Purdue’s “World’s Largest Drum”, made by Indianapolis’ Leedy Manufacturing Company in 1921, has been involved in many rivalries over its size. Learn more about its unique history from our latest video.
Music: “Regimented Instinct” by Teknoaxe, “Jumpin’ Boogie Woogie” by Audionautix, “Anchors Aweigh” by US Marine Corps Band, “National Emblem” by US Naval Academy Band, “Low Tide” by Silent Partner, “Jazz Bar” by Doug Maxwell, Media Right Productions, “Hail, Purdue” by Purdue All-American Marching Band
At the Indiana Historical Bureau, we routinely get requests from researchers for assistance. Some of these are fairly simple, like helping with someone’s family history or determining the age of an antique they just bought. However, every once in a while, we get queries so interesting that they require a whole lot more research, and you never know what you might turn up.
Back in March, I received an email from a gentleman in California who recently found a unique item while metal-detecting on the beach. He needed help figuring out what it was and how old it might be. It was a weathered, rusted emblem with two elephants on the front and a name, “Rub-No-More.” On the back, it said, “some worry about wash day; others use Rub-No-More.” He also knew it had an Indiana connection, as a quick internet search determined that the Rub-No-More brand was based out of Fort Wayne.
It turns out that the item he found was a Rub-No-More watch fob, likely made sometime between 1905-1920. A watch fob was a decorative piece that accompanied a pocket watch, and helped keep the watch in a wearer’s pocket. A fob exactly like this one was recently sold at auction. Chicago’s F.H. Noble & Company, whose long history includes making trophies and urns for cremated remains, manufactured the fob. But what about the history of the company who commissioned it, the Rub-No-More Company? In learning more about this small, weathered piece of advertising, I discovered a history of one of Indiana’s most successful businesses at the turn of the twentieth century.
While its origins go back at least to 1880, the Summit City Soap Works of Fort Wayne (the Rub-No-More Company’s original name) was formally incorporated in May of 1885, with a capital stock of $25,000 for “manufactur[ing] laundry and other soaps,” according to the Indianapolis Sentinel. Their penchant for lavishing gifts on customers goes back almost to its founding. As the Wabash Express reported on May 27, 1886, Harry Mayel of the Summit City Soap Works came to Terre Haute and provided “over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in beautiful and valuable presents” to purchasers of the company’s Ceylon Red Letter Soap. While this was a great deal for consumers, it appears it wasn’t as good for the company. By 1888, the Summit City Soap Works was insolvent, with $18,000 in debt and only $14,000 in assets, and a court-ordered receiver came in to clean up the mess. The difficulties didn’t end there. Two years later, as mentioned by the Crawfordsville Daily Journal, the company’s facilities on Glasgow Avenue burned to the ground, an estimated loss of $6,000. The company, sadly, had no insurance to cover these damages.
Clearly, it was time for new leadership, and it came in the form of the highly successful Berghoff family, German immigrants who became a mainstay of Fort Wayne’s business community. The Berghoffs ran a profitable brewery in the city, most known for its “Dortmunder Beer” brand. They parlayed this success into other ventures, including the Summit City Soap Works. Gustave A. Berghoff, a traveling salesman for the brewery, purchased the soap manufacturer in 1892, likely from his own brother, Hubert. The latter had purchased the firm a year earlier for a measly $5,000, and intended to revive the soap maker to “run day and night,” according to the Fort Wayne Sentinel.
Gustave Berghoff and his team wasted no time getting the company back on its feet and profitable, betting its success on a brand new product, Rub-No-More. Introduced in 1895, Rub-No-More was a “labor saving compound” that “clean[ed] the working clothes of a mechanic as well as the finest linen of the household, without much rubbing,” the Fort Wayne News wrote in its May 30th issue. To kick off the new product, the company launched a massive advertising campaign that provided free samples of Rub-No-More to every family in Fort Wayne. Summit City Soap Works then sold it at five cents, in a package that would cover five washing weeks. Rub-No-More became a hit, greatly benefiting Berghoff and his company. As such, they continued their tradition of giveaways. For example, in 1898, Summit City Soap Works offered its customers a free children’s book or wall calendar in exchange for saved Rub-No-More coupons and Globe Soap wrappers.
The company completely reorganized in 1903, including a new incorporation and expansion of its facilities. After eighteen years as an incorporated company, the Summit City Soap Works saw its capital stock increase four fold, to $100,000. Its executive staff also evolved, with Gustave Berghoff retaining his position as president but appointing his brothers, Henry and Hubert Berghoff, along with J. W. Roach and Albert J. Jauch, to the board of directors. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette reported that Berghoff was “having built a large addition to his factory, which will double the plant’s capacity.” The paper also commented on the company’s success, writing that “the business has grown from a small beginning to large proportions, and the institution is now known all over the United States, and the output is used almost universally in this country.”
The company also expanded its marketing, filing for multiple trademarks in 1905. The first filing, from April 17, 1905, included its new logo for Rub-No-More as well as an emblem, one so iconic to the company that it inspired my research: the two elephants logo. Used for decades as the symbol of Rub-No-More, the trademark displays an adult elephant dressed as a washerwoman washing a child elephant with its trunk. The second filing, dated September 19, 1905, includes both the new logo for the company’s name as well as the two elephants symbol. These became the company’s go-to branding for both its products and promotional materials, and it served them well. Grocers at Kendallville purchased 14,000 pounds of soap from the company in April of 1909, as noted by the Fort Wayne Sentinel, which traveled “in a single shipment over the [city’s] interurban.” That year, the Summit City Soap Works continued its tradition of promotional giveaways. An advertisement in the Dayton Herald offered customers free gifts in exchange for some of their products’ packaging trademarks. They offered girls an embroidery set and boys a “very interesting game” suitable for thirteen people.
One incident in 1911 showed how Rub-No-More soap could lead to more than just fun giveaways. A young woman named Bessie Lauer, an employee of the Summit City Soap Works, wrote her name on the inside of a soap bar’s packaging. It made its way out west, where a “wealthy California orange grower” found it and sought out a courtship, perhaps even marriage. She turned down his offer, but the publicity it garnered led to a Hanford, California Sentinel article describing the whole affair. Apparently embarrassed by the incident, Lauer told the Sentinel that “this is the first time she has ever written her name on a soap wrapper, and she fervently states that it will be her last.”
After decades of operation under the Summit City Soap Works moniker, the company formally changed its name in 1912 to the Rub-No-More Company, solidifying the importance of their branded soap to the entire enterprise. (A notification of the name change was published in the January 18, 1912 issue of the Fort Wayne Daily News, but it wasn’t official until April 12, 1912, when articles of incorporation were filed, according to the Indianapolis News. Advertisements in newspapers as early as June of that year indicated the name change). Around this time, Gustave Berghoff, the company’s president, began serving on the board of directors of the German-American National Bank based in Fort Wayne, greatly increasing his stature within the local business community.
By 1917, sales of the Rub-No-More Company topped $3,000,000 a year, as referenced in a profile in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette celebrating its 25th anniversary under the ownership of Berghoff. The article noted the expansion of its production facilities, from “the old days [when the plant was] comprised [of] but a few shacks” with “equipment consisting mostly of crude apparatus[es],” to a plant comprising “thousands of square feet.” This machinery was “of the most modern design . . . the value of which totals near a million dollars.” Within two decades, Rub-No-More, the company’s flagship product, became a mainstay product for consumers, with “circulars, wrappers, etc. . . . reproduced 200,000,000 times a year,” bringing “both the institution and the city continually before the minds of millions of people residing in this and foreign countries.”
An interesting modern parallel, the Rub-No-More Company encouraged sterilizing face masks during the influenza pandemic of 1918. A notice printed in the November 22, 1918 issue of the Indianapolis News instructed readers to “sterilize flu masks” by “thoroughly dissolv[ing] two tablespoonsful [sic] of Rub-No-More soap chips in one quart of boiling water” to “carefully wash masks.” As with today’s COVID-19 pandemic, soap companies have used their advertising to encourage people to wear masks and to keep them clean, something the Rub-No-More company did over 100 years ago.
Despite the Rub-No-More Company having a mostly positive reputation, it wasn’t without controversy. In 1918, the Indianapolis Star reported that the Rub-No-More Company was one of several companies charged with violating the federal child labor law. In a grand jury indictment against them, it was alleged that “three children were required to work ten and one-half hours a day” at their plant. Another issue the company faced came from its manufacturing process— one of “obnoxious odors.” The Indianapolis Times wrote in 1923 that the City of Fort Wayne was seeking a “permanent injunction” requiring the Rub-No-More Company to reconfigure their production process to alleviate the harsh smells that bothered the city’s east side residents. It is unclear what the outcomes of these situations were, but violations of child labor laws and air quality, somewhat new to American industry in 1918, represented some of the lesser angels of industrialization.
After 35 years of success at the helm, Gustave Berghoff sold the Rub-No-More Company to Procter & Gamble and retired from the company in 1927. The company’s roughly 140 employees were transferred to other Procter & Gamble plants after a transitional period where Rub-No-More Company’s manufacturing stock was used. The Rub-No-More brand continued for many years under the Procter & Gamble umbrella, with advertisements for the product appearing in newspapers well into the early 1950s. Gustave Berghoff, the company’s former president, died on January 25, 1940 at the age of 76. He is buried in Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne.
The Rub-No-More Company exists in history as something of a Horatio Alger tale. A German immigrant, helped by his family, purchased a failing firm and turned it into one of the most successful soap companies of the early 20th century. Additionally, its innovative approach to marketing, promotions, and branding ensured its dominance in the marketplace. This story is also about how even a simple item, like a watch fob washing up on the beach in California, can lead to an understanding of one of northern Indiana’s industrial giants at the beginning of the American Century.
This is Part Three of a three-part series on the University of Notre Dame’s opposition to the Ku Klux Klan. See Part One for information on the May 1924 riot and Part Two for more about the integrity modeled by the Fighting Irish during the 1924 regular football season.
