Loyalty Days

 
 

[1] The performance by Garrison Keillor with the Minnesota Orchestra entitled "Lake Wobegon Loyalty Days" draws its name from the alternate designation for the Fourth of July in that mythical Minnesota town. "Back during World War I, they called it 'Loyalty Days,'" Keillor states, "and they made all the people of German extraction stand up in the middle of the town where everybody could see 'em. Made 'em all stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag and everybody watched to make sure they weren't crossing their fingers, I guess. Well, everybody goes through that sort of foolishness once in a while. Our country does it more often than most, but here we are. We are what we are."

[2] The entrance of America into World War I in April, 1917, brought with it deep suspicions of everything German in this nation. The policy of neutrality which aided Woodrow Wilson in his re-election efforts in 1916 and the slogan "He kept us out of war" quickly evaporated as the war escalated and this nation found itself increasingly at odds with Germany. After the declaration of war on Good Friday, April 6, 1917, the slightest divergence from anything less than "100% Americanism" met with suspicions of treason and in some cases brought about actions designed to prove a person's loyalty to this nation. Leland Sage writes in A History of Iowa that "in many Iowa towns (and all over America) self-styled guardians of patriotism forced locally prominent and highly respected German Americans to carry the flag in parades, and in some cases, prostrate themselves and kiss the flag in the sight of fellow townsmen."

[3] According to Fred Meuser writing in The Lutherans in North America (edited by E. Clifford Nelson), prior to 1917 and during the period of time the United States maintained the policy of neutrality, there was widespread sympathy with the German position and a feeling that Great Britain was seeking to destroy Germany's commerce which was asserting itself at the expense of Britain. Occasionally, according to Meuser, a synod would pray publicly for Germany. With the declaration of war in 1917, however, pro-German expressions essentially disappeared, and suspicion of anything German increased. Meuser writes, "… the more immigrant the church body, the more despised it was. Lutherans in the East suffered least, those of the central Midwest most. Prejudice was worst during the critical spring offensive of 1918 when the Allied cause hung in the balance and American casualties rose alarmingly."

[4] On May 23, 1918, Iowa Governor William L. Harding issued an order requiring the use of English in public and private schools as the language of instruction. In addition, all conversations on trains, in all public places and over telephones, and all public addresses including sermons in churches were to be in the English language. Those who could not understand or speak English were to worship in their homes.

[5] The mood in the country and in the state of Iowa permeated the city of Muscatine. At the start of World War I, there were six German-speaking congregations in the city. The German Evangelical Lutheran Zion Church had been founded by German immigrants in 1885 and had been a German-speaking church from its inception. In addition, Zion operated a day school where German was used in instruction. Pastor John Haefner, fluent in both German and English, conducted services in both languages, often in German in the morning and in English in the evening. Such a practice fell into disfavor in the community as America entered the war against Germany. Consequently, the Zion congregation and school and in particular, its Pastor John Haefner, became targets of anti-German sentiment and patriotic fundamentalism.

[6] Muscatine had its own informal but highly charged "Loyalty Days" in late April and early May, 1918. Pastor Haefner and the Zion congregation found themselves at the center of the activities and controversy.

Presentation of the Flag

[7] These springtime events had their roots in activities which took place shortly after the first of the year. According to the Muscatine Journal, during a regularly held noon day luncheon of businessmen in the community at the Hotel Muscatine, the loyalty of numerous residents of the community was called into question, as had happened several times over the course of weeks at such meetings. At the January 2nd meeting, H. C. Asthalter jumped to his feet and declared that there were several homes in the community where the absence of the American flag "seemed to indicate something more than carelessness." Naming Pastor Haefner directly, Asthalter suggested that a committee visit the clergyman, present him with a flag and ask him to fly it at this residence. Someone in the crowd shouted, "Let's go," and Attorney E. F. Richman, after determining that the action was indeed the will of the group and stating that it was not his idea to do so, agreed to make the presentation speech. The march to the Haefner home began at the hotel and new recruits were added along the way until, by the time they reached the residence at Sixth and Sycamore, one hundred to one hundred twenty-five men had gathered. Students from the high school across the street also joined the audience, swelling the crowd to three to four hundred people.
[8] The pastor came to the door, listened quietly to the presentation speech, accepted the flag, and then asked those assembled to listen while he read a letter (which was printed in the Journal) he had received that day from the American Red Cross thanking his congregation for a donation of $104.62. The reading of the letter prompted applause from the crowd. The Journal states, "A love feast seemed to develop between visitors and visited until someone asked Mr. Haefner to wipe out all misunderstanding by joining the Muscatine Chapter of the American Red Cross." Stating that "there was no law compelling him to wear the Red Cross button," and because of what he believed to be local prejudice against him, he refused. The matter was not further pursued and having been assured by Haefner that the flag would keep flying, the group dispersed.

