Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fantastic Caverns and the KKK

In 2006, I wrote an article for the now-defunct Ozarks Mountaineer about the history of Fantastic Caverns, and a few years later, I posted a follow-up article about the same subject on this blog. One of the things I mentioned in the original article but did not mention in my blog post was the fact that Fantastic Caverns, was once used as a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan during the early 1920s. I recently ran onto some additional, more specific information about the cave's connection to the KKK.
In the summer of 1922, the Springfield conclave of the KKK, or "Invisible Empire," as the Klan often called itself, purchased Fantastic Caverns, then called Percy's Cave, and the grounds surrounding it for about $40,000 from previous owner J. W. Crow. The Klan planned to rename the place the Ku Klux Klavern and use it as a meeting place for the Missouri realm of the secret organization.
The KKK, as many readers know, originally arose immediately after the Civil War and spread mainly throughout the Southern states. It was ostensibly a law and order organization, but it went overboard in dispensing out its brand of justice. It especially targeted blacks and ended up being a racist organization whose main activity was the suppression and punishment of freed slaves.
After virtually dying out, the KKK experienced a resurgence around 1920. Aiming for widespread acceptance, it once again tried to portray itself as a patriotic, law-and-order, Christian organization, and it was, in fact, viewed in a favorable light by many people, as the Springfield Republican's coverage of the KKK's acquisition of Percy Cave will suggest. The newspaper first announced the acquisition in its August 20, 1922, issue. The report said the KKK, in addition to using the cave and the grounds for its own meetings, planned to make them available to the public, particularly women and children. Admission would be free to the grounds, and visitors could tour the cave for a minimal charge. Order would be maintained at all times. The group particularly wanted to welcome churches and other worthy organizations to use the property.
Immediate plans for improving the property called for refurbishing the clubhouse, eliminating the dance pavilion (apparently dancing was frowned on), and beautifying the grounds. An American flag would fly above the grounds 365 days a year. The local Klan wanted the park and its activities to be an "exemplification of the leading principles for which the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan stand: law and order, protection of pure womanhood, the pursuit of happiness, and 100% Americanism." Members of the Klan were firmly convinced, said the Republican, that their order had "the highest ideals of which the human mind is capable," and they wished to give all who were not members of the KKK a "true appreciation" of the beneficial principles upon which they stood.
In keeping with that goal, the KKK planned to make their initiation or "naturalization" rituals open to the public. The public would be allowed to see the "flaming fiery cross, the white robes and hoods and all the other regalia used in initiations into the mysterious order." The only part of the ceremony the public would not be privy to would be the secret vows spoken by the initiates.
After describing some of the physical wonders of Percy's Cave, the Republican reporter concluded that "probably for the first time..., klansmen will have a setting for their ceremonials which will rival in natural weirdness the popular conception of the Invisible Empire."
The first induction or naturalization ceremony at the cave was held on August 24, 1922, and the first one to which the public was invited occurred on October 12 at 8:30 p.m. A parking area for the public was designated at the grounds, and the KKK furnished guards to watch the spectators' automobiles to make sure they were not tampered with while the guests were viewing the ceremony. Also, a jitney service from north Springfield to the cave was provided by the Klansmen for those who did not have automobiles. A crowd estimated at over 10,000 people attended the initiation ceremony, which was held in the huge natural amphitheater just outside the cave. About 2,000 klansmen from all over southwest Missouri participated in the ceremony, and about 125 new members were initiated, with the Joplin conclave conducting the rituals.
Alas, the second heyday of the KKK, like its first, did not last very long before the group was once again exposed as essentially a racist organization with the oppression of blacks as one of its primary goals.

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