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Lykens Valley history sage takes issue with Lilly KKK monument inscription, telling how it is wrong



… A detailed look at that night in 1924


While I have done a great deal of research on the Ku Klux Klan riot that took place on April 5, 1924, I had never seen this compilation of newspaper stories about the riot and its aftermath.


The website has a photo of the Altoona Mirror from the following day, and it has a good photo of the old train station.


However, what is very interesting is that it takes issue with the wording on the plaque of the monument that was placed in Lilly a number of years ago.

Here is what it says,


Lilly is a small town in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, about 125 miles west of the Lykens Valley. On April 5, 1924, a riot took place there between members of the Ku Klux Klan and townspeople, and, about ten years ago the local and county historical society erected a monument there to commemorate the event. The monument features a bronze plaque depicting fifteen hooded Klansmen and two arms with clasped hands signifying the townspeople stopping the Klan and kicking them out of town.


The inscription on the monument is as follows:


KU KLUX KLAN RIOT – April 5, 1924


Lilly was targeted or a massive Ku Klux Klan demonstration because local coal mines had hired Catholic immigrants and fired Klan members. Four hundred hooded Klansmen arrived by train early on this April evening and paraded to Piper’s Hill where they burned two crosses and exploded multiple dynamite charges to intimidate the locals.

But the townspeople were not cowed! During the parade back to the trains, the Klansmen were jeered, pelted, roughed-up and hosed down. Gunfire broke out and lasted for several minutes. The Klansmen then fled in disarray to the trains, leaving Lily residents Philip Conrad, Cloyd Paul and Frank Miesko to die from gunshot wounds.


LILLY’S RESISTANCE TO THE KLAN’S DEMONSTRATION PROVED TO BE THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF THE KLAN’S ADVANCE IN THE NORTH-EASTERN UNITED STATES.


There are several problems with the inscription, including that the Lilly resistance was not the beginning of the end of the Klan’s advance. All the major Klan events in the Lykens Valley area took place after the Lilly riot and Klan activities did not begin to subside until after 1927. Secondly, not mentioned on the plaque, was that in the aftermath of the riot, a trial was held and both Klansmen and townspeople were convicted of rioting and each guilty person was sentenced to two years in the county jail. This certainly had a chilling effect on any townspeople in other parts of the state who thought of trying to stop the advance of the Klan.


Hugh Brady Conrad, on his blog, points out the following issues he has with the monument:


The plaque on the “historical” monument is wrong on a number of issues. The KKK did not come to Lilly because of the UMW [United Mine Workers]. That was furthest from its intent. The animus was all religious, and because Lilly was a very Catholic community along the Mainline of the Pennsylvania railroad, one in which the animus between Catholics and Protestants was intense and deep, they decided upon the small town of about 2,300 people, certain that the cross burnings would stir some deep passions within the residents.


They did, and at the end, it boiled over into violence. Three people — two Catholics, one Klan-sympathizer – were killed that night at the end…. [Note: The Altoona Mirror headlines indicate only two were killed. The third person died later, and his death was attributed to the riot].


Lykens Valley: History and Genealogy, A Project of Pa. Historian


Response


First, I — the author of that blog — was wrong, and he is correct about my verbiage. Two men, Phil Conrad and Cloyd Paul, died that night, but Frank Miesko lived for a time before passing away in Altoona Hospital. I did not note that fact.


Second, he is right about the fact that the riot did not “prove the 'beginning of the end of the Klan’s advance in the Northeastern United States'.”


As I wrote on the blog many times, the KKK was very powerful in Pennsylvania until 1927 or 28. As Professor John Craig noted in his excellent book about the Klan in Western Pa., the nasty vermin who invaded Lilly that day were doing so for one reason: Hatred of the Catholic religion.


The plaque repeats a narrative that the newspapers spewed after the attack, and it was a false story. Since the United Mine Workers had expelled all miners if they were members of the KKK, the members were no longer able to secure jobs in the mines. That is true.


However, the decision to come to Lilly was made long before the UMW decision was made, a choice made in a Klavern in Ferndale in early 1924, and Professor Craig substantiates that. Clearly, from any reading of the transcript of the subsequent trial in June, people could discern while immigration and foreign-speaking people were despised by the KKK, at that time, the primary focus of the Klan was restoring Protestantism to its rightful place in America — and the growing number of Catholics were preventing that.


In fact, the acronym UMW or the words United Mine Workers were never uttered in that trial. Some discussion about coal cars and the tie of the Piper family, who allowed the KKK demonstration to occur in their field, was made, but it was an allusion. Nothing about the union ties.


Further, as Craig indicates and Professor Philip Jenkins has indicated in his writings, the Klan believed that the Catholics were led by a foreigner, the pope, and that is one of the major reasons for their animus toward Catholics.




Conclusion


So, bottom line, the KKK came to Lilly not because of the United Mine Workers, but because it was a community that was at that time about 90 percent Catholic with a fiery Irish population who were repelled by the crosses and tore them down at every opportunity.


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