Back in 2010, a centenarian visited The Chronicle with perhaps the final living firsthand story of Centralia’s tragedy of 1919.
A few weeks later, I met up with Calvin Bogar, 102, at his home north of Hoquiam to hear him tell about what he remembered as a hard-charging 11-year-old who just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time on that fateful Nov. 11. During this centennial of the Centralia Armistice Day Tragedy, I thought of Bogar and the moral of the story, from his perspective.
While riding his bicycle, young Cal saw Industrial Workers of the World member Wesley Everest run past him, with uniformed veterans in hot pursuit, moments after IWW members shot at parading veterans who had massed for a raid on the IWW hall.
“I rode up the north end of Centralia quite a ways, pret’ near up to the end of the street,” Bogar told me during a long interview. “Just before I got up there this little shooting took place. This Wobbly was on his way out in a hurry and the soldiers was after him. ... They caught up with him, hung him.”
Everest, who had just fatally shot veteran Dale Hubbard before being captured, was beaten and jailed. That night, the lights were turned out in town and Everest was taken from jail, then lynched from the bridge over the Chehalis River at Mellen Street.
Bogar had a story about that, too.
His lumberjack father, Joe Bogar, had used payment for an injury in the woods to buy a canvas-top touring car. He hung a sign in the back and charged 25 cents a ride.
Some men hired Bogar’s dad to drive out through the open land southwest of Centralia to the bridge where Everest had been lynched. They pulled out their rifles and riddled the Wobbly’s body with bullets.
“My old man took a bunch of them in his Oldsmobile and their guns. I don’t know how many times they shot at the Wobbly hanging on the bridge. I don’t know if he was living or dead,” Cal said.
The shell casings landed on the floor of the car. Joe Bogar scooped them up and saved them in a jar for years afterward.
Young Cal Bogar later worked in a grocery store. One day a lawyer — probably firebrand IWW defender Wobbly Smith — came in to buy food for the wife of one of the Wobblies imprisoned after the Nov. 11, 1919 shootings.
Cal crossed over the wooden viaduct to a rough section of town, in what is today the Logan District, to deliver the food. The family was clearly destitute, but when he put down the groceries on the oilcloth-covered table, he couldn’t help but be impressed with how spotless the place was.
The dignity of this family in its suffering made a lifelong impression on him.
As I kept asking him about the Wobblies (a common nickname for IWW members), his temper flared — not at me, but at the word Wobbly. It seems that in his time, it was used as something of a slur. He took issue with my use of the word.
“I call ‘em natural, ordinary people. They lived in very low conditions,” Cal told me. “You can’t blame a guy for fighting back when you get abused on the job. You lose your job, everything goes haywire for you. You can’t blame a guy for being aggressive. ... You take a person, take his living away from him until he’s almost down on his knees, he’s a different person. It changes you.”
Bogar’s rough upbringing — a bootlegger father and a mother who died when he was a teenager — eventually led him from a wild childhood to a deep adult Christian faith. He looks at the incidents of 1919 and wonders what would have happened if the Wobblies had been shown Christian charity and kindness.
“I think there was damn little love ever shed on the Wobblies by the other faction. ... If the high mucky-mucks part of business had tried to be halfway decent with the Wobblies, make sure their wife and kids had plenty of food, heat, do you think they’d have this mess? No. But they wouldn’t do that. There was no love, no concern.”
The divisions in our community today are different than they were a hundred years ago, but there are still rifts, deep and wide. How are we divided? By race, by belief, by politics, by where we were born, by how we look, by how much money we have, and the list goes on.
I hope that as we look back on a day when blood ran on our streets, we can see the impact when one side gives no care for the other — when people demonize one another, dismiss one another.
History can inform us, or history can repeat itself. Let’s learn from the past before desperation again turns to anger and tragedy.
Brian Mittge’s column appears each Saturday in The Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.