A focal point of Centralia history figures to be front and center during much of 2019.
A hodgepodge of people who reside in Lewis County and beyond have been gathering on a monthly basis at the Centralia Timberland Library to toss around ideas for how to commemorate the 100th anniversary of what some refer to as the Centralia Armistice Day Tragedy and others shorten to the Centralia Massacre.
A parade on Nov. 11, 1919 celebrating the first anniversary of Armistice Day turned violent when a confrontation between local chapters of the American Legion and the Industrial Workers of the World resulted in six deaths, trials that drew the eye of the entire country and generations of quiet acknowledgement by the population of the Twin Cities.
“It was mostly a mystery,” said Jay Hupp, a Shelton resident who graduated from Centralia High School in 1956. “There wasn’t really a whole lot that was discussed and there wasn’t really a lot of interest in the part of people talking about it. It wasn’t anything that was really a burning question, just something you might be passively curious about but not something you’d dig into.”
Teva Youngblood, former president of the Centralia Downtown Association runs a Facebook page dedicated to the centennial and has been facilitating the library meetings. She did not return multiple phone calls requesting comment.
Hupp broached the idea of installing a monument in Washington Park at the Nov. 27 meeting of the committee. According to notes taken at the meeting, the idea would be to present a perspective on the tragedy different than that inscribed on The Sentinel, a bronze statue in George Washington Park that serves as a monument to the four Legionnaires killed during the massacre.
The idea is preliminary at best and would require an efficient fundraising campaign to have something ready by November. Another possibility is having having a labor march to complete the parade that was cut short in 1919. The American Legion post in Centralia would likely still have their annual Veterans Day ceremony at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.
“They’ll continue with their event the same they’ve been doing for years,” said Centralia resident Peter Lahmann, who has served as president of the Lewis County Historical Society. “There’s been some interest in a march that’s not like a reenactment or commemoration, but a chance for organized labor to come out and celebrate their heritage as well. As far as a monument, we’d want the Legion people and the IWW to look at it and hopefully have everyone buy into it so we’re not offending someone before anything like that becomes a reality.”
The Lewis County Historical Museum is working with the committee while putting together its own plan to mark the centennial. Museum Director Jason Mattson said there’s a loose plan being formed to have a pop-up museum in Centralia run for at least a few months prior to the anniversary.
Historic photos of the aftermath, including some used during trial arguments, will be featured. Some have never been featured in a public display.
“The hope of the committee is to bring some kind of closure to this for people, since it’s been a hot topic for so long,” Mattson said. “I don’t know that we can present any evidence that will say this or that which will change anyone’s mind about it, but people can hopefully learn about it and form their own opinions.”