other Northern states. Though Stephenson was indicted for the kidnap, rape and murder of an Indianapolis stenographer, a crime that involved her near-cannibalization while he was raping her, since the trial was held in Klan-dominated Noblesville, the Klansman seemed confident that his political machine could get him off the hook. Stephenson, still in his thirties, was their “Old Man.”
“There were Klansmen all around [Stephenson],” Douglas wrote about the courtroom in Hamilton County, “at the counsel-table, in the jury box, in the audience, and guarding the doors of the courtroom. All were brothers in the secret bond.” Then Stephenson looked over and saw a “shabby little old man,” scribbling with a pencil while casting a look that seemed to bore “right into his brain.”
This was George Dale, “a white-haired little man, well into his sixties and with the seat worn out of his pants — a man who had become a joke all over the state because alone, broke, and kicked from pillar to post, he dared to fight. . .”
Born in 1867 in Monticello, Indiana, Dale — son of a Civil War veteran — was orphaned by age 18. He moved to Hartford City around 1885, where he worked for an uncle who owned the town’s first electric power plant. In his twenties, Dale founded the Hartford City Times, then the Montpelier Call. He married Lena Mohler in 1900 and the couple had seven children. Around 1920, the Dales came to Muncie on the eve of the Klan’s takeover there.
In a study conducted by Hoosier-born sociologist Robert Staughton Lynd and his wife Helen, Muncie became the first American town to ever be systematically dissected on a sociologist’s “operating table.” The Lynds chose Muncie mostly for its averageness. Their 1929 book Middletown wasn’t flattering. Nor was the description that W.A.S. Douglas left: “I well remember this Indiana city when it weltered in starkness; when it tucked its tail between its legs and ran from the sound and the smell of cowshed-perfumed klansmen…”
Douglas’ stereotype wasn’t totally accurate. Muncie wasn’t all Klan. And the most influential Klansmen weren’t farmers. Klan influence was strong in big cities, too, with large membership in Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis, where D.C. Stephenson turned out his own newspaper, The Fiery Cross. And in the ’20s, the Klan had more support in the Midwest than in the Deep South.
Klan ideology in the ’20s also differed from its focus during the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s. While never friendly to African Americans, the “second wave” of the Klan was mostly interested in halting immigration, undermining perceived Catholic and Jewish influence in American politics and schools, enforcing Prohibition, and protecting the “purity of American womanhood.” A new religious movement, Protestant fundamentalism, also fueled the Klan’s rise, with ideologues hijacking religion to stir up nativism. It’s no coincidence that 1925 was the year both of Stephenson’s trial in Indiana and the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.
George Dale and others went to work documenting the hypocrisy of the Klan’s basic principles — from “100% Americanism” to a ludicrous KKK resolution passed in Muncie proclaiming that Jesus Christ was a white Protestant native-born American and not a Jew.
The Klan didn’t invent nativism. Waves of immigrants like the Germans, Irish, Italians and Eastern European Jews all suffered the slander of earlier settlers. Anti-Semitism came into the mix whenever Jews joined labor unions, the Socialist Party, and supported the Russian Revolution. (D.C. Stephenson himself, however, had briefly been a Socialist in Oklahoma.)
When Dale turned the spotlight on anti-Catholicism, he had to deal with fears going back decades, all the way back to the Reformation and the roots of the war in Northern Ireland. As late as the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, many Americans feared that Catholics would take over American politics and schools, then hand the country over to the Pope.
Dale thought the Northern Irish roots of bigotry worth pointing out, especially when it turned out that a busy anti-Catholic editor had taken a long time to get American citizenship, something prized by the Klan.
When Dale took jabs at the shady goings-on in Newark, Ohio he was criticizing his own town on the sly. It’s hard to say how truthful Dale’s “reportage” was, but his satire cut to the bone.
When it came to mocking the thousands of women who got involved with the KKK, conventions regarding the treatment of “ladies” didn’t hold him back. Dale even used two prominent “Camelias” — as the Women of the Ku Klux Klan were known — as journalistic target practice. One was the infamous Helen Jackson (mentioned above), a bogus “escaped nun” who helped spread Klan propaganda around the Midwest. Jackson, daughter of Polish immigrants, had actually been a teenage prostitute who was sent to a Catholic reform school for “wayward” girls in Detroit. In fairness, her experience there was probably harsh, but her stories of escaping from a convent — stories she told in a book called Convent Cruelties — drew on generations of anti-Catholic fiction and folklore.
In the 1920s, Helen Jackson and a sidekick “ex-priest” — a French-Canadian Holiness preacher, L.J. King — gave lectures in American auditoriums and churches, where they mocked Catholic religious practices, spread fear about priestly tortures and Vatican takeover of the U.S., and incited riots, some of them deadly. Jackson and King were busy stirring up religious hatred in Indiana just before the crucial 1924 election, when Hoosiers put a Klansman, Ed Jackson — no relation to Helen — in the governor’s seat.
