The most notorious day in Centralia’s history is almost one hundred years old and a loose consortium of area historians and community organizers are making sure the bloody double golden anniversary does not go unrecognized.
What is often referred to as the Centralia Massacre or Centralia Tragedy occurred exactly one year after the end of World War I, on Nov. 11 1919 — the very first Armistice Day. The heart of the deadly conflict was between labor union members and a joint flank of American Legion members from both Centralia and Chehalis. Accounts vary over which side instigated the onslaught of violence, but by the end, one man had been hung, twice, and at least seven lives had come to a violent end.
Due to his role in the fracas, and his macabre fate at the end of a rope attached to the old Mellen Street Bridge, it is Wesley Everest who is typically spoken of first on the history tours. The 100th anniversary memorial events will be no different.
On Saturday, Nov. 9, a demonstration that’s being called the Wesley Everest 100th Year Peace March will attempt to wind through the same streets of Centralia where its namesake once fled from his pursuers. The march, if permitted, will gather at George Washington Park in Centralia beginning at 1 p.m. but specific routes for the march have not been announced. If a permit is not granted by the city then organizers plan to hold a “Political Art Display” at the park from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. that Saturday.
The rest of the weekend will include various speakers, folk music, and other observances, many of which will be hosted by the Industrial Workers of the World. Those IWW events will take place in the multi-purpose room of the Centralia Train Station.
On Saturday evening, the IWW will show a 90-minute documentary film titled “The Wobblies” that was produced in 1979. Then on Sunday author Tom Copeland, who wrote ‘The Centralia Tragedy of 1919; Elmer Smith and the Wobblies,’ will speak at 11 a.m. at the train station. That presentation will be followed by a presentation by IWW executive board member David Tuck at 2 p.m. Later that evening, at 7 p.m., there will be musical performances by Lina Allen, Jess Grant, and Ryan Harvey.
Then on Monday a “meet and greet” will be held by the IWW at the Centralia Train Station. John Martin is supposed to be on hand from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in order to provide stamp cancellations for history buffs and then from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. there will be an official introduction to “Wobbly Organizing.”
There will also be tours of the various locations associated with the killings as well as an organized visit to the seven local graves of union members who were killed. Times for those visitiations have not yet been provided.
The Lewis County Historical Museum will also be open with an installment dedicated to the Centralia Massacre featured prominently. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday but closed on Sunday before opening back up from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Monday. The exhibit will remain up and open to the public until Nov. 16.
A historical display will also be open to the public from Nov. 9 to 11 at 622 North Tower Ave. in Centralia. That display will examine the role of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, as well as other military efforts over the years. The display will include uniforms and equipment used during combat, as well as other historical pieces.
“We’ve got some artifacts in there from the IWW. We’ve got some other artifacts from the Historical Museum that we didn’t have room to fit in the display,” noted Peter Lahmann, president of the Lewis County Historical Society, who also owns the building on North Tower.
Lahmann noted that those offerings at his property will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday and Monday, and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Additionally, Larry Brown, president of the Washington State Labor Council, is scheduled to speak at 12:30 p.m. on Monday. Depending on the weather, that speech will be delivered in front of Lahmann’s building or just down the street in front of the old IWW hall. Then, at 1 p.m. a memorial service will be held at the grave of Wesley Everest at Greenwood Cemetery. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. author Sandra Crowell will be at 622 North Tower Ave. in order to sign copies of her historical book, “The Land Called Lewis.”
Last, but certainly not least, the American Legion will be gathering to honor veterans and the signing of the Armistice to end World War I on Nov. 11, Veterans Day. That assembly will take place beginning at 10:30 a.m. at George Washington Park in Centralia. The Centralia High School band will be on hand for a performance.
“The American Legion has honored veterans with a ceremony honoring veterans (and) this year is no different,” wrote Robert Terell in a Facebook post related to the day’s events. “This is not a political event. We are honoring our veterans who helped keep our country free, and also remembering that on the 11th month, 11th day, and 11th hour is when the Armistice was signed. Please come and help us honoring our veterans past and present.”