Ellie Kemper, best known as Erin Hannon on “The Office,” came under fire Monday afternoon after a Twitter user revealed she was once crowned the “Queen of Love and Beauty” at a long-running Missouri debutante ball. The user’s incorrect claim that the event is “put on by [St. Louis’] KKK” quickly spread, resulting in dozens of headlines that are likely to damage the actress’ career.
Now known as the Fair St. Louis, local business leaders established the Veiled Prophet Ball in 1878 to help the city compete with Chicago’s rapidly expanding commercial dominance and as a PR effort against striking workers. Inspired by the Irish poem “Lalla Rookh” by Thomas Moore and the revelries of Mardis Gras, the group invented a mythic society centered around a character known as the “Veiled Prophet of Khorassan,” a mystic traveler who would select the worthiest beauty from among the daughters of the city’s elite.
Kemper would have been an obvious candidate.
Before becoming an actress and starring in shows like “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and films like “Bridesmaids,” Kemper grew up in one of the wealthiest families in Missouri. The Kemper fortune was first established by her great-great-grandfather, banker and railroad magnate William Thornton Kemper Sr., and her father was chairman and CEO of the bank holding company, Commerce Bancshares.
In 1999, when she won the crown, Kemper was a 19-year-old freshman at Princeton University. The Post-Dispatch’s report on her win describes her athletic, academic, and altruistic qualifications as a national merit scholarship finalist, a field-hockey champion, and a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and the St. Louis Crisis Nursery.
Based on this and a 2014 Atlantic story that never mentions the Klan and never claims the organization had any in-depth Confederate connection, the platform erupted with claims that Kemper was a “KKK princess.”
“So…Ellie Kemper was a KKK princess??? And no one knew about it???” tweeted activist and Forbes contributor Imani Barbarin.
Jon Negroni, a film critic who has written for Slate, Vulture, and the Huffington Post said, “It really is something that Ellie Kemper was the star of a tv show about a woman who leaves a racist cult and tries to rebrand herself while pretending it never happened. no reason why I’m bringing this up of course.”
And sportswriter and former pro soccer player Zito Madu posted, “Ellie Kemper being a KKK princess is so random that I’m not even sure where to begin with the questions.”
While the event has undeniable racism in its past — it didn’t admit black attendees until 1979 — claims that the Veiled Prophet ball is connected to the KKK appear unfounded.
Twitter users highlighted a black-and-white 1878 newspaper drawing of the Veiled Prophet in a pointed hood as proof of the association. However, according to the Smithsonian, the KKK didn’t adopt the hooded uniform until 1915. And a Post-Dispatch society report at the time described the figure as wearing a red and green costume, not white.
Assertions that the ball is explicitly tied to the Confederacy also appear overstated. Alonzo Slayback, one of the brothers instrumental in the ball’s founding, was a former Confederate soldier. The Atlantic report on which many Twitter users based their KKK accusations incorrectly stated that Charles was the Confederate soldier, but the story made no other Confederate connection.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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