Nora Flaherty saw the cross burning in front of St. Dominic Catholic Church in north Denver and ran to her home a block away to get her husband.
He grabbed an ax and helped put the fire out, but the Ku Klux Klan members who constructed the symbol of hate already had fled, as Dennis Gallagher tells the story that’s been passed down by his family. Like other longtime Denver families, dealing with the Ku Klux Klan’s one-time dominance of the city has been a generational problem for Gallagher and his kin.
His father was bullied by self-identified Klansmen about being an Irish Catholic when he joined the Denver Fire Department in 1938. In 1970, Gallagher was knocking on doors as a candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives and met a man who said he was a member of the Klan and thus would never vote for an Irish Catholic.
“There’s never been an apology for what the Klan did,” said Gallagher, professor emeritus at Regis University, former city auditor, city councilman, state senator and state representative. “I think that has affected the city for generations.”
Ripple effects of the Klan’s takeover of Denver’s power structures over the course of just a few years in the mid-1920s are still felt, especially after the release by History Colorado this spring of digital copies of the Klan’s membership ledgers from that time period. The more than 30,000 names in the documents include those of the men the Klan’s political machine installed as Colorado’s governor, Denver’s mayor and police chief, judges, state senators and representatives.