[9] The incident was covered by both the Muscatine Journal and the Muscatine News-Tribune, and both ran identical letters from Pastor Haefner as a part of their coverage: 

[10] The undersigned takes this means of expressing publicly his thanks and deep appreciation to all those gentlemen who on January 2, 1918, appeared at my door and presented me with a beautiful American flag, the sign of true patriotism.
Sincerely,
John Haefner
Pastor Zion Lutheran Church

[11] The next day, the News-Tribune published a letter which they stated was "properly signed," which "comes as a warning to those residents of the community not in sympathy with the government or the present war," and which "calls attention to the fact that the community will no longer tolerate disloyalty." The letter which was not published by the Journal if it was received there, is as follows: 

[12] I read with much interest your account of the visit of the business men to the home of Rev. Haefner. I also read with amazement his letter of 'appreciation.' I think it wise to call the attention of Mr. Haefner and of others who feel the same as he does, to the fact that the community has stood for all the disloyalty that it will stand for and that it would be the part of wisdom on their part to be very careful that they give no further cause for complaint. Also that 'smart' and sarcastic letters fool no one.
'One Who Was There'

[13] An editorial also appeared in the News-Tribune on January 3, which raised a theme which would have much bearing on events to follow. The editorial stated that Pastor Haefner had asked at the time of the visit to his home, "Does the law compel me to fly the flag or . . . to join the Red Cross?" While admitting that there was no federal statute which would order such action, the News-Tribune pointed to the law of loyalty, and in an even more foreboding manner to what it called "the law of public sentiment." The editorial stated that public sentiment "expressed in the overwhelming loyalty of a community. . . sometimes carries with it more force than the laws written on the statute books."

[14] Editorial comments in the Muscatine Journal dated January 3, 1918, called attention to the remark made by Pastor Haefner the preceding day that there was prejudice against him in the community. Stating that the "prejudice is entirely of his own making" the editorial chastised him for not seizing what it saw as an opportunity to play a leading role in wartime activities in Muscatine. "Had he merely given a casual aid to the various projects which have engrossed our attention since the outbreak of the war he would have aided greatly in the work of cementing friendships among all Americans and of erasing suspicion from our community life." The article also suggested that it took the visit of a committee from the community to "pry loose information as to patriotic activities, the knowledge of which a loyal American citizen should be proud to proclaim to the world. . . Mr. Haefner and men who like him are looked up to by an element among our foreign born population can contribute mightily to that national solidarity which alone can hasten the victorious end of the war." Certainly the editorial infers that Pastor Haefner's loyalty remained in question.

Community Unrest

[15] The mood of radical patriotism in the city increased in intensity at the end of March and the beginning of April, 1918, and found expression in a number of community institutions. The Muscatine Journal stated that Sunday, April 7, 1918, the first anniversary of the declaration of war, was observed as "Patriots' Day" in the community with patriotic "talks" given by various ministers. Among the ministers mentioned was the Reverend J. B. Rendall of the First Presbyterian Church who delivered an address entitled, "America the Queen of the Nations." According to the article, Reverend Rendall stated, "America is today the king of the nations of the earth, in spiritual influence, in moral power, in noble ideas, in splendid education, in broad inspired institutions. In great men and in material possession, there is no nation to compare with us. But we are also the queen of the nations. The kingly suggests the masculine and the masculine suggests power, fatherhood and brotherhood. The queenly suggests the feminine and the feminine suggests motherhood, gentleness, love and loyalty. We think of our nation as having all these good qualities that make individual life worth living and national life worth upholding."

[16] The Reverend A. G. Graves of the First Congregational Church urged his congregation to purchase Liberty Bonds as a way to share the burden of the war, or "be compelled to live a life of shameful regret after the war is over, be unable to look his fellowmen in the face." Referring to anyone who would refuse to support the war effort in this way he stated, "Let men point the finger of shame at him. Let them ostracize him from their society, consider him a social leper, and let the government which has blessed him unspeakably, but which he has refused to support and defend in the hour of crisis cause him to cry out, 'Unclean. Unclean. We have a right to know who he is that we may know how to treat him.'"

[17] Throughout the months of April and May, articles appeared frequently in the Muscatine Journal announcing flag dedication services at various churches.

[18] In April, after a lengthy discussion, the school board unanimously voted to discontinue teaching German and reimburse students for textbooks they had with ceremony dumped into a wastebasket. The action of the school board is commended by an editorial in the Muscatine Journal dated April 16, 1918, stating that its action was "expressive of the new spirit of America." Quoting State Superintendent of Public Instruction Deyoe, the editorial continued, "Let it be remembered that nationality or ancestry should no longer divide our people. There are but two classes, Americans and anti-Americans." Editorially, the Journal continued, "The discontinuance of the study of the German language may be looked upon by some as a drastic and arbitrary action. The policy will win the fullest support of the red-blooded American, however."

[19] In short order, the teaching of German in the parochial schools in the community became the target of "concerned citizens." On April 16, a "gathering of representative citizens," apparently self-appointed and self-authorized, met at City Hall to draft a resolution calling for the end of German in all instruction in all schools in the city. The resolution directed specifically at the Zion School, the Lutheran Orphans' Home School, and the St. Mary's School read as follows: 

[20] Whereas, the board of education of the Independent School District of Muscatine, has ordered the discontinuance of the study of German in the public schools of the city, namely the high school, and
Whereas, the continuation of the use of the language of the Parochial schools of the community and other institutions of an educational character, leads to agitation, heated discussion, and disturbance, and may bring about unpleasant relations, and
Whereas, the government of the United States is urging the use of one language by the people of the nation, and
Whereas, the discontinuance of the German language will not work a hardship upon anyone in the schools in question and will tend to instill a greater degree of patriotism among the children in attendance, therefore
Be it resolved by the citizens of Muscatine, in meeting assembled, that use of the (German) language as a study, or in any other form, in all educational institutions of this community, be dispensed with, and that this resolution become a definite request, in the interest of Americanism, to the authorities in control of such institutions wherein the German language is used, and that a reasonably prompt reply be made thereto.