Dale lampooned her as just another fraudulent “Koo Koo klucker” interested in profiting off the sale of hate. He was eager to announce her arrival in Muncie in November 1922, when he could debunk her. The “ex-nun” Helen Jackson actually visited Muncie several times, causing so much trouble there that she eventually got kicked even by Muncie’s Klan-friendly police. Her companion, L.J. King, was also well-known to cops. When he started charging extra admission rates for “men’s only” lectures — where he made lurid allegations about sex in confessionals — a few towns, like Phoenix, drove him out for insulting women and for spreading “verbal filth.” George Dale, who was not Catholic, relished the rumor that King had once had links to an “Indian medicine show” and that his mother in Canada thought “he had always been a bad boy.” Jackson and King were on the road throughout the 1920s, critical operatives of the Klan.
A favorite target for Dale, however, was the influential Hoosier Quaker minister Daisy Douglass Barr, who headed the women’s auxiliary of the KKK. Barr had once been a well-known reformer in central Indiana, espousing Prohibition, shutting down red-light districts, and reforming prostitutes. Well-meaning reformers like her often had their dark side, however, as the history of the Indiana Women’s Prison illustrates. In theory, Klan rhetoric supported “womanly purity” and the banning of booze though a plethora of sex abusers, bootleggers, and rapists joined the rank and file of the Klan, including Stephenson, its leader. (W.S.A. Douglass referred to Indiana’s Grand Dragon as a “booze-soaked printer.”)
George Dale despised Daisy Barr, who lived in Indianapolis for years but was influential in Muncie politics and in her native Grant County next door. Dale put some of his best comic language to work to help take down Barr. Mocking the Klan’s absurd titles, he called her the “Quakeress Fakeress,” “Daisy Doodle Barr,” “champion Kluxerino of Indiana,” and “prize gold digger of the Klan.”
Investigations eventually exposed the Reverend Barr’s greed. The influential Quaker minister had pocketed a fortune from the sale of Klan robes to women. George Dale was quick to argue that the business of the KKK’s leadership, in fact, was just that — a business, one that fleeced “suckers” out of their “boob money.” Members got “nighties” in return.
The editor of the Muncie Post-Democrat wasn’t making millions from his poetry. Nor did exposing the “Ku Klux Quaker” or anybody else help ensure his personal safety. Yet in spite of death threats made against him and his family — with Klansmen shooting at him and attacking his home — Dale had the courage to continue publishing the names of Klansfolk in Ohio and Indiana as soon as he got his hands on membership lists. For all their parading through the streets, many members still wanted their involvement with the Invisible Empire kept secret — including gubernatorial candidate Ed Jackson himself. When the extent of Daisy Barr’s business with the Klan came out, she was forced to step down as chaplain of the Indiana War Mothers.
George Dale’s campaign against the KKK was part of a national movement to discredit it. Newspapers and religious leaders led the campaign. While religion had played a disturbing role in fueling the Klan’s growth, it also played a major role in debunking it. Over the next few decades, the opposition of Protestant ministers like Reinhold Niebuhr — not to mention Martin Luther King — helped erode support for the Klan, though the organization survives.
In 1923, Catholic members of the Indianapolis police force did their own part, breaking into a Klan office on College Avenue, stealing a membership list, and publishing it in Tolerance, an anti-KKK paper in Chicago. (In light of the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015, the activist group Anonymous is doing something similar, hacking websites and publishing the personal details, addresses and Twitter handles of suspected ISIS extremists.) Other Hoosier newspapers, including the Indiana Jewish Chronicle, the Indianapolis Freeman, the Indiana Catholic & Record, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indianapolis Times all attacked the misinformation and bigotry spouted by the Klan. D.C. Stephenson’s murder trial, which exposed the organization’s hypocrisy at its worst, also helped debunk the Klan credo.
Even in Muncie, the tide had begun to turn. Embattled and fearing for his life in the mid-1920s, George R. Dale won the 1929 mayor’s race. His first action was to fire the forty-two members of the Muncie police force.
An indictment for violating Prohibition laws in 1932 overshadowed Dale’s mayoral career. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt repealed Prohibition soon after coming into office, he issued Dale a presidential pardon on Christmas Eve 1933.
The editor’s journalistic battle for civil decency had taken a toll on his health and finances. He had also gone blind in one eye. Yet Dale was at work at a typewriter right up to the moment of his death. Surrounded by his family, and having just typed out one last editorial, George Dale died of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 27, 1936, at his home in Muncie.