Indiana’s Ku Klux Klan had a good year in 1924. Its members’ lobbying paid off and their xenophobia was codified into law with the Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act). The act established a strict quota system that unfairly targeted immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, in large part because many immigrants from these areas were Catholics. The Klan and other xenophobes charged that Catholic immigrants would always be loyal to the Pope and to Rome, as opposed to the laws of their adopted country, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. The new immigration law would keep out these “undesirable” immigrants. For many xenophobes, including Klan members, this was not enough. The Indiana Klan worked to further block Catholics and immigrants from gaining political power and influence. They did so by working to portray immigrants, Catholics, and Jews as “other,” as alien, as unassimilable, as un-American.
In Indiana, the Klan circulated “Information Sheets” before elections. These were copies of ballots where the Klan noted candidates who were “Negro” or “Foreign Born,” those who were Catholic or had Catholic family members, and those who refused to respond to inquiries. The Klan newspaper, the Fiery Cross, accused Catholics and immigrants of various wild plots against their fellow Hoosiers and positioned Klan members as the innocent victims of attacks by Catholics. The propaganda mouthpiece dedicated full pages to this “mounting list of Roman Catholic offenses,” which supposedly included such “papist crimes” as “arson, theft, assault and battery, murder, slander, intimidation, breach of contract, disrespect for flag and violation of the immigration law.”
The Klan also continued to use the May 1924 incident at South Bend to vilify the city’s immigrant population as “hoodlums” and Notre Dame University as a front for secret, un-American, “papist” activities that would undermine the values of good Protestant Hoosiers. The Fiery Cross distributed a booklet, “The Truth About the Notre Dame Riot” and ran articles and anonymous letters it claimed were penned by neutral, non-Klan member observers of the “foreign rioting”of May.  In truth, these “letters” were racist, anti-Catholic propaganda. These strikingly similar letters, signed with pseudonyms like “An American Citizen” and “Observer” referred to Notre Dame students as”anti-American” and “gangsters.  The writers claimed that the students were armed with guns and knives, outnumbered Klan members thirty-to-one, beat women unconscious, tore up the American flag, and spilled the blood of all-American Klansmen, “the same true blood shed at Bunker Hill and Argonne.” While local non-Klan affiliated newspapers reported no such level of violence, no weapons, no women present, and no destruction of the flag, the Klan’s version of events was repeated in mainstream newspapers, tarnishing the university’s reputation.
Notre Dame officials knew that the Klan wanted them to react. The Klan had baited students into conflict in May and had been thriving off the propaganda opportunity ever since. The xenophobic group continued threatening to return to South Bend, even holding large rallies on the edge of town. Instead of responding to the Klan, the university worked to counter the damage done to their reputation by promoting its increasingly-popular football team. By winning games, growing its fan base, publicizing its players as wholesome American boys, and linking the school’s Catholicism with its success on the field, Notre Dame flipped the script on the Klan. Newspapers across the country were now talking about Coach Rockne’s brilliant plays, the unstoppable Four Horseman offensive backfield, the Fighting Irish’s undefeated regular season, and the team’s odds at the upcoming Rose Bowl.
The trip to the Rose Bowl presented university leadership with a unique opportunity—a national stage on which to demonstrate that Notre Dame was both proudly Irish Catholic and thoroughly American. Many players were sons of immigrants, improving themselves through education and hard work to achieve success and the American dream. And what could be more American than football? Positive press coverage generated by the Fighting Irish’s undefeated 1924 season convinced President Walsh that mobilizing the full power of the university behind the football team was a winning promotional strategy. According to Notre Dame historian Robert Burns:
When reporters wrote about Rockne’s success or the exploits of the Four Horsemen, they could not do so without also writing about the special religious and academic environment that had made such success and exploits possible. That sort of reporting…was good for Note Dame, for Catholic higher education, and for American Catholics generally in the bigoted climate of 1924. 
Walsh gave his blessing to the January 1925 match up between Notre Dame and Stanford at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He then handed over the reigns to Father O’Hara, the school’s “prefect of religion and unofficial keeper of the institutional conscience.” Father O’Hara turned the train trip to Pasadena into a “public relations spectacular.”
Father O’Hara planned a three week trip centered around the Rose Bowl game and mobilized Notre Dame alumni and Catholic organizations to set up public events en route. Alumnus and railroad executive Angus D. McDonald arranged for a special train to transport the team, coaches, managers, alumni, and Father O’Hara. The train included a chapel car for Mass, Holy Communion, and confession. Father O’Hara believed that the devoutness demonstrated through daily communion, combined with “the gentlemanly conduct of the team” would win over the American public “while bigotry and prejudice received an abrupt setback.”
On Thursday, December 18, 1924, Rockne drilled his players “on a field covered with ice and in a slow drizzle,” a public display of a steadfast team determined to win in January. The next day, the special Notre Dame train left for Chicago. The Tennessean reported that “Hundreds of students and townspeople braved zero degree weather” to see them off. When they arrived in Chicago on Saturday, alumni and members of the Knights of Columbus greeted the team and posed for photos. Notre Dame had become increasingly popular among Chicago’s immigrant community, and local newspapers thoroughly covered the team’s arrival in the city, openly rooting for them over the days leading up the Rose Bowl.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the entire Midwest was “pulling for Knute Rockne’s famous ‘Four Horsemen’ to ride rough shod over the Californians.” The newspaper stated that midwesterners had a vested interest in the game’s outcome “because of the intersectional reputation of Notre Dame, the most widely advertised eleven the country has ever known.” The Tribune reported that while normally telegraph offices would be closed on New Year’s Day, they would “remain open to receive the returns.” The paper also encouraged “everybody with a radio, or those who know somebody with a set” to keep “their ears glued to the headpieces” as Tribune radio station WGN would be airing the game. Pasadena hotel companies even beckoned to Chicago-area residents to follow the team out West for the Rose Bowl through newspaper advertisements. In fact, newspapers all across the country reported on the team’s travels from this first stop. By the time the train left Chicago, the Rose Bowl seats were completely sold out.
The Notre Dame train traveled south, stopping briefly in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 21. Here, the team and entourage were again greeted by alumni and Knights of Columbus members, who had set up a special Mass in the team’s honor. They continued on to New Orleans, where locals pulled out all the stops for “a series of entertainments”over a two-day period. The first day Coach Rockne held an hour-long practice at Loyola University stadium, “consisting chiefly of passing and kicking and the execution of several plays,” and the second day the team spent the afternoon in workouts at Holy Cross College. In the evenings, the team was “elaborately entertained.” According to Burns, “The team was a huge favorite of the large local Catholic population, who turned out in large crowds to cheer and follow the players as they enjoyed the city.” They reportedly enjoyed themselves too much and were “so stuffed with oysters and creole food that they could barely run” at practice. Rockne was not happy and threatened to send players home if they didn’t restrain themselves, maintain their physical fitness, and obey his 10:00 p.m. curfew from this point forward.
The team arrived in Houston, Texas, on December 24 to a now-familiar scene as Notre Dame alumni and the local Catholic community greeted them. Several representatives also arrived from nearby St. Edwards College in Austin, including the college president Father Matthew Schumacher and the athletic director Jack Meager, who was also a former Notre Dame player. Rockne drilled the team hard, despite the rain, and they showed improvement from their lackluster practice in New Orleans. Newspapers reported that Rockne made the team run drills on Christmas day. This was likely a short practice, considering the devout Father O’Hara was supervising the trip, dressing up as Santa Claus that day. The players also attended Mass, a private party, and a Knights of Columbus dinner.
With the Rose Bowl game drawing near, Rockne cancelled the team’s scheduled stop in El Paso, and the train headed straight to Tucson, Arizona, to get down to work. Here the team practiced for four straight days in order to adapt to the warmer climate. Again, Rockne was joined by former players, this time at the University of Arizona stadium. One of these players, Edward Madigan, “scouted Stanford for Rockne” and made the coach aware of a “sideline screen pass that the Stanford coach used two or three times a game.” Rockne devised a play to block this pass and taught the players to recognize its set up. This intelligence would greatly impact the results of the Rose Bowl game.
When the team arrived in Los Angeles on December 31, 1924, several thousand supporters met them at the train station. Commenting on the crowd and the success of Notre Dame’s publicity machine, the Notre Dame Alumnus magazine reported:
Despite the early arrival hour, seven o’clock, the station platform was crowded with alumni, Knights of Columbus, members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (who presented a massive silver football to the team) and various motion picture people anxious to see their rivals in publicity.
At least one hundred of the folks gathered on the platform that day were South Bend, Lafayette, and Chicago-based Notre Dame alumni who had arrived on the “Rockne Special,” a Pullman train chartered by the Notre Dame Club of Chicago, to take them from the Windy City to Los Angeles. The train full of super fans garnered its own round of press coverage with wire services reporting on its stops across the country, where these alumni also stopped for daily Mass and were welcomed by local Catholic organizations.
Rockne, worried about the players getting distracted by all the fanfare, had the team driven immediately to their hotel in Pasadena. Even famous heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey couldn’t convince the coach to let him entertain the players first. But the hotel lobby was just as festive as the train platform. Former football player and Chicago Tribune sportswriter Walter Eckersall wrote:
Again at the hotel the squad was accorded another rousing reception for the lobby had been filled all day with curious personas who continually asked to see the warriors who have brought so much glory to Notre Dame.
After checking into the hotel, the team went to the Rose Bowl for practice. Standing in the stadium, the Irish focused on their goal: an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl championship. Coach Rockne worried that they hadn’t gotten in enough practice time during the trip because of inclement weather, but felt optimistic about the plays they studied and ran in Tucson. The players wore “looks of determination on their faces which indicate they realize the burden of responsibility they are carrying.” The Fighting Irish returned to their hotel at 8:30 p.m. without accepting any local offers of entertainment. Rockne notified the hotel staff: “No incoming calls answered.”
Meanwhile, newspapers across the country reported on the practice, debated who would win the following day, and discussed just how evenly matched the two teams were. And the excitement was building. Eckersall wrote:
Every arriving train brings more football fans, and the great majority favor Notre Dame to win. Coaches from all sections of the country are here to get a line on the Rockne style of play and see what all expect to be a great exhibition of open football. 
