It was when the clock on the post office building struck 3 that the march began. As The Washington Post reported in its Aug. 9, 1925, edition, a police officer standing next to the Peace Monument on the west side of the Capitol waved a handkerchief, and tens of thousands of marchers emerged from around the building, heading northwest up Pennsylvania Avenue.
All of them were neatly arrayed in rows behind banners indicating their state of origin, and all were dressed in full Ku Klux Klan regalia.
I stumbled across a photo of the event at Shorpy.com, a site that collects interesting historic photos. That image shows hundreds of marchers, many carrying U.S. flags, passing in front of Franklin National Savings Bank about halfway from the Capitol to the White House. Hundreds of little hooded figures -- and on the sides of the streets, thousands of observers, watching from behind a rope barrier.
The Post reported that the group marched in silence. A story in the New York Times about the upcoming event assured readers that no tumult was expected. "Every precaution is to be taken by the police to prevent any disorder that may result from the parade of the Ku Klux Klan in this city on Saturday," it read. "Nothing has developed to indicate that any attempt at hostile demonstration against the Klansmen will be made."
The city was unprepared for the size of the crowds. Government agencies let people out of work early. One tobacconist sold out of both cigars and chewing tobacco. One restaurant ran out of everything except ham and eggs.
To transport the racists to D.C., 46 trains were chartered. The Times reported on "Klansmen specials" starting in Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus and Pittsburgh. But not from many points south.
It appears that the parade was intended to help mend a breach between northern and southern branches of the group, a sort of civil war, if you will. A sure sign that this was the case is that The Post ran a story quoting sources saying that the rift was not at all why they were having the march. But despite that insistence, there were signs of tension within the hate group.
"Despite the assertion that all is serene in the Klan household," The Post reported, "it was noticeable that no Georgia klansmen were in the demonstration." Georgia, the readers are informed, is where the Klan began. Divisiveness within the Klan! Next thing you know, there will be fighting in the War Room.
The 1920s were the high-water mark for the Klan, boasting hundreds of thousands of members from across the socioeconomic spectrum of the United States (if not the racial or religious spectrum). At the time, the Klan endorsed candidates for office, prompting outcry from black Republicans during the presidential contest of 1924.
That march in D.C. ended without much incident. The parade hooked left at the Treasury Building, a block from the White House, and headed down 15th Street to the Washington Monument. There, speakers addressed the crowd.
For a bit. The day ended unhappily for the assembled group.
"It will not rain," Grand Kleagle L.A. Mueller of the D.C. Klan shouted through an amplifier. "We shall pray. Never yet has God poured rain on a Klan assembly."
God broke with tradition, and the klansmen, afraid of getting their skirts wet, scurried off for protection.