In 1925, the Indiana KKK was the largest state branch in the Klan's "Invisible Empire." The conviction in November of that year of D. C. Stephenson, the powerful grand dragon of the Indiana Klan, for the murder of Madge Oberholtzer led to a dramatic decline in the organization's membership and political influence. What began as a vicious rape on a night train from Indianapolis to Chicago ended with arrests of Indiana's governor and other high state officials.
On a hot July 4, 1923 in Kokomo Indiana's Melfalfa Park, the new grand dragon addressed the largest Klan rally ever held in the United States. Five years later, in a somewhat fictionalized retelling of the story, the Atlantic Monthly would report that D. C. Stephenson climbed out of a private airplane and told the assembled tens of thousands: "My worthy subjects, citizens of the Invisible Empire, Klansmen all, greetings! It grieves me to be late. The President of the United States kept me unduly long counseling upon vital matters of state." The fact that the Atlantic Monthly's questionable version of events has so often been repeated is testament, as Stephenson biographer William Lutholtz observed, to "bravado and bluff, the incredible audacity, that formed the heart of Stephenson's life." In fact, Stephenson's speech that day....Continued