DOVER, N.H. (AP) — Tucked between children’s Victorian-era button-down shoes and a World War I collar bag with collars, one item stands out on an auctioneer’s website touting an end-of-the-year sale: a Ku Klux Klan robe dating to the 1920s.
Discovered in an attic by a New Hampshire woman in her 80s, the white robe bears the KKK’s distinctive round, scarlet patch with a white cross. For years, it sat in a bag, assumed by family members to be an innocuous garment and not a feared symbol of the white supremacist group.
Auctioneer Scott Morrill said when the woman found it and considered selling it, she removed the patch to wash the garment. On the back of the patch was her father’s name. Nobody in the family knew he was affiliated with the Klan. The woman, from Rochester, asked Morrill not to reveal her name.
Morrill, who has been in the business for 26 years, said he has never seen one sold at auction and does not know what to ask for it when the auction kicks off Tuesday night. He already has received some bids by phone.
“It’s not the sort of thing people would readily buy in front of their neighbors,” Morrill said.
The KKK, a secretive society formed in the post-Civil War South, emerged briefly in Rochester from about 1923 to 1925, according to Martha Fowler, president of the Rochester Historical Society. Fowler told Foster’s Daily Democrat that the Klan held a meeting there in June 1924, when about 10,000 members from New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts gathered.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Klan has shrunk nationally from about 4 million at the time of that Rochester meeting to about 4,000 now. There are single chapters in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts.
Potok said finding a robe at an auction is fairly rare: He estimates it’s happened half a dozen times in the past 10 years or so. The SPLC, a civil rights advocacy group that tracks hate groups, believes museums are better destinations for robes and other Klan artifacts.
“I think it is true that we can’t ignore or suppress our history,” he said. “We have a very racist past and the Klan was a part of that.”
Morrill said he wrestled with whether to sell an item that represents hate but, as he has done with Nazi paraphernalia, decided the historical significance of the robe outweighed other concerns.
“My first reaction was, ‘I really don’t want anything to do with it,’” Morrill said. “I find it offensive myself. But what we really do here is sell history. And the way you learn from mistakes you make is to not destroy it. After a little soul-searching, I decided it should be sold.”
Besides calls from potential buyers, he has gotten angry calls from people outraged that he would sell such an item. He is not sure what to expect at the auction.
“I’m hoping people will be adult about it,” he said.