'Uncle Sam' Billboard

Letters are replaced and reorganized on the Hamilton billboard Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Controversy surrounding the Hamilton Corner Uncle Sam billboard along Interstate 5 in Napavine is again garnering attention. 

On June 4, Centralia resident Nicholas Baum started a petition to Chehalis City Hall — which he later changed for Napavine City Hall —  lobbying for the removal of the billboard, citing the sometimes controversial nature of the messages and its representation of Lewis County from I-5. The sign, in place for decades, has long been a point of debate. Past efforts to order its removal have not been successful.

The petition has received 75,718 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, and the number continues to climb. 

I-5’s Uncle Sam Billboard: 50 Years and Still Ticked Off

“Close to 80,000 people now have been affected by this sign,” Baum said. “Whether they’re from Lewis County or they’re just from Washington and they’re driving through, they are made uncomfortable by this sign. I just don’t believe, in 2020, this is something we should be supporting.” 

To Baum, the petition is a peaceful way to try and lobby for change and give those who share similar views a collective voice. 

“What I’m trying to do here is bring everybody’s voices together, where we can do something in a peaceful manner and a logical manner, rather than violence and anger,” he said. 

Other opponents of the sign have tried to take different measures. 

According to Lewis County Fire District 5 Chief Dan Mahoney, there was an attempt to set fire to the base of the sign at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning. He said the fire wasn’t extensive and it remained in the grass around the wooden support poles. 

'Uncle Sam' billboard owner dies

The poles were slightly charred but otherwise, Mahoney said the fire was extinguished before substantial damage could be done. 

“We did an in-house investigation and the sheriff’s department is doing an investigation,” Mahoney said. “That’s about all we know.” 

A picture of the base of the sign following the incident was shared on Facebook by Winlock resident Wes Prater. The post garnered support and opposition online, where it now has 639 comments from people on both sides of the discussion. He said in looking at the sign, it looks as if someone dumped gasoline on wet ground, which is why he believes it didn’t do more damage. 

Prater continued by saying he enjoys the sign and the controversial nature of some of the statements. He also believes the sign carries historical significance for the county. 

“I grew up here, I’m over 50 years old and it’s been there in operation for longer than I can remember,” Prater said. 

The sign is now owned by Mike Hamilton, the son of original owner Alfred Hamilton. He declined to comment for this story. 

Prater says that if the sign were to be removed, he and many others would be “sorely disappointed.” 

“It’s his sign, it’s his right to say what he wants,” Prater said. “If it’s removed because of the petition, then by rights, every opposing newspaper, sign, banner, anything, would have to come down under the same grounds. I feel the petition is kind of a wasted effort. They can sign it if they want, but it is what it is.”

Free speech is an aspect of the issue that Baum acknowledges. He said he doesn’t have an issue with the sign’s political posts. Rather, he said the messages pertaining to race and sexuality are what he finds troubling. 

“It kind of sounds like bar talk to me,” Baum said. “It just sounds like gentlemen that are talking about illegal immigrants and such like that and they’re talking about it amongst themselves. You know, that’s fine, freedom of speech, everybody can have their own opinions for sure, but should it be posted on the side of the freeway? I don’t think so, especially not in Lewis County.” 

He cited the current social climate as another reason why the conversation surrounding the sign continues. 

“I do in fact believe that, with all of the things that are going on, now is the time to actually do something about it,” Baum said. “People are making changes all over the world right now … with these protests. With this petition, in itself, it is its own protest to fight against this one thing that is really making a bad impression on Lewis County.” 

Baum said he plans on bringing the petition to Napavine City Hall in an attempt to push for change. He hopes the attempt by an unknown perpetrator to burn down the sign doesn’t have an impact on how his cause is viewed. 

He disagrees with the attempt and hopes the response from the public will be enough for others to keep an open mind. 

“I’m really bummed out that did happen,” Baum said. “I’m still trying to move forward and I hope the attempt of burning this thing down doesn’t affect what we’re trying to do in a negative way. When I do bring this to the City Hall and try to bring this to a court, I don’t want that to be brought up.” 

To Baum, the point of his push to have the sign taken down is rooted in his desire for progression in the people of Lewis County. 

“I kind of look at it as an old fashioned opinion,” Baum said. “These things that are being stated on the sign, that is not what the majority of Lewis County thinks. I think by taking this thing down, we’re kind of now listening to everybody. We are evolving.” 

(12) comments

Vandenberg Law

Why is the left so afraid of freedom of speech? Is it because when you scare someone into silence they can't criticize ridiculous policies?

Stop fearing the left. Speak truth to those that would stifle free thought... Mike Hamilton bravely stands up against the Governor's authoritarian rule and uses humor to make his point. Don't let the mob destroy the very freedom of speech that our Republic was founded on. Let Uncle Sam stand free and proud and let Lewis County be known for its creativity and love of freedom.

HeavyHemi

Why is the right so dishonest and unethical in their arguments and who the support as President? Mr. Hamilton isn't brave, he's in no danger, he's entertaining himself.

You probably believe the draft evading coward Trump, is brave and standing up for you too. Wow....

profinchehalis

80, 000 signatures to remove the sign? The entire population of Lewis County is 74-75, 000. That means most signatures probably are from people who are just traveling through the county (Seattle or Portland). The billboard is on private property and there is a thing called the, wait for it, 1st amendment. Just as groups can chant "what do we want? Dead cops" the billboard owner has the right to express their opinions publicly.

Betsyb

I believe we should start another petition! We are not Seattlelites and do believe in alot of what the sign says. Freedom of Speech!!!!!

buggy-jeep17

Amen

HeavyHemi

What groups were chanting 'we want dead cops'. Oh, you're one of those. How about your heroic Trump actually PROACTIVELY TELLING THE POLICE TO NOT BE GENTLE, to be ABUSIVE? The problem is not the victims, it's your ilk that allow it.

RLW9

If someone doesn’t start a petition to keep this sign in place, I will. It will get 3x the amount of signatures as the petition to take it down. Freedom of speech. Just because your opinion differs from someone else’s, does not mean that they can’t voice their opinion.

washingtonmp03

I drive past this sign ever single day, twice. There are different messages on each side that change constantly. I don't always agree with the message, mostly because they're political and I don't deal with politics but it's not offensive and it's the owners right to put up whatever message he wants.

This article and petition only enforces the fact that no matter what the owners message I support that he be able to make it. Let me be clear....I don't support his message just his ability to make the message.

Stop being such snowflakes and offended at every sign you see.

paulbarwick

"I just don’t believe, in 2020, this is something we should be supporting.”

For Heaven's Sake. It's 2020, so let's get rid of these outdated notions such as Freedom of Speech. I mean, who needs or wants Constitutional rights in this day and age? (As much as I hate to think so, there are probably readers out there who don't see the obvious snarkiness in my comment. To those folks I say "Put your hands up and back away from the keyboard!)

HeavyHemi

These articles attract the usual Lewis County mouth breathers like flypaper.

Meanwhile, President Putz has done far more explicitly to damage freedom of expression and freedom of the press than this singular person from Centralia. Just another distraction.

Reymundo

It's important the way community support its neighbors. For the most part, the misleading and demeaning comments placed on the sign reflect poorly on the author. Fortunately, I've only met kind neighbors who care about one another, but you wouldn't know it from looking at that sign.

BigBird

The sign is illegal. If you were to buckle down and read the RCW, you would know that. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao can withhold 10% of federal funds from the WA DOT if we do not comply with our agreement with the feds regarding signs.

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