On the warm and sunny New Year’s Day of 1925, the team attended Mass and took Holy Communion before heading to the Rose Bowl. Over 53,000 fans filled the stands and others sat in trees outside the stadium. The game started at 2:15 p.m. (4:15 for those Midwest fans listening to the WGN Chicago broadcast).  As usual, Coach Rockne started his second string “shock troops” so as not to tire his first string, especially under the warm California sun. (See Part One on this famous Rockne’s strategy). The shock troops buckled under the pressure of Stanford’s offense and the Cardinals scored first with a field goal. 
Stanford continued to outplay Notre Dame in the first quarter, even after Rockne sent his first string players into the fray. According to Burns, “The Four Horsemen could not mount a sustained drive against the huge but agile Stanford line.” When Stanford kicked a bad punt, placing Notre Dame offense on the Stanford thirty-two yard line, the Irish got their first break. Burns continued: “Seven plays later, [full-back Elmer] Layden scored the first Notre Dame touchdown on a three-yard run early in the second quarter.” The score was 6 to 3, Notre Dame. The Cardinals drove the Irish back hard, quickly putting them on the defensive at the Notre Dame six-yard line. Stanford brought out their trusty sideline screen pass, hoping to breeze by the Irish. This was the moment the Horsemen had trained for in Tucson after receiving the scouting report on the play. Coach Rockne explained:
We were primed for that play. Not only had Layden been instructed to intercept it, but we had two men to take out the safety man and the passer in the event that he did intercept the pass.
Not only did Layden intercept the pass, he then ran seventy yards for a touchdown in one of the most exciting moments of the game. Half-back James Crowly kicked the extra point and Notre Dame led at the half 13 to 3. 
Although Notre Dame led in points, Stanford was outpassing and outrushing the Irish, while shutting down their offense. The game was “hard fought,” physically exhausting, and Notre Dame looked tired at the half. The Notre Dame Alumnus reported:
The boys were obviously feeling the effects of the long trip, the unusual heat of the day, and the hard, but clean, combat of the game . . . It was doubtful if some of the men, particularly the linemen could finish the game.
Stanford missed two field goals early in the third quarter but kept Notre Dame “confined within their own thirty yard line throughout the period.” About halfway through the quarter, Stanford fumbled, and Irishman Edward Huntsinger grabbed the ball. Coach Rockne had almost sent Huntsinger home days earlier in New Orleans for disobeying curfew to buy postcards in the hotel lobby. The Irish were lucky the coach reconsidered, because Huntsinger ran the recovered ball for another touchdown. Crowley again kicked the extra point, and Notre Dame led 20 to 3 at the end of the third.
The crowd was tense when the fourth quarter began, as the score did not reflect how close the game really was. Stanford intercepted a Notre Dame pass, and “in seven running plays” the Cardinals “moved the ball to a fourth down situation inside the Notre Dame one yard line.” Then,“in the final period Stanford made a beautiful march of 60 yards” to put the ball at the Notre Dame one-yard line on the fourth down. Stanford’s quarterback was stopped only a foot, or mere inches (depending on the report), from crossing the “counting mark” for a touchdown. Layden punted back to Stanford’s 48-yard line, and “again the Cardinal[s] started to march down the field.” With two minutes to go, Stanford again attempted their sideline screen pass. Layden anticipated the move, intercepted the play, and ran 60 or 70 yards (depending on reports) for a touchdown. Crowley came through with the extra point, and Notre Dame beat Stanford 27 to 10. Both teams played exceptional football, and the Rose Bowl game was noted for “aggressive playing” but “remarkably clean” sportsmanship.
The stadium roared with Notre Dame fans “jubilant in victory,” but the Fighting Irish were surprisingly stoic. The Notre Dame Alumnus reported:
As 53,000 spectators jostled their way through the crowded tunnels of the Rose Bowl . . . thirty-three tired young lads dropped their football togs [clothing] on a damp cement floor of the dressing room, for the last time in a long season, silent in their contemplation of a hard-earned victory and buoyed up only by the realization that they had acquitted themselves to the credit and price of Notre Dame and Knute Rockne.
The victorious players were so tired, they couldn’t enjoy the dinner and dance held for them back at their hotel that night. But the Fighting Irish would have to muster up a last bit of energy. For while it had been a long trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl title, there was one last but important journey ahead of them: a victory lap across the country and back to South Bend.
On January 2, Hollywood welcomed the victorious Notre Dame team. The Alumnus reported that if there was a famous movie star who did not meet the players that day, it could only have been because the actor was not in town. The Alumnus also noted that “cameras worked overtime” capturing the stars and star players.  That night, the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles hosted a dinner dance which “gave the men their first opportunity to really celebrate.” Father O’Hara was proud to report that at all times the players conducted themselves as honorable gentlemen and good Catholics. After all, a large part of why they were on this trip was to reflect positively on the university. Every team member would have been aware of the expectations.
The next day, January 3, the group arrived in San Francisco. Notre Dame alumni, the Knights of Columbus, and the city’s Irish-American mayor welcomed the Fighting Irish. Perhaps everyone who had been discriminated against in this era of the Klan was feeling a little Irish that day. Herbert Fleishacker, a prominent Jewish San Francisco banker, wrote in a telegram to the alumni group: “WE IRISH MUST STAND TOGETHER.” At the dinner and dance that evening “once again, the players and coaches were charming, properly dressed, and well-behaved.” They attended a special Mass the next morning and spent the day as the guests of some of the city’s most prominent citizens and leaders.
The rest of the trip must have been a whirlwind for the exhausted players. They arrived in Salt Lake City on January 5, where they took historical tours, went to a concert, had dinner, and attended yet another reception. They received a Wild West themed welcome the following day from the local Catholic community of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Irish were provided with “six-gallon hats, stage coaches, a military band and the key to the frontier town.”
On January 6, a crowd of thousands waited on the platform as the team’s train pulled into Denver. Mothers of Notre Dame students and “a remarkably beautiful group of girls” greeted the players, pinning blue and yellow streamers on their coats. The Denver alumni club reported:
Movie cameras were clicking, press photographers were snapping, and over it all sounds the low rumbling roar of the admiring crowd.
The Denver Alumni Club drove the team through the cheering crowd to the Denver Athletic Club for yet another banquet. Two hundred prominent Denver citizens, including the governor of Colorado, attended the gala, where celebrants sang Notre Dame fight songs. Speeches that night focused on the moral strength of the university and on Catholicism as a powerful force in shaping students into upstanding American citizens. The Denver Alumni Club reported that “no one who attended the dinner can ever forget that Notre Dame builds character, manliness and righteousness along with wonderful football elevens.”
Surprisingly, the next stop on the tour, on January 8, was Lincoln, Nebraska, where the team had been accosted by xenophobic and anti-Catholic insults on the gridiron over the previous two seasons. [See parts one and two]. Only now, they arrived in the city of their conquered rivals as national champions. Lincoln “forgot the defeat of November” at the hands of the Irish and treated them with sportsmanship and respect. The Notre Dame players even attended the inauguration of the new Nebraska governor that evening.
The Notre Dame train pulled into Chicago on January 9. Some players stayed for a few days in the city that had rooted for their victory beside radio sets a week earlier. Others went straight back to South Bend. By January 12, the Fighting Irish had all returned to the university. They were completely exhausted from physical exertion and from continually being on their best behavior. The constant scrutiny of serving as representatives not just of the school, but of Catholics everywhere was a lot of pressure for young students. The Notre Dame Alumnus wrote:
The word ‘banquet’ is an alarm, ‘look pleasant, please’ is an oath and ‘the game’ is an unmentionable now that the men are back on campus — with exams less than two weeks away.
The Fighting Irish had delivered an undefeated season and a national championship to their university. Notre Dame officials, in turn, leveraged the opportunity into a publicity spectacular. Father O’Hara’s plan to use football successes to reform the school’s reputation had worked. Burns noted that “By playing very hard, but always according to the rules, never complaining or making excuses, and winning, Notre Dame players would show the American public what Catholics and Catholic education was all about.” The Fiery Cross continued to blather about Catholic plots and tales of Notre Dame hoodlums, but the country had just witnessed an extended and public display of honorable play, sportsmanship, and model behavior from these young Catholic men. Burns wrote:
For O’Hara and millions of American Catholics throughout the country who believed and felt as he did, and especially for the 300,000 Catholics living in Indiana—11 percent of the population of the state—the performance of the Notre Dame football team in that year gave them all a supreme moment of restored pride and dignity.
The Klan would continue to influence Indiana politics for several years. But other Hoosiers would rise up in opposition like South Bend and Notre Dame. Cities passed anti-mask ordinances to prevent the Klan from marching in their hoods and robes. Prominent citizens founded civic clubs “to fight the Ku Klux Klan.” The Indianapolis Times launched a multi-year “crusade” against the Klan, exposing members’ identities and combating the secret organization’s influence on Indiana politics, and winning a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts.  African American voters risked being jailed as “floaters” (someone whose vote was illegally purchased), but came out in record numbers to cast their votes in opposition to Klan-backed candidates. Local Catholic organizations called on politicians to denounce the Klan and include a plank in their official party platforms rejecting “secret political organizations” and supporting “racial and religious liberty.” Indiana attorney Patrick H. O’Donnell led the American Unity League, a powerful Chicago-based Catholic organization that also published the names and addresses of Klan members in its publication Tolerance.
As students of history, we should remember that, in many ways, the Indiana Klan succeeded in their goals. They were able to elect officials sympathetic to the xenophobic demands for strict immigration quotas, which were enforced for decades. But we should also note that some Hoosiers refused to accept intolerance even when wrapped in the flag.
While much of Indiana became Klan territory, the publicity campaign organized by the University of Notre Dame forever crushed the Klan’s plans for infiltrating South Bend and tainting the school’s reputation. South Bend refused to be baited into further physical confrontations with the Klan, school officials refused to accept the insults hurled at them through Klan propaganda, and the Fighting Irish refused to play the Klan’s game. They played football instead. And they played with the honor and dignity imbued through “the spirit of Notre Dame.”
For a thorough examination of the opposition to the Klan by African Americans, Jews, Catholics, lawyers, politicians, labor unions, newspapermen and more see: James H. Madison, “The Klan’s Enemies Step Up, Slowly,” Indiana Magazine of History 116, no. 2 (June 2020): 93-120, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/indimagahist.116.2.01.
