A Non-Fiction Book by Alan Berch Hollingsworth
In 1923, Ku Klux Klan popularity was at its all-time peak, with some estimates indicating 5 million members throughout the United States. Every state had members and every state had “sundown towns,” with signs posted at city limits, stating something like this: “Negro, do not let the sun go down on you in this town.” Marlow, Oklahoma was one of those towns.
Dr. Hollingsworth’s maternal grandparents, Albert and Lula Berch, were owners and managers of Johnson’s Hotel in Marlow during the oil boom of the 1920s. They chose to violate the “sundown law” by hiring a “crippled Negro” to work — and sleep overnight — as a porter in the hotel. Death threats were issued to both Berch and his porter, Robert Johnigan, such that the porter resigned after 10 days. “I’m indeed sorry to lose you,” said Berch as he wrote out the severance check. Johnigan was on his way out of the hotel, planning to leave town on the next train. But then, a hotel patron needed his shoes shined, and Johnigan kindly offered to do the job. He never got beyond the initial buff. A mob stormed the hotel and killed both Albert Berch and Robert Johnigan. The author’s grandmother and 2-year-old mother barely avoided the spray of bullets
The question arises as to whether or not the murders were typical mob insanity, or whether this was a planned assassination (as the author’s grandmother maintained). Was Albert Berch actually the primary target? Or, did he just “get in the way” of a bullet intended for Johnigan? Who might have been the mastermind (if there was one)? And then, why would Albert Berch choose to violate a social taboo so powerful that he put the lives of his own wife and daughter in jeopardy?
The author, Alan Berch Hollingsworth, namesake to Albert Berch, has carried the family story as a companion throughout his life. Yet, he did not actively research the saga until his mother’s death in 2011 at age 89. Almarian Berch Hollingsworth had spent her lifetime trying to piece the story together, but it never quite fell into place. In fact, she never did learn of her father’s whereabouts between the ages of 6 and his late 20s when he appeared in Marlow, a stranger who came to town.
Then again, she did not have the luxury of the Internet. As it turns out, it will be the mouse that roars. As the skeletons pour out of Johnson’s Hotel, none of the characters emerge unscathed. Yet, in the end, the fog clears, the mastermind is revealed (in all likelihood), and the motivation for Albert Berch’s hiring of Robert Johnigan — a fatal decision for both men — is unearthed.