Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thriller Thursday - Riots at the Courthouse!

Lima News depiction of the courthouse on Sept. 2, 1923
My great-grandfather Charles Creeden was Sheriff of Mercer County, Ohio from 1923-1927 and his wife Anna served as Jail Matron during that time. Charles' brothers Daniel and Joshua were deputy sheriffs. These were some exciting times with Prohibition and bank robberies, but one story my father remembered stands out and I wanted to see how much of it I could verify.

As my Dad's story went, the Klan had a parade in town, most likely as an anti-Catholic demonstration. Their leader was arrested for disturbing the peace and was being held in the Mercer County Jail. Members of the KKK showed up to demand the prisoner's release and a standoff ensued. Charles was at the front door of the jail and Anna was at the back door. She was said to be a very good shot! The group came up and demanded that their leader be released, but Charles said that wasn't going to happen. The gang said, "Who's gonna stop us, you and what army?". Charles pointed to the roof where his deputies and members of the Knights of Columbus were standing with guns raised and said, "That one!". The story gets a little hazy as to what happened next, but some kind of melee broke out and there were injuries on both sides. Well, I should mention that my Dad inherited the Irish storytelling gene and his stories tended to get better with age! I didn't know how much of this was true, but figured at least some of it had to be. has the Lima, Ohio newspaper online, so I tried finding mention of an incident involving the Klan in Mercer County, but didn't have any luck. I also searched for sheriff and Creeden with various spellings and found some interesting stories, but not this one. My luck turned when I was contacted by a Mercer County historian Joyce Alig about doing a story on my family's Mercer County connections. She had edited a book on the courthouse and remembered an incident where men showed up in sheets at the dedication of the courthouse on Labor Day weekend in Sept. 1923. With the date narrowed down, I was able to find an article about the disturbance.

Lima News, Sept. 4, 1923

According to this article in the Lima News, there were riots at the courthouse dedication involving over 500 people! My great-grandfather's name was misspelled Breedon and there is no actual mention of the Klan, so that explains why I couldn't find it. Ouch, sounds like the sheriff and his men didn't make out too good! Joyce warned that the news could have been exaggerated by the time it got to Lima.

It is interesting that the Klan is never mentioned by name, but several things in the article match my Dad's story. I bought a used copy of Joyce's book on the Mercer County courthouses and she captured some eye witness accounts of the incident in the book. Some of the accounts mentioned a KKK speaker and one mentioned the sheriff getting the fire hoses out.

Celina Newspaper, Sept. 4, 1923

In the Celina article, the incident is labeled a "Regrettable Disturbance" as opposed to Riots. Quite a difference! While it doesn't sound like as large a disturbance as reported in Lima, the articles agreed on quite a few things. Both articles mentioned an anti-Catholic speaker and group, but neither mentioned the Klan by name. Both were in agreement that the sheriff tried to break up the crowd by spraying them with water from the fire hoses. No mention of the Knights of Columbus on the roof, but there was mention of 12 deputies and other officials being involved. The articles also both mentioned that the speaker was arrested for disturbing the peace.

All in all, it looks like most of my Dad's story was true. I found it interesting that neither newspaper mentioned the Klan specifically. In the Lima newspaper, there was a detailed article on Sept. 2, 1923 about a recent initiation ceremony held by the Klan, so they were definitely active in that area. That article was right next to a writeup about the new courthouse before the dedication. The rest of the Celina article is below. Thanks to Marj B. for sending it to me!

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