 Jill Weiss Simins, “‘America First’: The Ku Klux Klan Influence on Immigration Policy in the 1920s,” accessed Hoosier State Chronicles Blog.  Indiana Ku Klux Klan, “Information Sheet,” 1922, Indiana Pamphlet Collection, Indiana State Library.  “Tales Need No Adornment,” Fiery Cross, August 22, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.  Advertisement, Fiery Cross, August 22, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.; “High School Boy Writes of Experiences in Notre Dame Riot,” Fiery Cross, July 25, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.  Ibid.; “May 17 — November 8,” Fiery Cross, November 21, 1924, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.  Ibid.  Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Two: Notre Dame’s 1924 Football Team Battles Klan Propaganda,” accessed Indiana History Blog.  Robert E. Burns, Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 361.  Ibid., 364-65.  Ibid. Burns quoted from Father O’Hara’s Religious Survey for 1924-25.  “Name N.D. Squad,” Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1924, 28, accessed Newspapers.com.  “Stanford – Notre Dame Seats All Sold Out,” Tennessean (Nashville), December 21, 1924, 17, accessed Newspapers.com.  “Midwest Anxious for Notre Dame Victory,” Chicago Tribune, December 31, 1924, 11, accessed Newspapers.com. [14-16]Ibid.  Advertisement, Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1924, 21, accessed Newspapers.com.  “Stanford – Notre Dame Seats All Sold Out,” 17.  “Notre Dame Football Team in New Orleans,” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), December 23, 1924, 8, accessed Newspapers.com; “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 116-17, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.  Ibid. Times (Shreveport, LA), December 23, 1924, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.  Burns, 366.  Ibid.  “Saint Coaches to See Micks,” Austin American (Texas), December 24, 1924, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.  “Notre Dame at Houston,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 25, 1924, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.  “Rockne’s Team Spends Holiday with Practice,” Oakland Tribune, December 25, 1924, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.; “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.  Burns, 366.  Ibid., 367; “Football,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 106-107, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.  “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 17.  “Rockne Special,” South Bend Tribune, December 19, 1924, 30, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Lafayette’s Off for Coast,” Journal and Courier (Lafayette), December 27, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.  Ibid.; “Notre Dame to Stop Here,” Kansas City Times, December 18, 1924, 17, accessed Newspapers.com.  “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.; Walter Eckersall, “53,000 to See N. Dame Battle Stanford Today,” Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1925, 37. [33-34] Eckersall, 37.  “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.  Eckersall, 37.  “Rose Tournament Throng Sets Record,” Pasadena Evening Post, January 1, 1925, 1, accessed Newspapers.com. [38-40] Burns, 368. “Football,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 106-07.  Burns, 368. [43-44] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117. [45-46] Burns, 368.  “Iowan Stars as Notre Dame Beats Stanford Team,” Des Moines Register, January 2, 1925, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.  Burns, 368.  Ibid.; “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” Chicago Tribune, January 2, 1925, 1, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.  Ibid.  “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” 19.  Burns, 368.  “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” 19. [54-55] “Football,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 106. [56-58] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 116-17.  Burns, 369-70.  Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993, reprint, 2003), 171.  Burns, 370. [62-64] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.  “Local Alumni Clubs,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 115, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.  Ibid.  “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.  Burns, 372.  “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.  Burns, 349.  Ibid.  “Michigan City Passes Anti-Mask Resolution,” Star Press (Muncie, IN), September 8, 1923, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.  “Political Club to Fight Klan in Lake County,” Times (Munster), April 10, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.  Indiana Historical Bureau, “Indianapolis Times,” 2013, accessed State Historical Marker Text and Notes.  “Many Factions Clash,” Indianapolis Star, May 6, 1925, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.  “Request Parties to Oppose Klan,” Call-Leader (Elwood, IN), January 29, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.  “Former Local Man to Fight Ku Klux Klan,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, September 16, 1922, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.  Jim Langford and Jeremy Langford, The Spirit of Notre Dame (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 2005), passim.
This year, the federal government undertook the all-encompassing task of completing the U.S. Census, a project instituted every ten years. The census is a national count of everyone living in the United States, providing policymakers with essential demographic information that they use to map congressional districts and allocate federal funds. However, the COVID-19 pandemic created difficulties for its completion, specifically in counting those who did not complete the census form by mail or online. As the New York Times reported earlier this year:
Already, a multi-day nationwide count of roughly a half-million homeless people has been put off. Processing of mailed-in census forms has slowed because the bureau shaved its staff at regional centers in Jeffersonville, Ind., and Tucson, Ariz. And social-distancing cuts in the bureau’s call center work force have slowed down responses to people who want to complete the census by phone or need other kinds of help.
These kinds of obstacles are not new to census-takers. In fact, a similar problem occurred in South Bend during the 1920 Census, where a small, but powerful Influenza epidemic stunted the city’s completion of the census.
In South Bend, the work of the 14th decennial census started on January 3, 1920, with seventy-one initial enumerators (census takers) tasked with counting the city’s population. Initially, weather proved a more formidable foe. “The enumerators were somewhat handicapped owing to the severe weather encountered on the first day,” the South Bend News-Times noted. Despite the weather slowing down progress, enumerators succeeded in getting citizens to cooperate and answer all their questions. Inspector for the local district, attorney Edwin H. Sommerer, anticipated a count of the city population in fifteen days and the rural population in thirty.
Within a few weeks, this task was complicated by an outbreak of Influenza, a lingering problem possibly stemming from the widespread Spanish Influenza epidemic a year prior. The city downplayed the outbreak’s potential to become another epidemic on January 16, when Dr. Emil G. Freyermuth, secretary of the city’s board of health, reported that no cases had been noted by physicians and that a chance of an epidemic was an “exaggeration,” as recounted in the News-Times. Freyermuth seemed to be contradicted by the South Bend News-Times itself, which published a notice in the January 17 edition that “the ranks of the [paper] carriers are sorely depleted at the present time on account of the mild form of influenza prevalent in the city.”
By January 20, the outbreak had worsened, leaving factories in South Bend short on labor as a result. Four were reported dead the next day, including a student at Notre Dame, and the illness reached epidemic proportions at local Army camps. Despite continued assurances about the mildness of this outbreak by Dr. Freyermuth, the situation worsened to such an extent that the Salvation Army volunteered to assist in combating it.
On January 26, the South Bend News-Times officially declared an epidemic, after 1,800 cases were reported around the city (250 at Notre Dame alone) and twenty-two deaths over the prior weekend. Dr. M. V. Ziegler of the State Board of Health confirmed these numbers, but Notre Dame physician, Dr. F. J. Powers, denied the high level of cases, “stating that the majority was afflicted with colds and la-grippe [another name for the flu].” Regardless of the disputes, the city reeled from the disease.
The epidemic devastated census-taking, incapacitating forty-five of the eighty-five-member staff and crippling those still healthy enough to continue. Census district chief Edwin H. Sommerer told the News-Times, “the enumerators working find it difficult to complete their task because of the sickness in the homes.” The News-Times doesn’t mention whether enumerators took any preventative precautions to avoid infection, other than just staying home. By contrast, mail carriers only experienced a loss of five workers during the outbreak, which was attributed to them being more acclimated to the intense winter weather.
By January 27, the epidemic began to subside, with only one death reported on the Monday after the weekend in which twenty-two people died. Employees in factories, stores, and offices also started returning to work. Even though this news was positive, the News-Times encouraged its readers to remain vigilant, noting “This marked decline does not mean, however, that all danger is past . . . the public is warned by the health department to exercise the greatest precaution in avoiding colds.”
Despite delays, South Bend’s census enumeration continued, with some staff returning to duty starting on Wednesday, January 28 and over the subsequent days. By the end of January, the team completed half of the districts, most of which were cities, but still needed to complete the rural populations. On April 9, the News-Times reported that Sommerer and his team finished South Bend’s census, with only one-hundred names not accounted for. The city’s final count was sent to LaPorte for a larger district tabulation and then on to Washington, D.C. for inclusion in the federal count. In all, South Bend’s population increased by 32.2%, from 53,684 in the 1910 Census to 70,983 people in the 1920 Census. As the The city’s population increase “can be credited almost entirely to the industrial development of South Bend,” the News-Times wrote. Additionally, residents’ land valuation almost doubled, from $26,000,000 in 1910 to $43,000,000 in 1920. Months of bad weather, a flu outbreak, and some uncooperative citizens never stopped Sommerer and his crew of enumerators from obtaining the final figures and providing a demographic portrait of South Bend.
South Bend’s 1920 Census, and the flu outbreak that nearly derailed it, can inform modern census analysis. The COVID-19 pandemic has already affected the completion of the 2020 Census, with the deadline to to be counted extended to October 31. However, if Indiana’s enumerators are as dedicated to their roles as Sommerer’s team was 100 years ago, there is no doubt that an accurate count of our state will be completed.
This is Part Two of a three-part series, but also stands alone as a story of the incredible strength of the 1924 Notre Dame football team and the university’s struggle to combat prejudice in the age of the Klan. See Part One for the 1923 Notre Dame football season, context on the political strength of the Klan in Indiana, the May 1924 clashes between Klan members and an alliance of Notre Dame students and South Bend’s Catholic residents of immigrant origin, as well as the ensuing damage to the university’s reputation.
Notre Dame students returned to campus in the fall of 1924 under the looming threat that the Klan would return before the November elections. Just months earlier, in May, the Klan had been able to bait Notre Dame students into a violent confrontation. While initially embarrassing to the Klan, as they were all but driven out of town by students, the Klan’s propaganda machine was able to revise history. Using widely circulated brochures and newspaper articles, the hate group painted the students as an unruly mob of Catholic immigrant hooligans who attacked good Protestant American businessmen assembled peacefully. By fall, local Klansmen still wanted revenge for the previous spring’s humiliation, while state Klan leaders sought to show voters that they needed protection from the “Catholic menace.” Notre Dame University staff and leadership prepared for further violence and worked to rehabilitate the school’s image in the wake of the spring clash between students and Klansmen. The school needed a public relations miracle to combat the Klan’s far reaching propaganda.