[21] Committees were then formed to carry the resolution to the heads of the three institutions targeted by the resolution. Three men were sent to confer with Pastor Haefner who, according to the Journal, was in Dubuque at the time.

[22] A committee also called upon the Reverend Henry Reinemund, founder both of the Zion Congregation and the Lutheran Orphans' Home. The paper states that as the head of the Orphans' Home, Reinemund received them "most cordially." Reinemund asked by what authority their request was made. The Journal reported the answer given was, "In the name of community sentiment and Americanism." Before inviting the committee to inspect the school, Reinemund declared his intent to do everything possible for the best interest and unity of the community and promised that instruction in German would be discontinued. The committee also learned that the only classes conducted in German were in German reading, Bible history, and the catechism.

[23] Another committee called upon Father J. I. Grieser of the St. Mary's Catholic Parish and School. He was eager to comply with the wishes of the community, the committee reported, and stated, "Sentimental considerations have alone encouraged the use of German and now that we are at war with Germany this consideration does not enter into it." He went on to state "The Germany of yesterday has been crushed under the heel of Prussian militarism. I despise Prussia for all the grief it has brought upon the world."

[24] When Pastor Haefner returned to the city, the appointed committee called upon him and appraised him of the action taken earlier in the week and the content of the resolution. The pastor said that he was willing to comply with the request, though it would have to be brought before his board directors. He was confident, however, that they, too, would concur. While Haefner stated that "he was willing to adopt any policy which it was believed would assist in removing existent disturbed conditions of the public mind," he did question the wisdom of seeking consensus by denying individuals the opportunity of following a particular line of study. He also asked if the movement was limited to any given period of time, and was told that this would be dependent upon the outcome of current world events. The Journal also reported that Pastor Haefner "assured the committee that his sentiments were absolutely and entirely American and with America and that his interests were with the country which for thirty years he had made his home."

[25] The Zion Church Council met shortly thereafter and acted to recommend to the congregation the discontinuance of the German language in the parochial school. An article appearing in the Muscatine Journal on Monday, April 22, 1918, under the headline "Lutherans Vote German Tongue Out" reported action taken at a congregational meeting held following worship the preceding day. When asked to ratify the action of the council, the congregation did so without a dissenting vote cast. "A rising vote favorable to the proposition brought every worshipper to his feet." In addition, the following communication was forwarded to the mayor of the city: 

[26] To the Honorable Mayor, Dr. R. S. McNutt, City:
We, the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Zion Church, having at all times proven ourselves loyal and true American citizens, declare hereby, after due consideration, our willingness in making a great sacrifice for the welfare of our beloved country and our community by discontinuing the teaching of our mother-tongue, the German language in our parochial school during this conflict between our country and Germany, and to do everything in our power to help and further the cause of our government.
In the name of Zion Lutheran Congregation, the church council: J. Haefner, president, E. C. Rueckert, secretary, Otto F. J. Kindler, treasurer, John Krieg, John Opal, Herman Liebbe, Jacob Sylvester, Herman Dammann, Wm. Schwartz, George Andersen (sic. Andresen), H. Fisher, William Getz, C. S. Radloff, C. M. Timm, C. Gauler.

[27] In his sermon that morning based upon Isaiah 40:31, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," Pastor Haefner called for the people to be "of a stout heart." The present trials, he stated, might cause the Christian to sacrifice many things, but he urged his hearers to trust in the Lord. "Giving up the German language in our schools is a severe sacrifice," Haefner stated. "In fact it almost becomes to us an affliction. We have always cherished the German language because of it associations with incidents in our early lives which are dear to us. It has been the mother tongue, the agency through which we gave expression to our heart throbs in childhood. It is hard to give up the language which we learned at our mother's knee but we do it with stout heart because we are asked to dissolve our differences and become one."

[28] The paper also reported that the pastor had given out some German textbooks used in the parochial school for their examination. "Some folks were surprised in that they did not contain pictures of the Kaiser and words in praise of him," commented the pastor. "Our German books are printed in America and have preached true Americanism. Washington and Lincoln have been held up to the emulation of the children. It is unfortunate that the German text has been misunderstood." Haefner also pointed out that the school would shortly claim 100 percent participation in the Junior Red Cross.

[29] An article in the News-Tribune covering the same events added that although the teaching of German would be eliminated, opening exercises at the school would still be conducted in the German language, with the singing of a German hymn to be followed by reading from the German Bible. Pastor Haefner was quoted as saying that his church "reserves the right to use the language for religious devotion."

[30] In a conversation with a representative of the News-Tribune following the meeting, it was reported that Haefner again reiterated his loyalty and the loyalty of the congregation, citing numerous examples previously listed. "And now we are slapped in the face with the demand that we stop teaching German in our school," the pastor declared. "It is nothing more than fanaticism." Asked why the resolution passed by the congregation was addressed to Muscatine Mayor McNutt, ignoring the committee which had presented the request, Haefner replied, "We will not be governed by a committee of men but will deal directly with the government of the city," adding that this was the position of the church council.

