“There was a lot of change that was going on in the 1920s with the automobile and people moving to the cities,” she said. “They wanted to keep the immigrant population down. They were very anti-Catholic and (opposed to people) who were seen as not being good American citizens.”
Area historical societies said, for the most part, the Klan gathered to socialize.
Wilma Wolner, director of the Watonwan County Historical Society, said the county’s KKK chapter seemed to have one main purpose: “partying.”
“They did burn a cross in St. James,” Wolner said. “(But mostly) it was a social club.”
The Midwest’s last KKK grand dragon was the mayor of St. James, Clyde E. McNaught. He was a World War I veteran, a Mason and a doctor in St. James who opened a 12-bed hospital. Tom Anderson, president of the Watonwan County Historical Society-St. James Chapter, said the local sheriff also was a KKK member.
Anderson said he started digging more into the county’s KKK history when a resident donated a white robe that had been in their family. (The regalia is on display at the Watonwan County Historical Society-St. James Chapter.) He said he too learned that the second wave was more politically and socially motivated, not violent.
“It was kind of a little bit different organization then,” he said. “It was more of a patriotic organization that kind of sprang out of World War I. … A lot of folks are going into this with a present-day attitude (about KKK violence and terrorism), and it really at the time probably wasn’t that.”
21,000 attend KKK event
The St. James chapter also was connected with Fairmont’s, which had a big delegation. In July 1926, 21,000 people attended a Klan celebration at Interlaken Park, which is about twice the size of the city’s current population.