University President Father John O’Hara devised a strategy for countering the negative press coverage inflicted on Notre Dame by highlighting one university program that was beyond reproach, not to mention already popular and exciting enough to draw press coverage. Father O’Hara’s inspired strategy was to put the full weight of the university behind championing its successful football team and the respectable, upright, and modest team members. The Fighting Irish football team had finished the 1923 season with only the one loss to Nebraska and a decent amount of newspaper coverage.* Much more was riding on the 1924 football team’s success. The school administration, the student body, alumni, as well as Catholics and immigrants in Indiana and beyond, looked to the Notre Dame players to show the world that they, and people who shared their religion and heritage, were proud, hardworking, dignified, and patriotic. The model team could prove the Klan’s stereotypes about Catholics and immigrants had no resemblance to reality. 
Father O’Hara recognized that linking the players’ Catholicism with their success on the gridiron created a strong positive identity for the university. Since at least 1921, he had arranged for press to cover the players, Catholic and non-Catholic together, attending mass before away games. He provided medals of saints for the team to wear during games and distributed his Religious Bulletin, in which he wrote about “the religious component in Notre Dame’s football success,” to alumni, colleagues, and the press.  According to Notre Dame football historian Murray Sperber, Father O’Hara conceived of an ambitious outreach plan for the 1924 season as a direct response to the Klan’s propaganda. In fact, O’Hara may have gotten the idea from a 1923 New York Times editorial that sarcastically reported on the reason for the Klan’s rise and extreme anti-Catholicism in Indiana:
There is in Indiana a militant Catholic organization, composed of men specially chosen for strength, courage and resourcefulness. These devoted warriors lead a life of almost monastic asceticism, under stern military discipline. They are constantly engaged in secret drills. They make long cross-country raiding expeditions. They have shown their prowess on many battlefields. Worst of all, they lately fought, and decisively defeated, a detachment of the United States Army. Yet we have not heard of the Indiana Klansmen rising up to exterminate the Notre Dame football team. 
This editorial and other similar articles implied that making the football team the symbol of Catholicism at Notre Dame could serve to combat the Klan in the press. In 1924, Father O’Hara created a series of press events to align with the game schedule, hoping to link the school’s proud Catholicism with the excitement of the winning team.  Of course, for this strategy to work, the team had to keep winning games.
Coach Knute Rockne, who had led the Fighting Irish since 1918, had built an almost unstoppable football team by the close of the 1923 season. In six seasons, the team only lost four games. Two of these were tough losses to Nebraska where the players faced anti-Catholic hostilities.  In 1924, with the eyes of the nation on them, the Notre Dame team needed a perfect season. Luckily “the 1924 Notre Dame Machine was bigger and better than ever,” according to the editors of the Official 1924 Football Review. 
The season opened October 4, 1924 with a home game against Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois. Coach Rockne employed a brilliant opening strategy. He started his secondary unit, called the “shock troops” who would “take the brunt of the fight” during the opening game and “wear down the opposition.”  Rockne then put in his main players, who most coaches would have started. This strategy meant that their opponents, in this case Lombard, would think they were holding their own against the Fighting Irish. Then the eleven regulars would show them the full force of the team. While the Chicago Sunday Tribune reported that Lombard “outplayed the second team Rockne started,” aka the “shock troops,” Notre Dame decisively beat the Illinois team 40-0. 
On October 11, the Irish defeated Wabash College just as handily, winning 34-0. The South Bend Tribune reported, “Notre Dame took the game easily and without much apparent effort . . . The Irish were never forced for a touchdown by that old spirit known as a fight.”  While Notre Dame was clearly the better team, the Tribune criticized them for being “crude and lumbering” and the play “slow and listless.” In fact, the local paper was fairly pessimistic about the upcoming games, noting that the Irish “may crumple” in the following week’s game against Army or “give way” to Northwestern. The game against Army would decide if Rockne’s 1924 team was as good as the previous season’s hype foretold. 
While the Fighting Irish prepared for the battle against Army, Notre Dame officials readied for another kind of clash. The Klan had declared their intention to return to South Bend 200,000 strong on October 18 – the same date as the upcoming game. They also claimed to have the support of local officials. The Fiery Cross reported:
Chief of Police Lane and Mayor Siebert have promised their support to the demonstration and the procession will be escorted by a squadron of police on motorcycles, lest their be a repetition of last May’s attack on Klansmen by Roman Catholic Notre Dame students. 
Notre Dame officials had no way to know if the Klan gathering was to be believed or if it was just Klan propaganda. What President Walsh did know was that he couldn’t trust city officials to protect his students. If the Klan descended on South Bend, Notre Dame would stand alone. As October 18 neared, Walsh noticed that the city was not making preparations to host a large gathering. Walsh also heard from Republican insiders that the state party was trying to quiet these kind of Klan demonstrations and distance itself (in public but not behind closed doors) from the Klan in order to not lose voters before the November election.
Drawing on this information, Walsh predicted that the rally would not happen. In fact, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Clyde Walb had forced the Klan to cancel the meeting by threatening to close the party headquarters. This would have left Republican state candidates, including those supported by the Klan, to fend for themselves for promotion and organization right before the election.  But the Fiery Cross continued to promote the rally, using the event to repeat their version of the clash earlier that spring. The Fiery Cross reminded its sympathetic readers:
Last May, when the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan attempted to hold a peaceful demonstration in this city, they were set upon — along with other Protestants — by Roman Catholic students from Notre Dame. They were beaten, kicked, and cursed, the women were called vile names and the American flag was trampled under foot. 
This was of course not what had happened (see Part One), but through continued repetition, the Klan convinced many people of their biased version of the story. Despite the Fiery Cross‘s claim that 200,000 Klansmen would take over South Bend “from morning to midnight,” they ceded to the political pressure and called off the rally.  Notre Dame officials and supporters must have breathed a sigh of relief. They could now return their focus to the upcoming game and all the hopes that rested on this win.
The sports media’s hype was intense leading up to the October 18th Notre Dame – Army game that would take place in New York. This press coverage was owed in part to the East Coast alumni. Several graduates were in the city drumming up support for their alma mater by feeding Notre Dame-produced press statements to New York newspapers and proselytizing at Catholic social organizations like the Marquette Club. Another factor, likely more influential, was Rockne’s decision to hire a New York Times writer for an exorbitant sum. This all but guaranteed a round of good press for the Irish.  All they had to do was win.
The New York Times reported that the 60,000 person crowd that gathered at the New York City Polo Grounds was the largest ever in that city. The reporter raved about “Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame football machine, 1924 model” and their “speed, power, and precision.”  He gave special notice to the backfield, referring to their “poetry of motion.” Writing for the New York Herald Tribune, reporter Grantland Rice went further in praising the backfield of Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden. In a passage described by Sperber as perhaps the most famous in sports history, Grantland wrote:
Outlined against a blue, gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden. 
In fact, this famous line came from Notre Dame’s own publicity machine. George Strickler, a press assistant employed by the university had just seen Rex Ingram’s new movie, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Strickler mused that the Notre Dame backfield recalled “those ethereal figures charging through the clouds.”  Rice took the idea and made it his lead. The article quickly found a life of its own. The catchy lead was picked up by other newspapers and the nickname stuck. Strickler was delighted with the press coverage and determined to make the most of it. He called the university and arranged to have a photographer shoot a picture of the “horsemen” upon their return — on horseback, of course.
With more attention on them than ever before, the Fighting Irish still had most of their season ahead of them. When they faced the Princeton Tigers on October 25, 1924, it seemed like they might not survive the increased scrutiny. Despite the previous year’s upset, Princeton was favored to win as the Tigers defensive line was much improved. When the game kicked off before 45,000 spectators, Coach Rockne again started his substitutes. At one point in the first quarter, Princeton nearly scored, with the second-string Irish stopping the Tigers at the three-yard line. The game quickly shifted in Notre Dame’s favor when the starters entered the fray. The Four Horseman again stole the show. The New York Times reported that “the darting thrusts of Notre Dame’s lightning backfield were more than Princeton could handle today.” Left half-back James Crowley scored two touchdowns for a 12-0 Notre Dame win.  But all was not smooth sailing for the Irish, as quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, who was responsible for the most yards gained that game, was injured. Notre Dame was down one horseman as they returned to South Bend.
On November 1 Notre Dame faced Georgia Tech for their homecoming game at Cartier Field. By now, Coach Rockne’s method of tiring out the opposing team while holding back his best players had been published in newspapers across the country. Perhaps recognizing that their best chance at scoring was against the second string starters in the first quarter, the Georgia Tech Golden Tornado team came out strong. The Chicago Tribune reported:
Georgia Tech took advantage of the Notre Dame seconds early in the first period, and [full back Douglas] Wycoff promptly ran through the bewildered Rockmen for 40 yards, placing the ball on Notre Dame’s 35 yard line. 
Georgia Tech “place-kicked” for three points and the second-string Irish struggled through the first quarter. While Rockne’s strategy was no longer a surprise, it was still effective. When the varsity Irish started the second quarter they were unstoppable, even without the injured Stuhldreher. The other three horsemen led the team to a 34-3 victory with several substitutes also making important contributions.  Next, the Irish were ready to take on their first Big Ten team.
Notre Dame faced the Wisconsin University Badgers on November 8th before a crowd of 40,000. While it was an away game for the Irish, it didn’t feel like it to the players. The game was the main attraction for an annual student trip, and so the blue and gold section in the stands was full. The Notre Dame marching band came as well and marched out onto the field playing fight songs. The first quarter saw Rockne’s second-string starters equally matched with the starting Badgers and the quarter ended 3-3, but the tide quickly turned in favor of Notre Dame. The Notre Dame Official 1924 Football Review reported on the start of the second quarter:
Then came the call, and the entire first team burst onto the field while the Notre Dame stands went into an uproar. Then the fun began. 
With all four horsemen in the game, the Badgers didn’t stand a chance. “They simply galloped over the foe,” the Chicago Tribune reported.  The score was 17-3 at the half and 31-3 within the first ten minutes of the third quarter. Rockne called in his varsity players and gave some third stringers and rookies the chance to play. The Tribune joked that “no one in the press stand could call them by name” and that Coach Rockne probably could not either.  In the final quarter, Rockne put back in his starting “shock troops” who brought the final score to 38-3 for a sweeping Notre Dame win. The students in the stands threw their hats and rushed onto the field to follow their marching band, snaking across the gridiron while singing and dancing. The Chicago Tribune spotted some “well-known Chicago men of Celtic origin out there romping with the students.”  Notre Dame was becoming the beloved team of people with Irish heritage across the country. Thus, it was even more important that they beat Nebraska.
