The Ku Klux Klan in Maine! Nathan McFadden Dr. Tim King, Ph.D. and Katherine Schaefers, M.A.

Secret Societies of the Modern and Ancient World November 22, 2011 The Ku Klux Klan in Maine

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Reverend Dale Arndt walked into the Houlton Congregational Church on a cold December morning anxious to deliver her sermon. As was often the case, she had been up late the night before after procrastinating the previous week to write it. When inspiration finally struck, she had began to write about the clubs and organizations that people join, for the theme of her speech was about building community. The church membership was shrinking, and she was looking for a way to rouse the congregation to become more active and staunch the slow drip of attrition. The icebreaker joke was to ask if any members had joined a club where the members wore silly hats. When she asked the question, only two hands went up. It was an older couple sitting in the front row. Reverend Arndt expected to hear the Shriners, or perhaps the Odd Fellows, but their answer was far more shocking, for they responded, “The Ku Klux Klan.”1 When most people think of the Ku Klux Klan, they usually associate it with the southern United States, but by 1920 it had spread all over the midwest and reached the northeast as well. The Indiana Klan at one point controlled half of the general assembly, a large percentage of local offices, and even the governorship.2 A quick background is in order here, for this was a different organization than the original Ku Klux Klan which
1 2

Arndt, Dale. Personal Interview. November 1992.

M. William Lutholtz. Grand Dragon: D.C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana (Purdue: Purdue University Press, 1991), 330.

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had been branded a terrorist organization by federal grand juries.3 After the federal authorities had begun to prosecute Klan crimes the local law enforcement refused to, the Klan began recede4, and were replaced by other paramilitary groups like the White League or the Red Shirts. It is also necessary to note that this prosecution did not do anything to staunch the lynchings of Blacks in the south, as they reached a peak of 161 in 1892.5 Where did this new Klan come from? There are two events that are generally acknowledged as the genesis of the second Ku Klux Klan. First of all, the murder of Mary Phagan at a pencil factory in Georgia and the subsequent lynching of the convicted killer, Leo Frank6 (after his death sentence was commuted) would lead to Thomas E. Watson’s Jeffersonian magazine to call for a revival of the Klan. Soon-to-be Senator Watson proclaimed, “The North can rail itself hoarse, if it chooses to do so, but if [it] doesn’t quit meddling with our business and getting commutations for assassins and rapists who have pull, another Ku Klux Klan may be organized to restore HOME RULE.”7 Second, the D.W. Griffith film, The Birth of a Nation (originally titled The Clansman), was re3

Allen W. Trelease, White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979), 399.
4

As a note of interest, not related to this paper, there are many accounts of common criminals at the time dressing as Klansman to commit crimes, much like the Mormons dressing as Native Americans to kill pioneers as recounted in Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.
5 6

Archives at Tuskegee Institute

This story is bizarre in that the real murderer probably was a Black man named Leo Conley, but Leo Frank, a jew, was convicted, and later kidnapped from jail and lynched. The story is too long and convoluted to go into here, but I highly recommend And the Dead Shall Rise.
7

Steve Oney, And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), 605-606.

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leased in 1915. Griffith’s movie, while groundbreaking, was controversial for it’s sympathetic depiction of the Klan and derogatory depiction of Black americans. A third factor, which based on Arthur Raper’s work regarding the correlation of lynchings to the price of cotton, stating that lynchings rise as the price of cotton falls8, cannot be ignored. The price of cotton in 1914 was 7.35 cents versus 12.47 cents the year before 9. This new Klan revival was not going to focus on Blacks alone. While this new Klan would not be as secretive as it’s more terrorist cell ancestor, this next generation was setting up to operate more like a modern fraternal brotherhood. A failed preacher, William Joseph Simmons, whose “jacket lapels drooped from Knights Templars and Masonic pins”10 would be the founder of the new Klan and began the practice of burning crosses as shown in The Birth of a Nation, something the original Klan had never done. Like the senator that called for the revival, the new Klan would be anti-semetic, anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, too. This is how the Klan gets to Maine. Even to this day, the Black population of Maine is rather small, 1.2% according to the latest census.11 The fuel for Klan in Maine would be the clash between the nativist Protestant ‘Yankees’, descended from the older English colonials and the French and Irish Catholics. This had begun years earlier, two of the darkest moments being the burning

8

Arthur Raper, The Tragedy of Lynching, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1933) 30-31.
9

USDA Crop Data, Cornell Library

10

Steve Oney, And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), 606.
11

2010 Census - http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/23000.html

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of a church and the tarring and feathering of Father John Bapst, both in the 1850s.12 The Klan revival that was sweeping across much of America in the 1920s was embraced whole-heartedly in Maine as a large immigrant population was driving an economic boom based on textile, paper, and wood mills as well as ship building. The mostly Catholic immigrants of French heritage were beginning to feel their oats and wanted to take more political control. A great deal of the friction was not economic, surprisingly, but related to parochial schools and objection over the use of the King James Version of the Bible.13 In one of the more ironic twists of fate in American history, the Blaine Amendment, was proposed by US Representative James G. Blaine during his term as Speaker of the House in 1875. The text of the amendment reads like progressive legislation and is often venerated thusly 14 for it reads: “No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations."15

