In this small ridgetop community, where the world is so tranquil you can hear clocks chime from inside the turn-of-the-century houses, they're locking up the roller rink and moving the pumpers out of the firehouse. Saturday night bingo has been canceled, and the swimming pool closed. Some people are cordoning off their yards and packing children off to relatives.
This Saturday evening, robed and hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan will gather on a sloping field in the heart of Braddock Heights to pray, preach racial segregation and set fire to a cross a couple of hundred feet from the volunteer fire station.
The prospect of such a spectacle of extremism coupled with the potential for violence between the Klan and the more militant factions of large, outraged black population four miles east in Frederick, have preyed upon the fears and apprehensions of many of Braddock Heights' 1,500 mostly white and middle-aged residents.
"Up here there's nothing overhead but birds and God," said Doug Thompson, who lives across Jefferson Boulevard from the rally site, and is one of the few people around here willing to be quoted. "It's turned the community upside down."
"This is the biggest thing to happen since the Braddock Heights Hotel burned down in the '20s," said another neighbor who plans to cordon off his yard adjacent to the rally site. "We're all hoping it rains to beat hell."
The state police in Frederick County, who have been trying for the last two months to ally fears and head off a confrontation, are now mostly worried about people coming from outside the county to the rally and the spate of rumors that have circulated in the area.
"The community has played right into the hands of the Klan by making a big deal of this," said Lt. Grover Sensabaugh, who will command a small army of state troopers from an equipment-laden Winnebago 100 yards from the rally site. Sensabaugh, who wishes the media would ignore the rally, believes "99 out of 100 people couldn't care less [about the rally], but for every 100 you're going to have some screwball who's gonna go up there, and agree or disagree in a unlawful way."
Both the grand dragon of the chapter organizing the "recruiting rally" and the head of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who led the campaign to get the county to bar the rally, say they are opposed to the sort of violent encounter that took place last November in Greensboro, NC., between Communists and Klansmen, leaving five persons dead.
"Our only interest is to make people see our side. I put out an order that no guns could be worn on the hip," said Anthony LaRicci, the 52-year-old grand dragon of the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Maryland. "I've held rallies for almost 15 years in Gambler in nearby Carroll County). It's not the Klan that causes trouble."
Lord Nickens, the 68-year-old head of the local NAACP, said, "We want to avoid confrontation. The Maryland Communist Party called and asked if there was anything they could do. I said they could stay away. Nobody has recruited anybody. We've tried to dissuade all outsiders."
Along the two- and three-story brick houses of All Saints Street in Frederick -- one of three predominantly black neighborhoods in the town of 25,000 -- people say they'll ignore the rally, but if trouble spills over they say they'll be ready.
"That rally is like gas looking for a spark," said 23-year-old Butch Lancaster, who lives in the Braddock Heights area but was hanging out in Mullinex Park, a place where black youths and young adults gather to play basketball and swim.
Politicans, community leaders, ministers, and the editors of the local newspapers, most of whom came to the reluctant conclusion that they could not get around the First Amendment and bar a peaceful assembly of Klansmen, cling to the hope that law and order will prevail. The county commissioners issued a proclamation of brotherhood as their latest response to the rally, and 16 churches plan prayer vigils and bell rings from 4 p.m. Saturday until after the Klan rally ends at 10:30 that night.
"The rally has crystallized one thing that's outstanding for a community of our kind," said Tom Mills, executive editor of the Frederick News Post, which wrote three editorials about the "bitter truths" of "our constitutional rights." "It's crystallized a total unity among the people that they want to continue the peace and quiet we've had since 1968."
The impending rally has preoccupied both the people of Braddock Heights and many of the more civic-minded residents of Frederick since March 1, when it leaked out that Grand Dragon LaRicci came to the county office building to get Health Department permits for a rally for "200 white gentile persons" June 28.
"At first everybody was taken aback," said County Commission President Mary Williams. "We couldn't believe it could happen in Frederick County." m
The Klan is holding the rally in Frederick County, according to LaRicci, because that's where the Klan found a site to hold a rally, a six-acre tract owned by David Ament, 59, a quixotic 300-pound man with a full salt-and-pepper beard, Ament gave a reporter a Klan newspaper from his briefcase but said "no comment" when asked if he was a member of the Klan. Neighbors say they have seen his brass KKK medallion and robe.
Until he leased his land to the Klan Ament was nearly a stranger to his neighbors. Although he has lived in Braddock Heights most of his life, he is known only as the man who sometimes rode his motorcycle down the street wearing a gun on his hip, and the man who put five-ton rocks around his lawn next the the firehouse to keep people coming to play bingo there from parking on his property.
"People were asking, 'Who the hell is David Ament?'" recalled one resident.
Opposition to the rally in both Braddock Heights and Frederick, sprang up instantly, and 200 people jammed a meeting in April.
"A man stood up and said he saw his father run into the woods to get away from the Klan," recounted Nickens. "He said he took a vow then never to run from the Klan. It sent a shiver through the crowd."
Nickens felt the county could have done more to block the rally. But about the only legal weapons the government could use were health regulations. The Klan was planning to serve hot dogs, and hot dogs, according to the health department, are "potentially hazardous foods."
The cooking water has to be at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Then there were the sanitation measures. The Klan had to have at least two portable toilets.
Since they had Ament's permission to burn a cross, the Klansmen only had to notify the fire department, and make sure the cross was 300 feet from the pine forests to the south where the land tilts away south toward Sugarloaf Mountain.
Most whites say racial tensions and discrimination in Frederick County are restricted to subtle forms.
"Ten years ago I could have imagined that the Klan would have been greeted with open arms," said Mills. "People have learned to live together." g
But one black homeowner in Braddock Heights -- one of the half-dozen black families whom the state police have visited to reassure -- is embittered by his neighbors' readiness to accept the Klan's right to rally in their midst.
"If I had a rally for a black militant group in the neighborhood I would probably be run out, shot out or burnt at the stake. The state police wouldn't come to our house friendly like they did. [My neighbors] just sit and do nothing."
Braddock Heights, according to local history books, was the home of the mythical snallygaster, a winged screeching hybird of vampire and tiger that according to 19th century legend preferred to eat black people.
"They found out later," said Lord Nickens, who used to live in the area. "It was just an owl."