During the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) reorganized in the South and spread north including to New Jersey. In the Somerset Hills, there were demonstrations and cross burnings reported in Bernardsville, Basking Ridge and Far Hills in 1923. The resurgent Klan opposed new immigration to the country, especially of Italian and Irish Catholics.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1924, the Klan turned out in force in Peapack-Gladstone where over 500 people marched. The date was obviously chosen to intimidate Irish Catholics. According to the March 20th Bernardsville News, the march started in Peapack and headed north into Gladstone, then turned around and returned. A horse and rider, both in KKK attire, led the procession, followed by some 150 people in robes and others in regular street clothes. Klan members directed traffic during the parade. The procession returned to Allen’s Auditorium, owned by John M. Allen, and there held a meeting. Crosses were set ablaze on surrounding hillsides.
The reporter from The Bernardsville News observed that booster plates on parked cars showed that the participants came from Bernardsville, Basking Ridge, Mendham, Chester, Summit, Whitehouse, Dover, Bound Brook, Plainfield, Hackettstown, and Boonton.
In 1926, a chapter of the Klan was chartered in Pluckemin, but the Klan’s message of intolerance faced increased opposition. The Klan’s influence waned by the 1940s, but bitter memories of it lingered in immigrant communities for years.