Shared from the 8/25/2016 Coastal Journal eEdition

Celebrating Maine's Midcoast Community for 50 years! Then & Now

A brief history of the Ku Klux Klan in Bath

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Picture

This week’s picture is a dramatic one, filled with people wearing a familiar uniform that symbolizes a great deal of things to a great many people.

The picture shows a parade of members of the Ku Klux Klan, marching down Centre Street in Bath on July 26, 1924. The parade included Klansmen from around the state, 26 automobiles, and was led by City Marshal Fred F. Hall on a horse. The parade then headed to Rock Hill Farm in West Bath to have a clam bake and burn a 54-foot-high cross.

The KKK had a relatively brief history in Maine, with the organization forming in the 1920s and fizzling out before the end of the decade. Since Maine has always had a relatively low African-American population, the Maine Klan’s hatred was mostly directed at Catholics.

The rapid rise in Klan membership, peaking at nearly 150,000 in Maine, stemmed largely from anti-Catholicism that had been present for much longer. The Know-Nothing Party, formed in the 1850s in Maine, was largely anti-Catholic and performed its most famous act in Bath, when members burned the Old South Church. Accounts said they were riled up by a street preacher, and formed into a crowd of roughly 1,000 people that marched on the church, smashed the pews, hoisted an American flag from the belfry, rang the bell, and set the church on fire.

The KKK in Maine stemmed largely from that same anti-Catholicism. A great deal of Catholic French-Canadian immigrants, as well as Irish, Italian, Polish, Lituanian, and other Catholics, had moved into communities across the state. Many worked at textile mills, of which Brunswick had several.

The KKK was introduced to Bath in October 1923, when F. Eugene Farnsworth was the principal speaker at an event about the Klan. Farnsworth is not to be confused with the Rockland museum of the same name. Eugene was a former barber, stage musician, and failed motion picture studio owner, and had nothing to do with the museum.

The Klan would reach the height of its power in 1924 with the election of Ralph O. Brewster to the position of Governor. However, by that point, its influence was already waning. By 1926, Klan headquarters had been seized in Portland for unpaid taxes. A 1928 Republican senatorial fight resulted in losses for all Klan-backed candidates, and signaled the end of any KKK influence in the state. By mid-1930, almost all of the Klan had disappeared.

These days, few people remember the KKK ever had a presence in Maine at all. But there are still a few uniforms, pictures, and other memorabilia around to remind us that Maine isn’t immune from the spectre of hate. cchase@coastaljournal.com

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