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    Frederick, the “KKK” of Constantinople, and the American Pearl

    Frederick Thomas had a penchant for embracing people during spontaneous expressions of good feeling.  Once this even led him to treat in light-hearted fashion something as inherently humorless as the Ku Klux Klan. 

    On the night of July 4, 1923, his popular nightclub Maxim had filled up with American businessmen, merchant sailors, mining engineers, and, as an observer put it, other “adventurers” from every corner of the Near East—all of whom had naturally gravitated to the place to celebrate the holiday.  Feelings were running especially high and Frederick, “the jovial American Negro proprietor,” was generously “setting up drinks on the house time and again.”  Completing the inviting setting was a jazz band playing “Last Night on the Back Porch (I Loved Her Best of All)” and a bevy of Greek and Levantine dancing girls. 

    The night was progressing happily when, suddenly, “a dense hush fell on the noisy, singing, cursing assemblage as a beautiful young American girl entered with a handsome Egyptian and two ugly Lascar sailors.  ‘That’s her,’ whispered the habitués of Maxim’s, ‘and two of her guards’.” 



    Many of the Americans knew that Prince Mehmed Ali, a cousin of King Fuad of Egypt, had recently arrived in Constantinople on the Meteor, a stunning sailing yacht that had belonged to the German Kaiser, and that Pearl Shepard, an American chorus girl and film actress, was on board.  Many also believed that Pearl was a “semi-prisoner” because she was never seen to leave the yacht without the Prince or his “fierce” East Indian guards.  Rumor also had it that a woman’s “piercing screams for help from the direction of the Meteor were heard many nights.” 

    The combination of Pearl’s unexpected appearance at Maxim and the patriotic feelings that Frederick’s libations helped fuel emboldened one of the American mining engineers to suggest “we can rush those Lascars and rescue her!”  But a more sober voice prevailed by pointing out that “the Egyptian has a dozen more of his sailors outside, and they are armed to the teeth with automatics, knives, and blackjacks.” 

    For a while the Americans watched the Egyptian and his lovely companion, who seemed to be throwing “deeply appealing glances at her compatriots.”  But the Prince threatened her each time he caught her looking in their direction until, finally, he had enough and “dragged her” to a huge limousine outside with the Lascars covering his retreat in another big car. 

    By then the sun was beginning to rise behind the Bosporus.  The mining engineer decided that it was time to act and proposed that all the Americans present form the first “Ku Klux Klan in the Near East,” a suggestion that was greeted enthusiastically.  Thus it came to pass that the “mining engineer, the vice president of one of the largest New York shipping companies, an American lawyer from Paris, and half a dozen other Yankees, including several Jews and Catholics” all solemnly chanted, their tongues firmly in their cheeks: “I swear to be faithful to this K. K. K. and rescue our American compatriot from that awful Egyptian.”  Given where this all happened and whom it included, it may well have been the first time in history that an American black man witnessed an oath such as this. [To be continued]

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