[31] The mood of unchecked patriotism in the community continued on the same course for the weeks which followed. In the community of Letts on Monday evening, April 29, high school students, teachers, and "patriotic citizens" gathered and "demonstrated their patriotism" by burning ninety-seven German books as spectators joined hands and danced around the flames singing patriotic songs. The Muscatine Journal added that "one little fellow added the Victor record 'The National Air of Germany' to the flames." Young men who held two big American flags were cheered by the crowd.

The Parade and Demonstration

[32] Curtailing the use of German, as it turns out, was not enough to satisfy the citizenry. As a meeting of Muscatine businessmen on Flag Day was drawing to a close, a group of citizens visited the home of Pastor Haefner on Sycamore Street and requested that he accompany them. The group brought Haefner to the Muscatine Hotel where a crowd had assembled "as if by magic." According to the Muscatine News-Tribune there were suggestions of violence whispered about the crowd as the pastor waited in the car for nearly an hour, citing such phrases as "Throw him in the river," "Get a rail," and "Tar and feathers." Those in charge, the article stated, had no trouble keeping the crowd in check. Following several patriotic selections by the Home Guard Band, according to the Muscatine Journal, Dr. A. J. Oliver, a local physician, addressed the crowd. "Ladies and Gentlemen: My father served four years in the army and my grandfather went through the entire Civil War. The flag we hold so dear was fought for by them and I'll be damned if I can stand by quietly and see it insulted and dragged in the mud by a cowardly pro-German." Several citizens in the community had recently seen the American flag on the ground at the Lutheran parsonage. Dr. Oliver continued, "This is the treatment that the flag in the possession of Rev. Haefner has been subjected to. We now intend to take Rev. Haefner and dress him in a manner best fitted to him and show him to the citizens of Muscatine by marching him through the streets. We have asked that no violence be done to Rev. Haefner and have pledged him our word that we will return him safe and uninjured to his family."

[33] Pastor Haefner was then taken from the car and tried to speak, "but the jeers of the crowd and the curt command of Dr. Oliver silenced him." Marchers accompanied the pastor through the downtown streets to city hall. Participants in the march carried signs and banners announcing the sentiment of the demonstration. Some read, "German instruction means English destruction," "100 percent Americanism breeds confidence. Disloyalty breeds disturbance," "Mr. Bond Slacker You're Next," "Watchful waiting wins the war," and "We are taking the 'Germ' out of German." The article from the Muscatine Journal headed "Minister Is Marched Through City Streets" stated that a sign attached with cord to Pastor Haefner's back read, "If you don't like to speak the English language use signs." The News-Tribune also stated that Haefner wore a sign which read, "In the future I promise to be a good American," as he walked with his head bowed throughout the parade. "One of the marchers carried his hat, the clergyman walking uncovered behind Old Glory which was carried by Charles R. Wanner."

[34] The News-Tribune declared the march to be noisy but orderly and absent of rioting. "The utter contempt for pro-Germanism was repeatedly voiced by many among of the spectators by cries of: 'We won't hurt you but - watch your step!'" This paper also stated that banners were carried by prominent businessmen and professional men, including a clergyman. It also mentioned that there were a number of well known ministers from Muscatine in the march, as well as people from almost every walk of life.

[35] When the marchers reached City Hall, Dr. Oliver again addressed the assembly which had swarmed around the leaders of the demonstration, numbering by one estimate more than a thousand people. "It is the usual custom in instances and demonstrations of this sort to present the culprit with an American flag. In this case we are not going to do this as the flag has suffered enough disrespect in the hands of Rev. Haefner. I am not speaking hearsay but from what I have seen myself. It is also a custom to make the disloyal kneel and kiss the flag but we think that the flag has suffered sufficient humiliation." Dr. Oliver's remarks presupposed knowledge among those present that the flag presented to Pastor Haefner in January had been found on the ground at the parsonage a few days earlier.

[36] Dr. Oliver then addressed Pastor Haefner directly. "We want you to know that the Hindenburg line is broken in Iowa and especially in Muscatine. If you do not believe that this is your country and our flag is your flag you had better go back to Germany and the sooner the better. There is not a person in Muscatine but that would be glad to see you go," to which several people in the crowd shouted "Amen!" "However," Dr. Oliver continued, "while you are a citizen of the United States you are going to respect the American flag - if we are compelled to make you. This is only a warning to you. Let it be a lesson to every pro-German that might be in Muscatine. If there should ever be a 'next time' all I can say to you is that we cannot promise to handle you so gently."

[37] At the conclusion of the rally, Dr. Oliver asked that the crowd make no further demonstration as the pastor was returned to his home. "The crowd dispersed quickly and quietly and no attempt was made to molest the minister as he was led to the car," stated the Muscatine Journal. The News-Tribune reported that the final words to Rev. Haefner from those who returned him to his home were, "Rev. Haefner, we hope that it will not be necessary to visit you again."

Reaction

[38] Reactions to these events were quick and widespread in the community. Students at the Zion School, some of whom were moved to tears as they watched their pastor put in the car to go to the hotel, were told to go straight home after school, which, according to the News-Tribune, was dismissed shortly before two o'clock. "No reason was assigned for the closing of the school," the paper flatly declared. Students were told by staff not to stop anywhere along the way. That same evening, a meeting of the Zion church council and congregation was called in the absence of Pastor Haefner. The purpose of the meeting, as stated in the church minutes, was to "find ways and means to protect our pastor from the haunting mobs." A motion was made to form a committee to confront the other committee in the city in order to "ask them what they want so we can live in peace with them." Considerable discussion ensued and the motion was defeated. The only action taken at the meeting was recorded in this way: "It is with heavy heart that we decided to give up German as long as there is war between Germany and America."