The Klan had not forgotten about South Bend. On November 8, while the Fighting Irish celebrated their win over Wisconsin, 1,800 Klansmen and women “from Chicago and from a number of Indiana cities,” gathered just outside the city limits.  Between six and seven o’clock they paraded through the streets of South Bend, a quick clip compared to other Klan parades and events. There was little reaction to their presence and the South Bend Tribune reported that “few people were on the streets.”  It’s not clear why there was no response from students. Perhaps they simply didn’t have advance notice of the parade, and when the event happened quickly, they didn’t have time to form a response. Maybe they simply refused to be baited into further confrontations. Either way, the Klan had surely succeeded in reminding the Irish Catholic students that the threat of violence still loomed.
The Fiery Cross claimed that the Klan held yet another South Bend parade on November 11, just days after the quiet, uneventful rally of a few days earlier. The newspaper claimed that thirty-five thousand members from across the Midwest gathered and paraded through the city, purportedly “one of the biggest Ku Klux Klan demonstrations ever held in this section of the country.”  The Fiery Cross again claimed that the Klan had the cooperation of the mayor and the police chief. No other newspaper reported on the event. The Klan newspaper’s claims are dubious. A crowd this large would surely have drawn at least passing comment from the South Bend Tribune. It seems more likely that this was hype generated by their propaganda machine after the turnout for the rally on the 8th was reported by the South Bend Tribune to have been small. Whether the Klan gathered that day or whether this was just more propaganda, Notre Dame students and officials certainly felt the continued threat. For now, however, the Notre Dame players and their supporters had their eye on a different kind of opponent, albeit one with anti-Catholic prejudices of their own.
The last time they faced the Cornhuskers, the 1923 Fighting Irish team encountered prejudice and xenophobic epithets from Nebraska fans. The university was also still facing public backlash and disapproval from the violent confrontation with the Klan the previous May, as well as the Klan’s ongoing propaganda campaign. In an attempt to remedy their school’s reputation, the 1924 Notre Dame football players had handled themselves with dignity throughout the season, serving as examples of upstanding Catholic American citizens and scholars. But they still needed to beat Nebraska for two reasons. One, the symbolic victory of the hardworking and stoic Irish Catholic school over a team with anti-Catholic fans would be significant to their Irish Catholic supporters in an era dominated by the Klan. Two, to revenge their only loss of the previous season and make 1924 an undefeated perfect season would give them the public platform they needed to further improve the reputation of Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish faced the Nebraska Cornhuskers November 15, 1924 at home in South Bend. Notre Dame supporters packed the stands at the recently enlarged Cartier Field while overflow fans stood on the sidelines or even sat on the fences. The local newspaper estimated the crowd at 26,000 people, the largest to date.  Recognizing the increasing popularity of the Notre Dame team to those in the wider area, the WGN radio station in Chicago delivered a live broadcast of the game.  Likewise, the South Shore interurban line, which ran between South Bend and Chicago, created large color posters of Notre Dame football players in action to advertise their service. 
Football fans had a beautiful day for the game, which was “easily the headliner” of Midwestern match ups that week, according to the Lincoln Star.  The newspaper reported: “A glorious November sun was shining through golden haze and the tang of frost was in the air.”  Photographs from game day show supporters well-bundled in hats and coats.
This game had been the focus of the entire season for Notre Dame. The players’ had written slogans on their dressing room lockers such as: “Get the Cornhuskers” and “Remember the last two defeats” (losses in 1922 and 1923).  A Lincoln newspaper complained that “Rockne has pointed his team for Nebraska and doesn’t mind telling the world about it.” One reporter stated simply: “They hope to taste revenge.” 
The players took the field at 2:00 and it was clear almost immediately that Rockne’s shock troops would not be able to handle the Cornhuskers. The second stringers fumbled early, got penalized for being offsides, and Nebraska pushed through to the four-yard line. Not taking any chances, Coach Rockne swapped the troops for his first-stringers. But it was Nebraska’s ball and they were able to drive through the remaining yards for a touchdown.  That touchdown would be Nebraska’s last of the game.
The Irish thoroughly outplayed the Cornhuskers with much of the credit going to the Four Horsemen. The South Bend Tribune reported:
First it was Miller circling around the ends for notable gains, then it was Crowley, and then there was Layden splitting the line with the speed and momentum of a cannon ball. Then to top it off there was Stuhldreher to carry the ball or to toss the pigskin with deadly accuracy into the hands of his waiting backs. They were all there, they were all stars and together they make Notre Dame the greatest eleven in football history. 
In the end, Notre Dame beat Nebraska 34-6, but even that score did not reflect how well the Irish played. The Tribune reported, “Twenty-three first downs for Notre Dame gave the fans some idea of the complete swamping the western players received.”  The most significant aspect of the win for the Fighting Irish though was symbolic. They had finally overcome a rival who had not only ruined their otherwise perfect 1923 season, but had insulted them with anti-Catholic, anti-Irish slurs as well. The Tribune summarized the feeling that day for the victors:
There may be games with more sensational playing, with more artistic foot-ball handling, but none, past or future, will ever appeal to the heart of Notre Dame men as this game which witnessed Rockne erasing the memory of two years defeat, but trouncing the huge Cornhusker squad soundly, without apology. 
Rockne reveled in both the football win and the symbolic victory of besting a team whose fans had personally humiliated his players. Rockne said, “Nebraska, as usual, was the dirtiest team we played, and after the game, a few of their players even called me a few choice epithets.”  The next game would have symbolic undertones as well. Catholic Notre Dame would face Methodist Northwestern.
For the November 22 Notre Dame – Northwestern match up, Rockne manged to move the game from Northwestern’s hometown of Evanston, Illinois, to Chicago. As the Irish middle class grew in Chicago, so did support for Notre Dame football in the city. Over 45,000 people bought tickets, the majority of them Notre Dame fans.  The game played that day at Grant Park (soon to be called Soldier Field) was the most difficult of the season. Northwestern held the lines against the Horsemen for much of the game and their halfback, All-American Ralph “Moon” Baker “threatened for a time to act as presiding host at an Irish wake,” according to one Chicago reporter.  After Northwestern almost immediately scored three points, fans began chanting for the Horsemen, and Rockne put in his first stringers. But Northwestern scored another three, giving them six points and leaving Notre Dame scoreless. The Irish rallied soon after and began to arduously shift the game in their favor. Stuhldreher ran for a touchdown in the second with Crowley’s field goal giving the Irish a one point advantage by the half. After a scoreless third quarter, Layden ran 45 yards for a touchdown in the fourth. Notre Dame won 13-6 against a tough Northwestern team. 
Notre Dame played their last game of the regular season against Carnegie Tech on November 29, 1924. Tech played well, scoring three touchdowns – two against the shock troops but one against the regulars, minus one Horseman (Bernard Livergood and William Cerney filled in for Elmer Layden who was injured). Even so, Notre Dame dominated the contest with their passing game drawing note in the press. The Fighting Irish beat Carnegie Tech 40-19, and closed the season undefeated in nine games.  This perfect record was everything the university administration had hoped for in order to engage their publicity machine and improve the school’s marred reputation. A trip to the Rose Bowl gave them the opportunity to set their plan into action. On New Year’s Day 1925, Notre Dame would play the Stanford University Indians, a game that’s long remembered in the history of this classic Fighting Irish Team. More significantly, the several week tour by rail of the Midwest and West masterminded by Father O’Hara forever repaired the university’s reputation. According to Notre Dame historian Robert E. Burns:
O’Hara saw the Rose Bowl invitation as an almost providential opportunity to counter the extremely negative Klan-inspired image of Notre Dame . . . [and] might well turn out to be the most successful advertising campaign for the spiritual ideals and practices of American Catholicism yet undertaken in this century. 
The Klan continued their propaganda campaign into December, through the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl. As they prepared for the big game, the Fighting Irish faced anti-Catholic vitriol and hatred that the Klan had helped to make socially acceptable. Nonetheless, the Notre Dame football team would establish themselves not only as the greatest players in the country, but also as patriotic Americans, many the sons of Irish immigrants, and as proud Catholics.
*The University of Notre Dame did not officially accept the name “Fighting Irish” for their athletic teams until 1925, but newspapers had been using it for quite a while beforehand.
 Robert E. Burns, Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999) 347-48.
 Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993, reprint, 2003), 157-158.
 “Where the Klan Fails,” New York Times, November 1, 1923, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com.
 Sperber, 157-58.  Burns, 348.
 Harry McGuire and Jack Scallan, eds., Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, 24, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
 Ibid., 17.
 “Notre Dame Too Husky; Lombard Loses by 40 to 0,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, October 4, 1924, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, accessed Notre Dame Archives.  Notre Dame Defeats Wabash, 34-0,” South Bend Tribune, October 12, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
 Ibid.  “Expect 200,000 at Gathering: South Bend To Be Host to Klansmen,” Fiery Cross, October 10, 1924, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
 Burns, 342-44.
 “Prepare for Large Gathering: South Bend Ready for Many Visitors from Four States,” Fiery Cross, October 17, 1924, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
 Sperber, 164.
 “Notre Dame Eleven Defeats Army, 13-7; 60,000 Attend Game,” New York Times, October 19, 1924, 118, accessed TimesMachine.
 Sperber, 178-79.
 Notre Dame Sweeps Princeton to Defeat,” New York Times, October 26, 1924, 116, accessed TimesMachine.
 “Notre Dame Is 34-3 Victor Over Golden Tornado,” Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1924 reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
 Ibid.  Official 1924 Football Review, 36, accessed Notre Dame Archives.  James Crusinberry, Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1924, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
 Ibid.  “Klansmen in Parade,” South Bend Tribune, November 9, 1924, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.  Ibid.  “No Violence of Any Sort Mars Parade,” Fiery Cross, November 14, 1924, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.  Kenneth S. Conn, “Notre Dame Soars Over Corn-Fed Nebraska,” South Bend Tribune, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, 39, accessed Notre Dame Archives.  “N. Dame Stakes National Title on Tilt Today,” Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1924, 17, Newspapers.com.
