Sunday, January 4, 2009

Books About the Early 1920's in WNY - Part 1

About a month ago I bought 2 books to read, little realizing at the time that they both occupied the same space in time - the early 1920's in WNY. They also intersect briefly regarding an incident or two in the much broader common ground of Prohibition. They were not on the same side.

After reading that the hooded knights had convened on Delaware Road and a few other places in Clarence in one of the books of Clarence alumnus Doug Kohler ('84), I became intrigued. This seemed at odds with the official bucolic history of the area. Some things just aren't spoken in polite company.

"Hooded Knights on the Niagara" by Shawn Lay covers the history of the resurrection of the kkk, their seduction of native-born white Protestants in the Buffalo area, and the attendant ugliness. Catholics and immigrants (many of whom were Catholic) were the main targets, with Prohibition being the glue that tied it all together.

Let me clarify now that the book is mainly centered in Buffalo and doesn't shed much light on the dark side of Clarence in the 1920's. Speculation has it that immigrants coming to work in the mines may have had some in an uproar, especially since many were the despised Catholics (heavily promoted by Protestant ministers were rumors of a plot by the Pope to take over America and become a foreign ruler, among other things).

German-Americans proved to be particularly susceptible to the allure of the group, perhaps in part due to being singled out and spat upon during the Great War. This was their chance to be oppressors rather than the oppressed. Curious how that works sometimes.

The preachers were on a rampage. Alcohol and Catholics were the main targets. Card playing and dancing were also looked upon as gateways to evils, which included gambling and prostitution.

The kkk sidled in and adjusted their agenda to specifically address these concerns, all to gain members and the accompanying dues and other fees. They also offered much valued secrecy and pageantry. The masons and other such organizations were big back then. Bottom line - money for the organization, anonymity for the members, power for both.

It was around this time that Stefano Magaddino moved to Niagara Falls.

More tomorrow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like it could have been written about my grandfather's environment, Becky ("Kaisertown" circa 1920). I look forward to reading this one.

A great book about Buffalo (mostly, but not entirely set in the '40s) is Verlyn Klinkenborg's The Last Fine Time. It blew me away, and is definitely worth the time. BBD and I grew up on the streets she wrote about.