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The KKK killing of Phil Conrad in April, 1924 devastated my grandmother, Katie Brady Conrad

Katie Brady Conrad in the 1930s after the death of Phil

Katie Brady was leaving a country in which religious intolerance had created serious divisions. It was the Irish Catholics against the British Protestants, and battles were intense. However, the young child could never have envisioned that 44 years later, she would lose a child because of that same intolerance in America.

Unfortunately, Katie had experienced some difficult times in America prior to 1924. She became a widow with six children in 1915 with the unexpected death of her husband, Charles. Nine years later, Katie was faced with a mother's worst fear: burying a child. Phil Conrad, her second child, was killed by the K.K.K. in 1924 after a demonstration in Lilly. He was not directly involved in the riot that followed, but was one of three people killed in a skirmish at the end of the demonstration.

The emotional toll of his death was difficult on her. “It just devastated Mother,” Helen Conrad, the youngest of the family, recalled in 1994. “She walked to daily mass after that, and I think that she just wore herself down. She came out of it with high blood pressure.”

Researching the Northern Ireland-Catholic battle in Lilly

I started to research this event after my father, Hugh B. Conrad, Sr., passed away in 1989, giving us little of his knowledge of that night. Irish-Catholics are notorious for suppressing emotions, and that was apparently the case with my father and his family. My interview with Helen Conrad explained why some of that occurred. “I'll tell you why your father was afraid to talk about (the events) that night. He was scared to death. There were reporters everywhere, all over the place the next day … he didn't want any reporters or police quizzing him because he would have to tell them what he knew. He saw so much that night.”

As young children, we were told by our mother to never even broach the topic of the KKK riot to our father. We followed that admonition. In his later years, he would talk about the riot, but always in rather generic terms. We never know how he really felt.

One of the problematic stories from the family was how Phil died. The family lore posited that he was hit by a stray bullet. “Phil was back of the crowd, in front of the jewelry store. He had on a light coat. So even though it was dark, they could have seen him,” Helen Conrad said. “But I don't know if they shot at anybody. They just shot into the crowd.” As a result, I followed the Conrad meme that he was hit by a stray bullet– until I started researching this event.

A number of individuals who were present that night  told me that they knew who had killed my uncle. One said that it had to do with a girl. They gave me the name of the man who killed my uncle, and they said that he resided in Portage and was one of the defendants in the trial in June. Did my dad know about this? He worked as a mail carrier in Portage for 40 years.

Actually, what I have learned in my research is that this was just one of the myths about that night — that unfortunately are still being perpetrated a century later. It was not true.

My father was like his mother, a person who arose at 6:30 a.m. each morning to attend mass at St. Brigid's Church. He never talked much about his faith, although he would kneel down with us each night to say our prayers when we were children. In Lent, that would also include saying a rosary. He led by example.

I believe that my father hid his true feelings about that night, like many other Irish-Catholics in Lilly. Because of that, I wrote this poem a number of decades ago. It is not well-crafted, but it did express my feelings about why my father planted thousands of pine and spruce trees on his property over the years. They were symbolic of the repression of the hatred of the KKK,

The Rage of Needles



Hugh Brady Conrad


Today they stand, tall and majestic,

towering, verdant growth seemingly

oblivious to the family domicile below,

which enshrouded repressed rage.


Intense fury that occurred because of

a ghastly Spring night, a time when

white-robed warriors disdainfully

whisked away the family’s sustenance.


The transgressors approached, surreptitiously

slinking into town like tramps upon the rails,

casting a pall of darkness before kindling

their denigration of the Papacy.


A cowardly and despicable act, wrought by

those who clothed themselves with a

repugnant veil of virtue, then scurried

away as thieves from an ill-fated heist.


But more crushing was the anguish

of the mother who buried her young son,

whose exuberance was whisked away

by those reckless purveyors of hatred.


The lessons brought from the Isle’s were gospel,

exacting hollow smiles from the family,

their sunny countenances obscuring the rage

at the perverse act of the demented invaders.


“You must not cry, Mother feels so bad,”

the youngest was told, compelling

her to suppress the incessant anger

that smoldered in her solitary cauldron.


A grieving brother planted the trees, attempting

to obscure the act that She had witnessed,

a futile attempt to shade their eyes, those

that were seared by the fateful debacle.


The needles and cones sprouted as

maternal fortresses from pain, obscuring

Her view of the domicile below, where

supplication provided a slight reprieve.


Over time, the family suppressed the anger,

their horrific pain divulged daily

to Him, the one whom the killers had

derogated by their repulsive arrogance.


And while He listened, their painful journey

altered the footprints for future generations

who also struggled as children, seeking to

comprehend the message from that night.


The needles fell, Mother’s battle serving as a

beacon of hope for those eternally struggling,

using a buffer to dissipate the pain, but never

removing the source of its infliction.

Katherine Brady Conrad

(March 31, 1972-Dec. 7, 1940)

Husband: Charles A. Conrad

Parents: Hugh and Katherine McCarthy Brady. Edgeworthstown, County Longford, Ireland

Children: Ann (Farren), Philip, J. Hilary (Jimmie), Hugh B. Sr., Adele, Helen

Grandchildren: Ann Farren, James Hugh Farren, Mary Ellen  Farren Buchkowski, Rev. James H. Conrad, Patricia Conrad Moraski, Hugh B. Conrad Jr., Mary Kathryn Conrad Strauss

Biographical Data

  • Born: In Edgeworthstown, Ireland in 1872

  • Immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in 1880

  • Brought to the U.S. by her uncle,  Rev. Philip Brady, pastor of St. Brigid's Catholic Church, Lilly (1891-98) and assistant prior to that.

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