clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Klan boosting Cubs owner relevant today

A hundred years ago, an owner of the Cubs was also encouraging white supremacy.

Charles Weeghman, right, with James A. Gilmore, president of baseball’s Federal League, in 1914, two years before he bought the Cubs.
Library of Congress

If Todd Ricketts is curious — and I doubt he is, but let’s pretend — about how history might someday view him, he can get a hint by looking at the reputation of a previous Cubs co-owner, Charles Weeghman.

“The Quick Lunch King” made a fortune selling fast eats to harried downtown workers and bought the Cubs in 1916 when they played on the West Side. He moved the team to its current location at the corner of Clark and Addison. He didn’t own it long: The economy went bad and he brought in partners, including William Wrigley.

I wish I could say Weeghman is remembered for that or for starting the practice of allowing fans to keep baseballs batted into the stands rather than having ushers retrieve them.

But what really radiates across the years about Weeghman is that he was a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan. On Aug. 16, 1921, — 100 years ago Monday — the largest rally of the Klan ever on Illinois soil took place on Weeghman’s Lake Zurich farm.

How does that balance with Todd Ricketts — not to be confused with his brother, Cubs Chairman Tom, more circumspect about his politics — being the finance chairman of the Trump Victory Committee? Plus various fundraisers held for the toxic fraud, white supremacist and fomenter of rebellion against the United States. Suppose that depends whether we are at the end of our nation’s shredding of its democratic values and traditions or only the beginning. The Klan also tried to keep minorities from voting, but Trumpers are more methodical about it.

In Ricketts’ defense — I try to be fair — his mom, Marlene, gave $3 million to an anti-Trump campaign. Plus there is an element of prejudice in every human heart.

There is a moment in the Klan rally on Weeghman’s farm a century ago that deserves to be shared, even savored.

Andy Oakley wrote a comprehensive story on the rally in the Chicago Reader in 1996. This is how he sets the scene:

Rain fell steadily as the autos pulled onto the meadow on a 250-acre farm near the intersection of what is now U.S. 12 and Old Rand Road, between Lake Zurich and Barrington. Men muddied their white costumes rescuing vehicles from ruts, but most of the cars finally came together just before midnight to form a circle nearly a quarter of a mile in diameter. Headlights were turned toward the center. Flames from two bonfires, their wood soaked with fuel, leaped into the air. Some 10,000 men draped in white, peering through eyeholes in hoods, sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” as they picked up torches and marched into the circle to form the shape of a cross. About 2,300 blindfolded men were led by torch-carrying comrades to a makeshift altar, where they were to undergo initiation rites.

“My terrors and Klansmen,” Imperial Wizard William Joseph Simmons bellowed. “Make ready. Prepare the sacred altar.”

Then the kneeling supplicants were questioned. Oakley writes:

“Do you believe in and will you faithfully strive for the eternal maintenance of white supremacy?”

“Yes” came back the 2,300-voice response.

“Are you a native-born or naturalized white, Christian American citizen?”

Simmons was taken aback by the smattering of “no”s. A handful of blindfolded men stood up to ask if it was OK to be Jewish. The Illinois Klan officials standing at Simmons’ side whispered back and forth until one stepped into the crowd, gathered up the non-Christians, and led them to a corner of the pasture to inform them that their membership applications had been rejected.

Don’t you just love that? The image of a knot of Jewish Chicagoans deciding to spend a rainy Tuesday night up in Lake Zurich, pledging allegiance to a group that views them as subhuman?

In all times, there are people who know what is right and do it. And people — of all races, religions and ethnicities — who become lost and embrace what is morally wrong. Maybe history will forgive Todd Ricketts for taking money from Cubs fans and using it to underwrite sedition. Odds are, like Charlie Weeghman, he will become a mostly forgotten figure whose moment of glory, the 2016 World Series, is mitigated in the next sentence by his bankrolling the humiliation of our country. Time will tell.