[39] The Muscatine Journal reported on the actions of the church council the next day in an article preceded by several headlines, one of which read, "Meeting of Members of German Evangelical Lutheran Zion Church Held Last Night - 100 Percent Americanism Aim of the Membership." Members of the community read that all services would be conducted in English and that the sermons and instructions would also be in the English tongue. "Prayer and song books printed in the German language will also be removed from the church, and those printed in the English language substituted." The article also stated that after the meeting, Pastor Haefner was informed of the actions and declared that "he was in hearty sympathy with the move."

[40] The article in the May 2nd edition of the News-Tribune describes the same meeting of the congregation in a manner which seems out of character with the minutes of the congregation and the concern to "protect our pastor from the haunting mobs." It describes a meeting "brimful of patriotism" and that the motion to drop the German language from school and services was greeted with "an outburst of enthusiasm that bespoke the patriotism of those present." This is a far cry from the "heavy heart" mentioned in the congregation's minutes. Further, the News-Tribune stated that the pastor was "not consulted" and made no mention of his sympathy with the decision as reported in the Journal.

[41] The News-Tribune also ran an editorial which praised the action of the congregation as a demonstration that they are "100 percent Americans," and are showing "a truly American spirit." The editorial continued: "The News-Tribune does not believe sermons in the German language in Muscatine churches means disloyalty. . . but as a little suggestion, wouldn't it be a fine thing to make the community 100 percent all the way through, just a message to the outside world and the boys in France that Muscatine is American from start to finish. . . The German Lutheran church has indeed set a fine example, and it was voluntary as similar movement should be."

[42] The action of the congregation, however, did not put an end to the turmoil for the congregation, the pastor, or the community. The May 2nd edition of the local newspapers announced that Dr. Oliver had filed charges in Justice Coster's court against Pastor Haefner charging him with desecration of the flag. Bond was set at $500 which was immediately furnished. It was announced that County Attorney John G. Kammerer would prosecute the case and that the pastor had secured legal counsel from the office of Thompson and Thompson. It was also reported at that time that the flag involved in the alleged desecration was the flag which had been presented to Pastor Haefner by a group of citizens several months previously.

[43] Rumors began to circulate in the city that Pastor Haefner had resigned his pastorate. He informed the News-Tribune, the paper publishing the report of the rumors, that he had taken no such action and did not intend to resign.

[44] Reaction also spread to the city council. Again, according to the Muscatine Journal, at its May 2, 1918 meeting, "German was blotted out of Muscatine by the city council last night when two streets bearing titles suggesting Prussian autocracy were redesignated with American names showing a thoroughly patriotic nomenclature." Streets previously known as Bismarck and Hanover in south Muscatine were renamed Bond and Liberty respectively. The Journal stated that the renaming of the streets "seemed a fitting part of a week of somewhat tumultuous . . . events which have demonstrated the sentiment of Muscatine patriotism."

[45] The editors of the Muscatine Journal again applauded all these actions. An editorial entitled, "100 Percent American" dated May 3, 1918, began, 

[46] Physical evidence of German influence in American life is fading rapidly. In Muscatine particularly the effects of German intrusion upon American institutions are disappearing rapidly. The elimination of the teaching of German in the schools was the initial step. The action of the German Lutheran Zion church in voting the discontinuance of the language in the church services is another auspicious development. Even street names which suggested German have been given patriotic designations. All of these things manifest an encouraging development of the spirit of unity. They bespeak a sincere desire to make the city and its institutions 100 percent loyal.

[47] The editorial continued by stating that it was necessary to make this goal a reality in ways that went beyond show. "The heart must be purged of Germanism as completely as the mind. . . Foreign nationalism is a cancerous growth which must be cut out. . . No man can boast 100 percent loyalty until he gives his heart as well as his mind and his hands to the cause of America."

[48] One of the most reasoned and measured responses to the events of these days came from a group of German-speaking churches in the city, a response written by the Rev. L. E. Kettlekamp, pastor of the German Methodist Episcopal Church and printed, surprisingly, in the News-Tribune. He had been publicly praised by the Rev. J. B. Rendall of the First Presbyterian Church as one of the most loyal and patriotic citizens of Muscatine. Quoting President Wilson's address to Congress on April 2, 1917, "We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship," and citing members of his own congregation who could not speak or understand English but who had purchased Liberty bonds, Kettlekamp urged the use of the German language to spread patriotism among those who speak it. "America has been, is now, and will be for a long time to come, a melting pot of the world. Our emigrants (sic) come to us from every nation of the globe, and as long as such is the case, we cannot hope to be a 'One Language Country.'" He concluded by stating that just as soon as the government would make a request to cease using German, every German speaking congregation in the city would fall in line. "Until that time we believe it wise and best to continue using the language our people best understand."

[49] Another special meeting of the Zion council was called by Mr. Radloff on May 3. The first order of business was to adopt a motion to use the "American language" for all business transactions and for the meetings of the council and the congregation. "Thereupon," the minutes state, "our secretary, Mr. Rueckert expressed with regret that it would be hard for him to remain secretary on account of changing to English." George Andresen was appointed secretary and recorded the minutes in English for three months.

