Friday, October 28, 2011

"They burned their crosses in front of our house..."

The following is an excerpt from an interview for the Fullerton Community History Project with former Fullerton resident Margaret O’Hanlon. The interview was conducted and recorded by Anne Riley in 1971. Margaret’s husband, Dan O’Hanlon, was a prominent figure in early Fullerton. He was a charter member of the Kiwanis Club, the Elks club, the first president of the Fullerton Realty Board, and an insurance agent. Margaret recalls a conflict between her husband and the Ku Klux Klan in Fullerton in 1923:

Margaret O’Hanlon (MO): Then, of course, you have heard about this business with the KKK [Ku Klux Klan].

Anne Riley (AR): I read about that. Can you tell me something about it?

MO: Yes, you know they came really from Anaheim, I think. I don’t think they’re local people very much, but there was one night they came into the park and there was a bandstand in the park in those days.

AR: This would be what, Amerige Park now?

MO: Yes. It was 1923 and they held forth getting very bitter about we Catholics. And, of course, Dan was a very religious man and he thinks a great deal of his faith which I do, too. And this fellow was damning the pope and so on and so Dan could not stand it, so he called him a liar. And the police came and they thought, they said he was disturbing the peace. Well, there wasn’t any peace to disturb because they were getting quite strong. They had put patches of paint across the main street and K something. I don’t know what they were. I don’t know if I should be telling you this but it was all in the paper.

AR: It was something you could probably read up on.

MO: Well, if you got all the papers it would be a load of papers that it would be in. I think we have some of the papers around here, still. And of course they searched him (chuckles). They got some keys and I think a pair of rosary beads in his pocket, a crucifix or something like that was all they found. Someone said, Oh, he had a gun, and he didn’t have a gun. He never brought a gun from England at all and never had a gun. And so anyway, Mr. Launer who was a friend of his, he belonged to the Kiwanis club then, and Mr. Launer came and kept them at the police station for a little while, not over night. I was waiting at home. I knew he was there over at the park; the park was crowded you know. They were strangers, they weren’t Fullerton people that were crowded around and they were all dressed in their…

AR: Their hood?

MO: It was scary, you know?

AR: Did they carry torches?

MO: I don’t remember the torches.

AR: I see pictures of them.

MO: But they were in their uniforms, whatever you call them. Yes, they were. They were beginning to be quite strong, and anyway, the police just held Dan for an hour or two. Mrs. Rothermal, they used to have a butcher store on Harbor, she called me up and she said, “Do you know where Dan is?” I knew he’d been to the park , and it was late. It was eleven o’clock. And she told me where he was but then he came home.

AR: You must have been upset.

MO: Mr. Launer...Oh, I don’t know about being upset. He just knew it was the thing he had to do. He just couldn’t stand it. He’s not that type of person. [Dan was] some person that he thought a great deal of blasted and not truthfully either.

AR: Tell me now, was the only thing that the Klan was against at the time Catholics?

MO: Well, they’re against black people, too, I think.

AR: Jews and blacks and catholics.

MO: Yes, they’re against Jews.

AR: Of course, Fullerton didn’t have many black people at that time.

MO: There was just one family, I think, when we came; they were kind of nice people really. They lived on Wilshire when I remember them first. I think they moved away…

Unnamed Person (UP): Somebody called up Father Murphy, threatened to burn the church down and put KKK on the side of it.

AR: That was the same night as this?

UP: Around the same time, I think.

MO: Yes. Well, this is what I remember. After that you see on the couple of days afterwards, I think it was the next night or very early in the morning, they burned their crosses in front of our house in the middle of the night. It scared me to death.

AR: Oh, it would have.

MO: And I don’t know who, but I heard a couple of shots that went off and that waked me. Dan wanted to go out and I said, “No don’t,” and I said “Just stay indoors.” So in the morning before it was light, I went out and moved this burnt cross and threw it out. And then they had plastered this K across Harbor, great big things across Harbor. But you know, we never heard of them again, not in Fullerton. Never after that in Fullerton…They just couldn’t stand it…



  1. hey jesse... where is that photo from? pretty disturbing account of some of Fullerton early history...

  2. My dad was born in fullerton in 1922 and as a strict irish-Catholic, knew the o'hanlon family. He told me this story when I was young. It must have been scary.