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The Ku Klux Klan Orphanage Fire and the Fund Raising Scam of 1926

Posted By on August 23, 2017

On 21 November 1926, a major fire ripped through Klan Haven, an orphanage established by the Ku Klux Klan near Paxtang, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.  Forty-six children were led to safety by the quick action of home attendants and fire fighters.  According to reports at the time, the cause of the fire was suspicious, and the home’s matron blamed it on “the work of the devil.” Fortunately, no lives were lost and no one was seriously injured.

The property damage was extensive to the former John Y. Boyd Estate, a thirty-four room mansion occupying a hilltop near the William Penn Highway, east of Paxtang.  The Harrisburg Evening News of 22 November 1926 reported that it took six fire companies to keep the flames from spreading to other site structures, and that all that was left of the mansion after several hours were the masonry walls (shown in the photo above), the dry timbers and woodwork  of the interior having fed the flames for hours.  The orphans were temporarily housed at the Children’s Home of Harrisburg and other accommodating sites.  Initial estimates by Mrs. Mary I. Goodwin, Major Kleagle of the Women of the Ku Klux Kla of Pennsylvania and New Jersey were that it would take at least $100,000 to replace the building.  She announced a fund raising drive for $150,000 to rebuild the home.  Local Klan groups were required to participate by contributing and raising funds from non-Klan members in their communities.

The Elizabethville Echo, 2 December 1926, reported on scams that were taking place in the state and issued warnings about them:

 

WARNS ABOUT FAKE COLLECTORS

The Ku Klux Klan of Pennsylvania launched a campaign last Thursday to raise a $75,000 fund to be used for the rebuilding of Klan Haven, an orphanage for children of the state.  The institution was razed by flames last week and the small charges of the home are now in temporary quarters in Harrisburg.  The site of the home is located near Paxtang Park outside of Harrisburg.

Klan officials say that by assessing each male member $1.00, the fund thus subscribed will far exceed the amount needed for re-building.

Following reports throughout the state that a number of fake solicitors are in operation in this and other counties of the state as solicitors for the Klan, fund officials of the robed order have issued the statement and warning that no collection from the general public will be sponsored by the Klan.  One of the schemes worked by fake solicitors, it is said to sell small articles or merchandise door to door with the promise that ten per cent of the price would be given to the Klan fund.

The orphans are at present quartered in the old Polyclinic Hospital, Harrisburg, and plans, forging speedily ahead for rebuilding the home call for three buildings, instead of the one large building.  They will include one house for the superintendent’s quarters, offices, dining room, and nursery for the younger children and two separate buildings for the older boys and girls.  The new structures will be fire proof.

According to information in later Harrisburg newspapers, the re-built home was dedicated in July 1928, but the home’s history is sketchy after that date.  Rallies and other events were held on the grounds in the years immediately after the fire, including a fund raiser held by U. S. Senator J. Thomas Heflin, a strong supporter of the Klan.  His event, according to news reports, drew more than 3000 people.

This post is a continuation of the reporting on hate groups that were active in the Lykens Valley area in the years following the Civil War.  It was a widely known fact that the third iteration of the Ku Klux Klan had a significant presence in the Lykens Valley and adjacent valleys during the early years of the 20th Century.  This third iteration of the Klan was strongly white supremacist and was opposed to equal rights for African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants.  Undoubtedly, many of the Klansmen and Klanswomen of the Lykens Valley supported the efforts to re-build the Klan orphanage by contributing their dollar, despite the fact that the organization was under scrutiny by federal and state authorities for criminal acts which included terroristic threats and homicide.

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News stories and clippings are from Newspapers.com.

 


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