[50] Along with announcements of Sunday services for other churches in the community, the Saturday edition of the Journal stated that at Zion the English morning service would be at 10:30. "The pastor will preach in the English language. Text for the sermon: Isaiah 54:7-14." Interestingly enough, the calendar for Zion also listed that the "Frauen Verein" would be meeting on Wednesday.

[51] The content of Pastor Haefner's sermon has been lost to us, but in many ways, the marvelous and timely words from Isaiah 54 speak for themselves. 

[52] For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall no come near thee. (Isaiah 54:7-14 KJV)

[53] The News-Tribune once again put its own spin on events which had taken place at Zion. Calling the service held on May 5 a "patriotic church service" because it was held in English and because the congregation was reported to have sung, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at the conclusion, the article made no mention of the Biblical text but stated only that Rev. Haefner had declared his loyalty and patriotism and "urged the complete support of the church membership to the government." The paper reported that the church was "thronged" at the morning service. "My people will come to church whether the services are conducted in German or English," the pastor was quoted as saying.

[54] In response to the events of the past week and in anticipation of the continued controversies which were sure to follow, including the trial, the congregation met again for a special meeting on Sunday, May 5, following the morning service. At the special meeting of the council on May 3, it was recommended to propose several questions to the congregation including a possible vacation for the minister, a possible change of minister, and a name change for the congregation by dropping the word "German." It appears that these questions were not really at issue at the time. The action of the congregation by means of resolution showed its continued and unwavering support of its pastor.

[55] On the same day the Muscatine Journal ran the resolution of the congregation, it also commented on it editorially, calling in the end, for Pastor Haefner's dismissal.

[56] The Journal is inclined to accept the resolutions adopted by the congregation as perfunctory (sic), as a matter of course and of necessity since that body has continued to retain the services of the pastor up to this time. But after all that has happened, and irrespective of the fate of the present or any other legal action against Rev. Mr. Haefner, there can be but one solution which will serve the cause of community unity, allay distrust, and return to the elements of our population whose feelings have been outraged by the attitude of such men as Mr. Haefner, that amount of consideration which they themselves have been showing to elements of foreign origin or descent. The Evangelical Lutheran Zion church should call it to its leadership a pastor who is aggressively 100 percent American. If it waits too long to act it may deprive itself of that confidence and admiration which prompt action now would win.

The Trial

[57] The move to trial was swift, a good thing for all people involved, with opening arguments taking place on May 8 and a verdict reached on May 10. Potential jurors were questioned concerning their participation in the demonstration involving the pastor, possible prejudices against people of German birth, ramifications of the verdict on their personal business, and opinions which might already be formed.

[58] The state began to present its case late on May 8. The key testimony for that day came from Dr. A. J. Oliver, spokesman at the demonstration a week earlier. The witness told of several visits made to the Haefner home, the first on January 2nd with a delegation from the community to present an American flag to the minister. A second visit was made after hearing complaints that the minister was leaving the flag out at all times and subjecting it to the weather. Dr. Oliver testified that at that time Rev. Haefner stated that he had been told by the businessmen's representation to fly the flag all the time and that shortly after the presentation he (Haefner) had visited the office of the News-Tribune and questioned T. H. Brannan, publisher of the News-Tribune, regarding care for the flag. Haefner had told Oliver that Brannan's advice had been to best observe the instructions given him by the visiting delegation. Dr. Oliver had contacted Mr. Brannan and corroborated Pastor Haefner's statements, and then by phone advised the minister to "observe the general forms in flying the flag."

[59] When testimony resumed the following day, the loyalty of Rev. John Haefner continued to be brought into question by several more witnesses. The most startling testimony came from Joseph Bielefeld, an employee of the W. G. Block Company, who stated that six or seven months earlier, the defendant had told him "The Allies were in much worse shape than folks think and I am glad of it." Three witnesses offered additional testimony concerning the presence of the flag on the ground. The attorney for the defense asked the third witness, "Did Rev. Haefner appear to hold the flag in contempt?" The witness answered, "He did not."

[60] One prominent witness for the state that morning was Charles Fox, a member of the governor's staff. He told of his visit in late February with Dr. Oliver to the Haefner home because he had been informed by several residents that the flag at the Haefner home had become frozen in the gutter on the roof of the porch. "When we talked to Rev. Haefner he stated that he knew that the flag was not being flown properly but that he was observing the instructions given to him. He told of the conversation he had with Mr. Brannan . . . and his instructions to 'fly it day and night, rain or shine.' Upon visiting with Mr. Brannan, we found that such an interview had taken place. . . and later I called up the clergyman by phone and gave him the authority to fly the flag as he knew it should be displayed."

[61] After a few more witnesses, the state rested its case. It is interesting that the state did not introduce another piece of evidence which could have added to the strength of its arguments. The minutes of the quarterly congregational meeting of the Zion church on April 1, 1917, read "The pastor stated that pastors in nearby towns were sending protest notes against the war. So it was voted and seconded that our congregation send a protest note to Cummins - Hull - Kenyon to keep us out of the war. The cost of this telegram was willingly paid for by the members." Cummins and Kenyon were United States Senators who, having earlier voted against the arming of merchant ships, reluctantly voted to enter the war. Harry Hull was one of three anti-war Congressmen from Iowa, and one of 50 members of the House who voted against President Wilson's request to enter the war.