12

Louis Clinton Hatch, Maine: A History, Volume 1 (New York: American Historical Society, 1919), 305.
13

Unknown, “Rev. G.S. Robinson Tells Klan, Bible Must Be Restored”, Lewiston Evening Journal, March 24, 1923, final edition, Google Newspaper Archive, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=oQQVFBP0nzwC&dat=19230324&printsec=fr ontpage&hl=en (accessed November 30, 2011).
14

As a personal note, the true intentions of this amendment were never discussed in any Maine history classes I took as a youth, Blaine is a hero, our governor’s mansion is named for him.
15

http://www.blaineamendments.org/Intro/BAtext-US.html

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In reality, it was designed to prevent public money from going to Catholic parochial schools. While the national amendment failed, it passed most states, and was included on many new states’ constitution as a requirement for statehood. In another twist of irony, it did not pass Blaine’s home state. This would give the Klan revival a wedge issue later on. Enter F. Eugene Farnsworth, barber, hypnotist and failed movie studio owner.16 Farnsworth had previously fled the state in 1901 after accidentally killing his assistant on stage during his hypnosis act (by crushing his skull with sledgehammer). In order to beat a murder rap, Farnsworth was forced to admit that the hypnosis was faked and his assistant performed in full knowledge of this fact.17 Farnsworth would go around from town to town and speak in halls charismatically barking angry polemics against the Catholics, Knights of Columbus, and promising the lists of locations where one could get speakeasy rum or the names of 400 wanton women18 . He also pushed for the use of the bible in schools once more. He became the Kleagle, or main recruiter for the Klan in Maine. A job he lost for a few reasons, one being that four dollars out of every ten collected for membership seemed to stick in his pocket.

16

Unknown, “Farnsworth, Former Head of Klan, Dead”, Lewiston Evening Journal, March 15, 1926, final edition, Google Newspaper Archive, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=oQQVFBP0nzwC&dat=19260315&printsec=fr ontpage&hl=en (accessed November 30, 2011).
17

Sharon Cummins, “The King Kleagle of Maine’s Ku Klux Klan was an Opportunist”, Old News From Southern Maine, http://www.someoldnews.com/?p=869 (accessed November 29, 2011).
18

Unknown, “Farnsworth, Former Head of Klan, Dead”, Lewiston Evening Journal, March 15, 1926, final edition, Google Newspaper Archive, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=oQQVFBP0nzwC&dat=19260315&printsec=fr ontpage&hl=en (accessed November 30, 2011).

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The Klan was not so secret in Maine, although this may be because Farnsworth was more interested in making money than pushing the cause. They even held a large number of daylight parades (see photo in appendix). The membership in Maine was estimated at 20,000 (in a state of 768,000)19 and the organization was big enough to help elect a governor, Ralph Owen Brewster20 . While Brewster did not publicly endorse or acknowledge the Klan as his electoral base, his opponent, William Robinson Pattangall made it the message of his campaign and lost soundly. The Klan’s political power would be short-lived, like the rest of the country. Maine passed a law in 1926 which banned the use of the hood, forcing members to show themselves publicly, the national organization would follow suit in 1928. Connecting a face to odious beliefs certainly helped bleed away members. The Klan would campaign for Brewster in his first senatorial election as well in 1928, but at this point the Maine Republican party had split along Klan/anti-Klan lines, and this election would be the end of the Klan’s political power in Maine. By the mid-1930s, there are no more references to the Klan to be found in any of the old newspaper archives searched. The last vestiges of the Klan to be seen are the women’s auxiliaries, which was the organization that Reverend Ardnt’s parishioners had mentioned. Maine’s Klan certainly seems more innocuous than expected in terms of violence, which in no way makes it any easier to swallow. Part of the way New Englanders or anyone from the northeast self-identify themselves is progressive and tolerant, unless
19 20

1920 US Census - www.census.gov/dmd/www/resapport/states/maine.pdf

Interesting side note: Ralph Owen Brewster was played by Alan Alda in The Aviator as the senator that went against Howard Hughes, he was also an ally of McCarthy in the Senate. This was 12 year later, as Brewster would lose his first attempt at the Senate.

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you are dealing with sexuality -- those Puritan roots run deep! Looking at photos and reading the primary sources of this era are somewhat shocking, even though the basic story is pretty well known. What is more disappointing to the author is how little of this was discussed in school. The Maine curriculum in the 1990s required a full year of Maine history. The teacher mentioned the Ku Klux Klan in passing only twice, as a curiosity, not as a force that elected a governor. For a secret society to operate so openly then, why is it such a secret now? While certainly an interesting place, not much happens in the state of Maine in terms of filling a history book. This chapter deserves a lot more attention.

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AP-

PENDIX

This photo was taken a few miles from the house I grew up in the next town over. The church is still there, and barring the 4th of July parade, I have never seen this many people there. The photo is from 1926 and note the Union Jack flag, not a Confederate flag. (Copyright 2007 Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum - ok to use for educational purposes)