 “Football: Notre Dame (South Bend) by South Shore Line,” 1926, broadside, Indiana State Library Broadside Collection, accessed ISL Digital Collections.
 Edward C. Derr, “Nebraska – Notre Dame Classic Dominates Interest,” Lincoln Journal Star, November 14, 1924, 16, Newspapers.com.
 Cy Sherman, “Nebraska Battles Notre Dame: Cornhuskers Clash with Irish Eleven,” Lincoln Star, November 15, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com.
 Jim Lefebvre, Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions, excerpt reprinted in “This Day in History: Irish Topple A Nemesis,” Department of Athletics, University of Notre Dame, https://125.nd.edu/moments/this-day-in-history-irish-topple-a-nemesis/.
 Edward C. Derr, “Nebraska – Notre Dame Classic Dominates Interest,” Lincoln Journal Star, November 14, 1924, 16, Newspapers.com.
 Cy Sherman, “Nebraska Battles Notre Dame: Cornhuskers Clash with Irish Eleven,” Lincoln Star, November 15, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com.
 Kenneth S. Conn, “Notre Dame Soars Over Corn-Fed Nebraska,” South Bend Tribune, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, 39, accessed Notre Dame Archives.  Ibid.
 Sperber, 167.
 Ibid., 167-68.
 Jimmy Corcoran, “Notre Dame is Forced to the Limit,” newspaper not cited, November 22, 1924, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, 41, accessed Notre Dame Archives.  Ibid.; “Game By Quarters,” South Bend Tribune, November 23, 1924, 14, Newspapers.com.
 Warren W. Brown, “Notre Dame Gallops Over Carnegie Tech,” Chicago Herald Examiner, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, 43, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
 Burns, 369.
In August 1935, Special Agents Nelson B. Klein and Donald C. McGovern from the Cincinnati office of the FBI began investigating convicted criminal George W. Barrett, the “Diamond King,” for his suspected involvement in a number of motor vehicle scams in Ohio and elsewhere across the country. The Department of Justice had Barrett under surveillance since 1931 for dealing in stolen automobiles. In “Barrett v. United States,” in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, heard on March 17, 1936, the court provided details on Barrett’s criminal activities, stating:
His method was to buy an automobile, obtain title papers for it, steal an automobile of similar description, change its motor numbers to correspond with those on the purchased car, obtain duplicate title papers, and then sell the stolen car to some dealer.
In each instance, Barrett sold the stolen vehicles with papers purporting to show that the sales were legitimate.
Special Agents Klein and McGovern learned that Barrett was in Hamilton, Ohio after a recent car deal there with the Central Motor Company, but neither they nor the local police were able to question him before he left the area. Acting on a tip, the G-Men – a term used to describe government men, particularly the federal agents working under J. Edgar Hoover – suspected Barrett might travel to College Corner at the Ohio-Indiana border, where Barrett’s brother lived. They drove there on August 16, 1935 and spotted Barrett near the residence of his brother’s home, along with a vehicle matching the motor number of an automobile involved in one of Barrett’s recent schemes. Klein telephoned the sheriff’s office in Hamilton for assistance in arresting Barrett, and he and McGovern parked their car and waited. Before Sheriff John Schumacher and Deputy Charles Walke arrived, Barrett returned to his car with a package in which he had hidden a gun.
Barrett went to unlock his car door, but as Klein and McGovern started their vehicle and began to approach, he abruptly turned and started walking away. Fearful that he was trying to flee and would elude them again, Klein jumped out of the FBI vehicle and called out to him to stop. Barrett ignored the calls and continued walking down a nearby alley with Klein in pursuit.
Once back in the open, the “Diamond King” opened fire, striking Klein numerous times. Klein returned fire and succeeded in hitting Barrett in the legs, but the federal agent succumbed to his gunshot wounds and died at the scene.
In the days following, newspapers across the country reported on the gun battle that had ensued in College Corner. On August 18, 1935, just two days after the shooting, the Indianapolis Star reported that Barrett would stand trial in Indianapolis and would be taken there as soon as his wounds allowed. Although College Corner falls right along the Indiana-Ohio line, agents confirmed that Klein had fallen dead on the Indiana side. The Richmond Item reported: “the trial, to be held in the Indianapolis Federal Courtroom, will be the first murder trial ever conducted in the Southern Indiana District Court.”
Federal officers transferred Barrett from the Hamilton, Ohio hospital to the City Hospital in Indianapolis on August 21. On August 26, the [Hamilton] Journal News reported on the recovery of one of the automobiles Barrett reportedly stole and transported over state lines from San Diego to Hamilton. Barrett allegedly changed the motor and serial numbers of the car before selling it to a garage in Hamilton. Jurors wasted no time in indicting Barrett for the murder of Special Agent Klein and for violating the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act.
Passed in 1919, the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act – also known as the Dyer Act – helped supplement individual states’ efforts to combat automobile theft in the country. In the fall of 1919, newspapers reported that the practice of stealing automobiles was on the rise throughout the U.S., especially in some midwestern cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis. The Indianapolis News claimed that over 22,000 automobiles were stolen in eighteen western and midwestern cities in 1918. Other articles put the number closer to 30,000. Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer of Missouri, who introduced the legislation, argued that the losses amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, while also causing hefty increases in automobile theft insurance.
The act sought “to punish the transportation of stolen motor vehicles in interstate or foreign commerce.” In accordance with the law, anyone who knowingly transported or caused to be transported a stolen motor vehicle in interstate or foreign commerce could be fined up to $5,000, imprisoned for up to five years, or both. Those found guilty of violating the law could also be punished in any district through which the guilty party transported the vehicle. According to former Special Agent William Plunkett in The G-Man and the Diamond King:
The BOI (later the FBI) gained more influence in 1919 with the passage of the Dyer Act . . . now it could prosecute criminals who’d previously evaded the Bureau by driving across a state line. More than any other law, the Dyer Act sealed the FBI’s reputation as a national investigative crime-fighting organization.
Federal officers arrested many professional automobile thieves in the 1920s and 1930s after the law went into effect. In many instances, these criminals were wanted for other offenses, including murder. Prior to the passage of the act, federal agents did not have the authority to pursue such criminals and had to let local and state authorities try to handle the rising number of cases. In some instances, local authorities caught and successfully imprisoned criminals and gangsters of the period, only to see their prison sentences expire or have them escape and commit more dangerous crimes. This was particularly true in the case of notorious gangster John Dillinger. In the early 1930s, Dillinger and his gang robbed several banks, plundered police arsenals, killed a police detective in Chicago, and fled the county jail in Crown Point, Indiana in March 1934 after being held to await trial. The FBI’s website states:
It was then that Dillinger made the mistake that would cost him his life. He stole the sheriff’s car and drove across the Indiana-Illinois line, heading for Chicago. By doing that, he violated the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, which made it a federal offense to transport a stolen motor vehicle across a state line.
After Dillinger violated the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, the FBI became actively involved in his capture.
Both the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act and a recently passed 1934 law making the killing or assault of a United States officer a federal offense punishable by death sealed George Barrett’s fate. His trial began on December 2. According to The Tennessean, he was only the second man to be tried under the new law providing for capital punishment in the killing of a federal officer. Edward Rice, defense counsel for Barrett, argued that Barrett had been warned days before Special Agent Klein’s killing that Kentucky outlaws were after him and might pose as officers. As such, Barrett maintained that he acted in self-defense out of fear for his life. However, during his time on the witness stand, Special Agent Donald McGovern testified that Klein called out to Barrett and clearly identified himself and McGovern as federal officers.
On December 8, the Indianapolis Star reported that the jury only took fifty minutes to return with a guilty verdict. With no qualification calling for life imprisonment, Barrett was to be hanged. District Attorney Val Nolan stated “I think this is the greatest victory for law and order ever achieved in the state of Indiana.” Electrocution replaced hanging in Indiana several years earlier, but because Barrett’s sentence would be carried out under federal law, U.S. criminal code specified death by hanging.
On March 18, the Indianapolis News noted that George “Phil” Hanna, an expert hangman, would lead the execution. Known as the “Humane Hangman,” Hanna had participated in close to seventy previous hangings in an interest to see them done correctly, without additional pain or suffering to the condemned. Barrett hanged at 12:02 am on March 24, 1936 in the Marion County jail yard, and was pronounced dead ten minutes later. Despite the late hour, fifty people reportedly traveled to the jail yard to witness the hanging.
At times described as cantankerous, paranoid, and bitter, Kenneth Rexroth, the trail-blazing Hoosier poet, cajoled and harangued some of the best poets of the Beat Generation. At the same time, he worked tirelessly to promote their work. Rexroth’s own radical poetry both preceded and inspired the Beats, though at times he refused to be associated with the movement that he thought had lost its meaning by the late 1950s, and especially that “hipster” Jack Kerouac.
As important as Rexroth’s poetry is to American literature, his life story is perhaps even more fascinating. And while much has been written about his years in San Francisco laying the groundwork for a literary renaissance in that city that grew into the larger Beat movement, little has been written about his time in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio – a period when the budding poet rubbed elbows with anarchists, burlesque dancers, criminals, and the artistic and literary elite of the Midwest and the world.
Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905 in South Bend, Indiana. Young Rexroth’s first residence was a house at 828 Park Avenue in South Bend which still stands and will soon be the site of an Indiana State Historical Marker commemorating his life and career. In Kenneth Rexroth:An Autobiographical Novel, he described the house as “substantial and comfortable,” near to the Oliver Hotel and Mr. Eliel’s drug store. According to a 1905 article in the Elkhart Daily Review, Rexroth’s father was working as a traveling pharmaceutical salesman.
In 1908, the Rexroth family moved to a home on East Beardsley Avenue in Elkhart, Indiana, a relocation that made the local newspaper.
Rexroth wrote a description of the Elkhart home as well:
This was a quiet residential street above the river where all the best homes in the town were in those days, where the patent-medicine people, the musical-instrument people, the buggy-works people, the corset people, and all the other leading citizens of the town lived in their wooden, sometimes Palladian or Romanesque mansions, and we had our own little Palladian house.
