One hundred years ago yesterday, Centralia had a day that would forever define its history.
Long past living memory of the Centralia Armistice Day Massacre, or Tragedy as many call it now, the first hit on an online search for Centralia, Washington is likely to be a post on the events of that day, the first anniversary of the end of World War I.
Depending on who you talk to, the sequence of events varies. Did the Wobblies fire first on a peaceful group of American Legion members? Or did the American Legion storm the union hall, inciting the violence that followed?
Regardless of who started the tragedy, four World War I veterans were shot dead, IWW member Wesley Everest was beaten, imprisoned and lynched from the Mellen Street Bridge, a posse member was mistakenly shot by his own comrades and a number of IWW members were imprisoned after a trial that, as columnist Brian Mittge put it last week, “was heavy with fear and intimidation.”
In the 10 decades that have followed, the tensions that stoked the tragedy in the first place have continued to simmer in the background of our everyday lives here in Centralia.
“We don’t talk about it,” Peter Lahmann, of the Lewis County Historical Society, told Chronicle freelancer Carrina Stanton this weekend.
He’s right. And when we do talk about it, we start fighting again.
For much of the past 100 years, the Centralia tragedy has remained in the dark. In the past year, efforts to memorialize the tragedy for its 100th anniversary have stirred up tension between those on the side of the American Legion members and those who sympathize with the Wobblies, leading to confrontation even now, even about how to memorialize the dead and imprisoned.
Earlier this year, area residents, history enthusiasts and union members so disagreed on how to create a new memorial of the event that talks all but dissolved.
What resulted this past weekend was a scattered group of events hosted separately by the Lewis County Historical Museum, Lahmann, the American Legion and the IWW.
It’s a shame.
We applaud the individuals and groups for scheduling events to bring Nov. 11, 1919 into the light — to, for at least one weekend, talk about the event openly and remember it for the tragedy it was. But it’s unfortunate that the groups couldn’t come together, even for one event, even for a few minutes, to remember that history together.
Maybe 100 years from now they will.