[62] Pastor Haefner was called to the stand about 11:00, Thursday, May 9, as the first defense witness. Initially, he was questioned about his citizenship. Born in Germany, he came to America as a youth. "I applied for citizenship papers as soon as I could or when I was 18 years of age," he said. After detailing his education and his personal history before coming to Muscatine, he stated that his father was a poor blacksmith in Germany who did not have the means to provide him with an education. "I gained my education in this country through the help of the Lutheran Synod and it was that which endeared America to me first. I saw then that it was the only country that gave a poor boy an education." He went on to state that the American flag had flown over the Lutheran school since it was built and that he had displayed the flag in his home ever since he had one. "I have in my possession some 40 silk flags," he said.

[63] More than half an hour of testimony was consumed in reading letters from patriotic
organizations received by the defendant thanking him for funds received. Pastor Haefner was the treasurer of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Iowa and in that capacity had forwarded contributions to the various agencies for which they were intended. Haefner stated that he had sent $5,000 to the Red Cross and $69,000 to the Lutheran Soldiers and Sailors Welfare Fund. Some 200,000 Lutheran boys were in the service, he added. All the letters were introduced as exhibits and read to the jury, most notably one from E. A. Thompson from Red Cross headquarters in Washington D. C., thanking the pastor for a contribution of $104.62 received from the Zion Congregation.

[64] In reference to the presence of the flag "in the mud," Pastor Haefner stated that the flag had been put out about noon on the day in question by his fifteen year old daughter and he did not know it had fallen into the mud until 8:00 that evening when told of it by two men who called at his home at the time. He added that he took precautions on the following Monday to see that it would not fall again. In his own defense, he further stated that on April 7, he had urged his congregation to buy Liberty bonds and that he was a member of the Red Cross. Pastor Haefner was further questioned at some length by attorneys from both sides concerning the conversation with Mr. Bielefeld which had occurred several months earlier. Upon questioning, he stated that he had a father and mother, brothers and sisters in Germany, and stated that in 1908 he had gone back "to the scenes of my childhood, the happiest days of my life." Attorney Kammerer pressed, "You took an oath to support this government when you were naturalized, didn't you?" And "It is your disposition to carry out that agreement now, is it?" The defendant answered in the affirmative to both queries. "Are you surprised that the remark which you made to Mr. Bielefeld should bring your loyalty into question?" the prosecutor asked. The Journal reported that Rev. Haefner replied, "I think that it is best for one to consider words at this point." He also denied at the prosecutors questioning that he had any private interviews with members of the congregation concerning the war. "I have not raised my hand in any way against the government."

[65] Mr. Thompson then questioned his client concerning the same conversation and Haefner stated that the conversation had taken place after America had entered the war. "Did you say Germany was on top and you was (sic) glad of it?" Thompson asked. While stating that he may have expressed himself in some such way and that he was unsure of what words were used, he also denied that "he had such a sentiment in his heart." "Your heart is with America now, isn't it?" Mr. Thompson asked, expecting and receiving an affirmative answer. The defendant stated that it was his opinion that the misfortunes which had fallen upon him were the result of personal grudge held against him by one or more individuals. "I should have avoided the statement I made to Mr. Bielefeld," the pastor said. "I was angered because he challenged me for not displaying the flag on my coat."

[66] Other members of the Haefner family, including Pastor Haefner's wife, son, and 15-year-old daughter, were called to testify. Church members Jacob Sylvester, John Krieg, and Henry Hucke testified that their pastor had urged the congregation at a congregational meeting held on the first Sunday in April to buy Liberty bonds. Further witnesses testified to the flying of the flag daily at the school.

[67] The case went to the jury at 3:30 on Friday, May 10. Mr. Thompson had concluded the closing argument for the defense at about 3:00 and Mr. Kammerer used about thirty minutes for rebuttal.

[68] A headline on page four of the Saturday, May 11, 1918, Muscatine Journal read, "'Not Guilty' Says Jury in Haefner Case." The jury deliberated only about forty minutes before finding the defendant innocent of the charges of desecrating the flag. The finding of the jury was announced at 4:12 PM on Friday. About fifty persons were present as the verdict was read. Following the announcement, Rev. Haefner was surrounded by a crowd of well-wishers, most of whom were members of his congregation. Less than two weeks had passed from the day of the demonstration until the conclusion of the trial.

[69] It is clear from reading the accounts of these events in the two Muscatine daily newspapers of the time, namely the Muscatine Journal and the Muscatine News-Tribune that though both papers had been editorially critical of Pastor Haefner on a number of occasions, the News-Tribune reported the events of the trial in such a way that favored the prosecution. Several things point to this bias. The reporting of the testimony offered by witnesses for the defense is clearly lacking. No mention is made by the News-Tribune of Mrs. Haefner or any of the Haefner children taking the stand and offering testimony. Miss Vivian Johnson is named as a witness, but nothing is said of her comment that Pastor Haefner had stated that "our duty is here." Perhaps most notably, names such as T. H. Brannan, publisher of the News-Tribune, Harry Asthaler, and others who play a prominent role in the events of these weeks are noticeably absent from the news stories, and no mention is made of the meeting at the News-Tribune office the night before the demonstration to which Dr. Oliver testified.. Further, the article which announced the verdict praises the closing argument of Prosecutor Kammerer and ridicules the argument of Defense Attorney Thompson. One subtitle in the description of Mr. Thompson's closing argument is "Oh Boy!"