While Rexroth was born into a comfortable life, his family’s circumstances soon deteriorated. His parents, Charles Marion and Delia Rexroth, had difficulties with alcohol, chronic illness, and each other. Rexroth wrote that his mother was drinking champagne when she went into labor and bluntly called his father a “drunk” and a “constant gambler.” When he was five, circa 1910, they left the lovely house on East Beardsley due to his father’s diminishing finances. The family moved more often then, mostly renting, but Rexroth remembers living in a “run-down Victorian house” on Second Street that he believed they owned. Despite setbacks, he remembered his childhood in Elkhart fondly. His mother taught him to read early and immersed him in classical literature. He spent time at the library, learned French, explored the neighborhood, and fell in love with Helen, “the little girl next door,” when they were just six or seven. His parents were able to afford a family tour of Europe, which made quite an impression on young Rexroth.
However, his mother continued to succumb to a chronic illness that multiple doctors were unable to diagnose, and his father intensified his drinking and gambling. Sometime around 1914, when Rexroth was nine, the family moved briefly to Battle Creek, Michigan, and then to Chicago the following year, where they lived with relatives. Rexroth’s father’s alcoholism put him near death on at least one occasion and he left the family, likely for some sort of sanitarium. Rexroth moved with his mother into a small apartment and they rarely saw his father. After a painful period fighting what was likely tuberculosis, Delia Rexroth died in 1916. Eleven-year-old Rexroth went to live with his father and grandmother in Toledo, Ohio. Here, Rexroth began to seek and find trouble.
Rexroth had little supervision in Toledo. He began running around town with a gang of boys who would rob cash registers and, despite his young age, he ran various money-making hustles that involved running errands for “brothels, cardrooms, and burlesque shows.” He also witnessed the Willys-Overland labor strike that turned riotous. Rexroth wrote that this was a significant moment in his youth and he “started off in the labor movement.” In 1919, at this uncertain juncture in Rexroth’s early adolescence, his father also died.
Rexroth’s aunt, Minnie Monaham, retrieved the thirteen-year-old trouble maker and brought him back to Chicago to live with the rest of the Monahams. The 1920 U.S. Census shows that the nine person household was located on Indiana Avenue, but they soon moved to an apartment on South Michigan Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Rexroth enrolled in the nearby Englewood High School. School administrators quickly expelled him for his poor attitude and attendance. It was outside of the Chicago public school system, however, that Rexroth pursued a more profound education.
Perhaps in the same manner he was able to gain access to the burlesque theaters of Toledo, Rexroth found access to the clubs of the poets and writers gathered in this Midwest city during the second wave of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. Among these were important local poets such as Carl Sandburg and Harriet Monroe, writers and intellectuals such as Hoosier-born Theodore Dreiser, and political thinkers such as famous Hoosier socialist, Eugene Debs, as well as the “big names” of the international art and literature worlds. This intellectual elite met at formal and informal clubs and locations around the city.
Rexroth also explored the radical political movements of the period at venues such as the Washington Park Bug Club, also known as Bughouse Square, which met in a “a shallow grassy amphitheater beside a lagoon off in the middle of the park,” according to Rexroth. Bughouse Square was, for a time, “the most celebrated outdoor free-speech center in the nation and a popular Chicago tourist attraction,” according to the Chicago Historical Society. Here, people with a host of different ideas would get on their soapboxes (sometimes literally) and orate to the crowds that would gather. Rexroth wrote that “here, every night until midnight could be heard passionate exponents of every variety of human lunacy” such as:
“Anarchist-Single-Taxers, British-Israelites [or Anglo-Israelite], sell-anointed archbishops of the American Catholic Church, Druids, Anthroposophists, mad geologists who had proven the world was flat or that the surface of the earth was the inside of a hollow sphere, and people who were in communication with the inhabitants of Mars, Atlantis, and Tibet, severally and sometimes simultaneously. Besides, struggling for a hearing was the whole body of orthodox heterodoxy — Socialists, communists (still with a small “c”), IWWs [International Workers of the World], De Leonites, Anarchists, Single Taxers (separately, not in contradictory combination), Catholic Guild Socialists, Schopenhauerians, Nietzscheans — of whom there were quite a few — Stirnerites, and what later were to be called Fascists.”
Another inspiring haunt for Rexroth was the Dill Pickle Club, not far from Bughouse Square, where artists and writers along with socialists and anarchists gathered for social and artistic experimentation. Rexroth wrote that there were independent theater productions Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Sunday night, there were lectures on various topics. On Saturday nights “the chairs were cleared away and the Chicago jazzmen of the early Twenties played for a dance which lasted all night.” Rexroth remembered the actors and sets as being awful but somehow they produced plays that were “the very best.” Lectures were given by “every important scholar who came through the town, and all those who were attached to the universities.”
Most significantly, however, Rexroth gained entrée to the salon at the home of Jake Loeb, where he encountered the leaders of the local literary movement, international visitors such as D. H. Lawrence, and access to books of artists and writers who would greatly influence him, such as Gertrude Stein. In his autobiography, Rexroth referred to Loeb’s home as “a more important Middle Western cultural institution in 1923 than the University of Chicago, the Art Institute, the Symphony, and the Chicago Tribune put together.” He wrote that he met “everybody who was anybody in the Chicago of the Twenties and everybody who was anybody who was passing through town.” He continued:
“Besides the famous transients, many of whom stayed in the place, the house was full every night of the cream of Chicago’s intellectuals in the brief postwar period of Chicago’s second renaissance. It seems rather pointless even to list them — any of them — because they were all there. . . It is not that I met famous people — it is that I learned by listening to impassioned discussion among mature people, all of whom were out in the world putting their ideas into effect.”
Rexroth was also starting to put his ideas into effect. Although he had shown little academic or literary promise thus far, Rexroth became “a prolific painter and poet by age seventeen,” according to the Poetry Foundation. By this point he was running from one cultural hot-spot to another, performing the poetry to which he was being exposed. He wrote in his autobiography that if he hustled he could make over fifty dollars in a weekend. He continued, “Thus began my career as a boy soapboxer, bringing poetry to the masses.”
He began working a number of odd jobs, and in his free time, experimenting with oil paints and piano. One such job was at the Green Mask on Grand Avenue and State Street. Rexroth referred to the Green Mask as a “tearoom,” but it was probably more accurately a cabaret, and it was located in the basement of a brothel. Rexroth wrote, “The place was a hangout for bona-fide artists, writers, musicians, and people from show business.” He continued, “In the Mask there gradually formed a small, permanent family of oddities who were there every night and never paid for their coffee.” Here Rexroth was able to see and perform poetry with some of the era’s best poets and musicians, both black and white, local and national. These included the “seclusive and asocial” poet Edgar Lee Masters, local African American poet Fenton Johnson, nationally-acclaimed black poet and playwright Langston Hughes, the local jazz drummer Dave Tough (who Rexroth called Dick Rough in his autobiography), and an assortment of dancers, singers, and drag queens. This group held weekly poetry readings and lectures and jazz performances. Rexroth and others began combining jazz and poetry, a technique he would become known for by the time he headed out west and one that would greatly influence the Beat Generation. He wrote that here, at the Green Mask, “happened the first reading of poetry to jazz that I know of.” About this early Chicago jazz scene, he wrote:
“I’m afraid that I can’t provide any inside information about the formative years of jazz, for the simple reason that none of us knew that this was what was happening. We didn’t know we were making history and we didn’t think we were important. . . Jazz was pretty hot and made a lot of noise. People talked loud to be heard above it, got thirsty and drank too much and made trouble, so we tried to keep the jazz small and cool . . . I remember many nights going over to the piano and saying, ‘For Christ’s sake, cool it or you’ll get us all busted!'”
As he predicted, the Green Mask did get busted. In 1923, the Chicago Tribunereported that thirty-five “Bohemians” were arrested in a raid at the Green Mask. The Tribune article stated: “The police entered the place after standing outside for some time listening to what they say was the reading of indecent poetry by George Lexington.” The owner was booked as “keeper of a disorderly house.” Rexroth was also arrested because he was considered part owner for investing some small amount of money into the place. He was sentenced to a year in jail.
He described the conditions on his arrival to the Chicago House of Corrections, or the “Bandhouse” as it was called:
This was quite a place. It had been built back in the Seventies or Eighties, with long, narrow windows like the archers’ slots in medieval castles, and a warped and muddy stone floor where the water oozed up in winter between the paving blocks. This was the only running water in the place. Each cell was given a one-gallon pail of water once a day and provided with a battered old bucket for a privy. It was a cage-type cell house. The cells were all in the center about thirty feet away from the walls, so the only view was through the heavy iron grilles and door which looked out on brick walls and filthy windows through which it was impossible to see anything. The inner cells looked out on the tier opposite. The whole thing was built of iron, and any movement in it resounded as though it had happened inside a bell; any cough or groan or cry was magnified as if by an immense megaphone. In each cell there were four iron-slatted bunks that folded up against the wall. There were no mattresses, and each fish [inmate] was provided, along with his slops, with a filthy khaki Army blanket full of holes.
Rexroth spent the winter in these circumstances and explained that he “got a little closer to the underworld.” When he got out of the Bandhouse, he spent most of his time pursuing various young women, two of whom lived in the same building, and writing them poetry. He became more involved in local theater productions and continued pursuing radical social theories and chasing down works of avant-garde literature. He began reading more spiritual works and even spent a few months in a monastery. He also began a period of traveling and recording his observations of nature in his poetry – something else he would become known as a master of in later life.
In late December 1926, Rexroth met the artist Andrée Schafer through friends, just briefly outside their door. When his friends asked him what he thought about her, Rexroth replied, “I intend to marry her.” They began working on paintings together, both of them working on the same canvas, “like one person,” according to Rexroth. They married a few weeks later in January 1927 and left for a new life on the West Coast that spring. In San Francisco, instead of experiencing a cultural Renaissance, Rexroth would create one.
Check back next week for more about this Hoosier rebel in part two of this story: Kenneth Rexroth: Poet, Pacifist, Radical, and Reluctant Father of the Beat Generation
For more information:
Kenneth Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966).
Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991).