The Ku Klux Klan's 1982 visit to Washington was conceived as a re-enactment of its historic parade of Aug. 8, 1925, when an estimated 35,000 Klansmen and women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in what this newspaper described at the time as "one of the greatest demonstrations this city has ever known."
"Accustomed to big parades and pageantry, Washington was surprised by both the size and the nature of the klan demonstration," the paper wrote. "The Capital was unprepared for such a throng and such a spectacle . . . . Even those who differ with the philosophy of the klan were free in praising the great parade."
Washingtonians stood 10 deep to see and cheer the procession. The parade was the all-time high point in Klan history, a spectacle that surprised even its organizers.
But the rhetoric of the parade, according to the pictures and news accounts of the time, was focused primarily not on race but on "Americanism" and the cultural fears of a people who saw themselves imperiled by immigration.
Anti-Catholic sentiment was particularly high, with Klansmen looking with trepidation toward the anticipated 1928 presidential nomination of New York's Democratic Gov. Al Smith, a Catholic whom they expected to rule the nation on orders from the Vatican.
Smith, however, wasn't the only bogyman.
"Americans be on guard," read the handbill distributed by the thousands during the parade. "The Jews control the moving picture, jewelry and clothing industries and own us financially. The Greeks control the restaurant and confectionery business, the Italians the fruit and produce business.
"The Irish Catholics control us politically and are trying to control us religiously. The public press is controlled by Irish Catholics and Jews . . . New York is now a foreign state . . . America is being overrun by the scum of Europe who owe allegiance . . . to foreign potentates. Americans Awake! Vote for and patronize native-born Americans!"
The racial rhetoric was a bit more restrained: "They say the Klan appeals to race prejudice," said Dr. A.H,. Gulledge of Columbus, Ohio, a key speaker at the Klan gathering. "But that is not true . . . The glory of the black man is his black skin and the glory of the white man is his white skin. As long as the black remain black and the white remain white, all is well."
According to The Post articles, the largest state delegations came not from the South but from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Acting Police Supt. Charles A. Evans, who estimated the crowd at between 30,000 and 35,000, said the Klansmen marched in ranks 22 abreast and 14 rows deep, and took 3 1/2 hours to pass a given point. "We tried to march them," he said, "at the rate of 10,000 an hour."
The Klansmen came by more than 18 special trains; they flooded hotels and bought out lunch and tobacco stands and, in some instances, brought their own ambulances for those felled by the heat.
But in the end they came to grief on the grounds of the Washington Monument, where the parade ended amid speeches in a pouring rain.
"Don't leave!" cried L.A. Mueller, grand Kleagle of the District of Columbia, as the drops began to descend. "God won't let it rain!" In fact, it poured, washing out the entire demonstration.
In 1926, heady with political ambition and dazzled by the success of the previous year's march, Klan leaders tried to repeat the event. But only 15,000 -- less than half the previous year's crowd -- showed up for the procession.
The 1925 march, however, remains a Klan legend, even as the Klansmen of 58 years ago hoped it might.
"Some day a child will sit on your knee," said a speaker that day, "and it will say: 'Grandpa, were you in the parade that day?' And what will be your answer?"
From the assembled Klansmen in the audience came the concerted reply: "We were!"