Ku Klux Klan Visits Yaphank
By Gus Neuss
July 20, 2002
Yaphank appears to be a serene and peaceful community. Its past history belies this calm and friendly portrait. I will relate the stories of two decades which I consider infamous. I call them Yaphank's ugly years. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan, and in the 1930s, the German American Bund changed the profile of the village.
Ku Klux Klan
The year was 1924. On a warm midsummer night my two brothers and I had retired for the night in the large upstairs bedroom located in the southeast corner of our Main Street residence. It was a Saturday night. I was eleven years of age, my older brother, Bill, thirteen and our younger brother, Henry, six. Two large windows faced the street. They had been left open to provide some cooling. Air conditioning was yet to be economically available for the masses. The time was near midnight.
We three were suddenly awakened by the reflection, in the bedroom, of something aflame. Across the street was a burning object. It was a wooden cross. My father had not as yet gone to his bedroom. On observing the flames he ran from the house, crossed the street, and knocked to the ground the flaming object. As he beat out the fire, we could hear him challenging the culprits who had committed this nefarious act to come out of hiding. He promised, if they did to thrash them individually and collectively.
No one accepted his challenge. The property, in front of which the cross was burned, was at the time a wooded lot. It was later purchased by Van Rector. He erected a home on that land.
The cross was a crude affair made of 1” x 8” lumber and wrapped with oil soaked burlap. The following day, Sunday, my father took the partially burned remains and fastened them, vertically, to our driveway gatepost. He cut, out of white cardboard, two Klansmen figures about two feet in height. He suspended a figure from each end of the cross arm using a hangman’s noose made of clothesline, The display was eye-catching.
During the day on Sunday our mother spent some time in a rocking chair on our front porch. She was about fifteen feet distant from the cross. Occasionally an automobile would stop with its occupants staring at the cross with its hanged Klansmen. They would question my mother to determine if this was where the Klan meeting was being held. Mother advised that it was not, that we were Catholics here. The confused drivers proceeded to the west. We later learned that a meeting was held in the vicinity of the Presbyterian Church. We children received an early lesson in bigotry when our parents advised us that the Ku Klux Klan considered Jews, Negroes and Catholics as inferior. The Klan members were 100% Americans.
The Neuss family was not the only target of this group of fanatics. That same Saturday night when we were favored by the flaming display, a second cross was set afire in front of the John S. Jones residence. The home was located atop a hill surrounded by trees. It was across the street from the James Coombs property. This later became a headquarters building for the German American Bund. The cross was set at the street level in such a position that it is doubtful that the Jones family was aware of its existence.
The location of these Klan symbols was such that anyone approaching Yaphank’s Main Street would drive by one of these devices. Why was the Jones family selected? John Jones was an Episcopalian, a member of St. Andrew's Church. His wife, Maria, however, was a staunch Irish Catholic. The flames were for her.
Later in the summer of 1924 a meeting of the noble Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was held on North Gerard Road on property that would become the local baseball diamond. Parking space was needed to accommodate the vehicles of the rally attendees. John Jones was approached to rent space for the length of the affair for the automobiles. The Jones farm was on the opposite side of North Gerard Road from the meeting ground. He agreed to the short-term rental unbeknownst to his wife, Maria. Maria was made aware of the agreement prior to the meeting and made preparations to assure that the farm would not be invaded. She and her son, David, [Tobe], Jones awaited the arrival of the would be parkers. They were armed with a shotgun and a pitchfork and defied the would be entrants to the farm successfully.
My older brother, Bill, entered high school in Patchogue in September, 1924. I still had one year to complete my primary education at Yaphank’s octagonal school. The Klan activity of the summer had left me suspicious of my fellow students. With their heads hooded one did not know who was or was not a friend. I felt that some of my fellow classmates were children of Klan members. At recess one fall day several of the male students seized my bicycle and proceeded to pass it from one to another. In my attempts to recover the bike a brawl ensued, me against the crowd. Needless to say I took a beating. Mrs. Caswell, our teacher, tried to determine the cause of the fray. I tried to get her to understand that, in my opinion, I was picked on because of my faith. She was dismayed on learning of what had transpired during the summer. She resigned her teaching position. My parents removed me from the local school and registered me in the public school in Bellport, N.Y. I graduated from that school in June, 1925.
To this day I have no idea who, locally, would have been KKK affiliated. I can surmise but hesitate to do so for fear of doing individuals an injustice. Within two or three years the stigma of that 1924 experience drifted away. It was as a bad dream but a real nightmare while it lasted.
1. Why did Gus Neuss feel that his family and the Jones family was targeted by the Klan?
2. How did Maria and Tobe Jones convince the Klan to leave their property?
3. Why do you think that the Klan had a following in Suffolk County during the early twenties?
New York Times News Articles about the Klan
To Enforce Ku Klux Klan Laws in Suffolk - July 3, 1923
Klan Parade A Mile Long - Nov. 8, 1923
Klan Republicans Capture Suffolk - April 13, 1924
Bootlegger Gang Kills A Policeman - May 17, 1924
5,000 At Funeral Of Slain Klansman Join War On Liquor - May 21, 1924
Murder Trial Stayed - May 25, 1924
Court Shifts Trial Because Of Ku Klux - July 9, 1924
Klan is Denounced by Chairman Pell - Aug. 15, 1924
Patchogue Klan Parades - Aug. 2, 1925
Women And Girls Parade With Klan - July 26, 1926
Klan Slips Through Loophole in Law - Jan. 14, 1926
Klansmen Routed by Suffolk Vote - March 22, 1926
Suffolk Women Revolt in County Politics - Aug. 25, 1926