[70] The News-Tribune also printed an editorial comment the day of the verdict which in essence questioned and challenged the outcome of the trial. While stating "We do not care to discuss the case just closed," the editorial continued, "Certainly as an individual he (Pastor Haefner) disturbed no one, associating almost exclusively with his closest friends and never appearing in public either at patriotic or other gatherings not held at his own church or school. . . It is disloyalty, not the man, this newspaper is interested in and if Mr. Haefner has established his loyalty he should be given every courtesy within the power of all American citizens." The editorial went on to praise the prosecuting attorney for the manner in which he conducted the trial. "He conducted himself as a gentleman throughout the trial and accorded everyone that distinction in his conduct of the case, in striking contrast to the policy pursued by the defense in a number of instances." The article continued to call into question Pastor Haefner's loyalty based on testimony by Mr. Bielefeld and his failure to cancel or reschedule a church meeting when Senator Kenyon was in town. "The News-Tribune has heretofore suggested editorially that Mr. Haefner show his Americanism by his actions, and we repeat the suggestion," the editors stated. "Loyal American citizens are interested only in loyalty, and so long as he subjects himself to criticism, he may expect it to follow sharply and promptly."

[71] The end of the trial did not completely satisfy the question, "How did the flag get on the ground in the first place?" That it was not maliciously placed there by Rev. Haefner is clear, but even the family "oral tradition" does not yield a definitive answer. Clearly by court and trial records as reported in the newspapers, a broken or defective holder seems to be the best answer. However, Helene Haefner Meyer has offered that she and a friend were "playing parade," using the flag as a part of their parade, and forgot to put it back.

The Struggle Continues

[72] The end of the trial also did not signal the end of the resolve of the pastor and the congregation to continue to speak out about limitations placed on German Americans regarding the use of their native tongue. The church council minutes of May 30, 1918, note that a resolution was to be forwarded to President Richter of the Iowa Synod urging that he, together with other religious leaders, speak out against the action of Governor Harding who, on May 23, two weeks after the conclusion of the trial in Muscatine, had ordered the suspension of German services in the churches in the state. Rev. Haefner and Rev. Reinsch were named to draft the resolution.

[73] The June 28, 1918, minutes of the church council state that Pastor Haefner reported on work done in regard to "the language question." A motion was made that the pastor "cooperate with the Ministers of the other German Churches of this City, trying to regain the German church service. Carried."

[74] German minutes reappear under the hand of E. C. Rueckert for the August 29, 1918, meeting. German worship services continued regularly well into the 1950's at Zion, and nominally until 1976.

[75] Pastor Haefner reflected on these events himself in the memento booklet of the Golden Anniversary of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church printed in 1935.

[76] In 1914 the great World's War broke out in Europe, and in 1917 our own beloved America was also drawn into this "maelstrom" of strife and bloodshed, the like the world had not seen before. The waves of hatred reached our shores and made themselves felt in every city, town and hamlet. Muscatine and our congregation was not excepted. Groundless persecution set in, especially on account of our German descendancy. Although being one of the first of six German congregations of the city to introduce the English language in our services, we were forbidden to use any longer our mothertongue, and there were many silent tears shed when we passed through this tribulation. Looking back on those days we can only say, "The Lord hath helped us hitherto."

[77] The Muscatine Journal printed an editorial on Saturday, May 11, 1918, the day following the end of the trial, entitled, "It Rests with Rev. Haefner." The editorial begins, "Few opinions will be changed by the outcome of the Haefner Case. His acquittal was the expectation of his friends and supporters. Those who doubted his loyalty will continue to hold this suspicion, since his inability or failure to make a stout denial of the remarks to which Mr. Bielefeld testified has left his loyalty a matter of greater question than before." The editorial stated that the future actions of Pastor Haefner would indicate his vindication of the charges more so than the verdict of the jury. "Mr. Haefner will admittedly find it a long way back into the confidence of many people of this vicinity, perhaps he will never be able to 'beat it back' that far, but he cannot hope to make any progress if from this moment on he ever fails to show 100 percent Americanism of both word and deed."

[78] Another editorial to be printed some twenty-three years later would ultimately reveal how far he had "beaten back" the suspicions and even the hatred leveled against him in 1918.

[79] Time also brought about a degree of reconciliation with at least one of Pastor Haefner's primary antagonists during this episode, namely Dr. Oliver. Years later Dr. Oliver came over to the parsonage and "apologized profusely" for his part in these events. This meant a great deal to Pastor Haefner as evidenced by the kind of impression this story made upon his son John and other members of the family.

[80] "Back during World War I, they called it 'Loyalty Days'. . . Well, everybody goes through that sort of foolishness once in a while. Our country does it more often than most, but here we are. We are what we are." - Garrison Keillor

"Loyalty Days" is a chapter out of the church history of Zion Lutheran, Muscatine written by Pastor Ostrem. Interested parties may purchase a copy by sending $11 (includes shipping) payable to Paul Ostrem, Box 585, Muscatine, Iowa 52761.

 



© February 2005
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 5, Issue 2