Massacre Mural Brimming With Labor Movement Symbolism

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    The two-story Wobbly mural on the side of the Centralia Square Antique Mall building holds weighty symbolism, both obvious and lesser known. “The Resurrection of Wesley Everest” was painted in 1997 by Mike Alewitz, a professor at Central Connecticut State University who explained the meaning of his work.

    Alewitz said he wanted the concepts to be applicable to modern history, which is why the Spanish words, “Organisacion,” “Educacion” and “Emancipacion,” appear on the painting.

    He said the struggle of labor in Centralia continues today with Latino workers, and did not stop with the famous Industrial Workers of the World, who made the city famous when they battled parading residents on Tower Avenue in 1919.

    The basic elements of the mural are listed by number:

    1) The hall of the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies: The Wobblies guarded their hall on the day of the massacre, expecting an ambush from local townsfolk. It had happened a year earlier to their second hall, which was burned down during a Red Cross parade. The “OBU” on the top of the building stands for “One Big Union” of workers, a popular slogan of the IWW. In the background at the hall is a small picture of Karl Marx, the most influential socialist theorist.

    2) Old Man Lassiter: Tom Lassiter was a partially blind newsstand owner who would sell socialist newspapers. He was run out of town in 1918, shortly before the massacre.

    3) Raining black cats: These “sabo tabbys” are the symbol for sabotage, which the Wobblies regularly used to disrupt capitalist enterprises.

    4) The “Steam Plant”: This smoking plant is a tribute to the TransAlta mining company, which runs a coal-burning plant in North Centralia, and donated money to get the mural painted.

    5) Mount Helen Lee: This was a tribute to an Evergreen State College professor who helped come up with the idea for the mural.

    6) The two stumps: The “I Will Win” banner is a reference to the IWW workers, who lived in log cabins. It is juxtaposed with the stump on the other side of the mural that shows a trailer with the banner “Si Se Puede,” roughly translated to mean the same. Alewitz said he was struck by the poor conditions endured by immigrant workers in Centralia, and the two stumps are a then-and-now approach to local labor.

    7) The “pie in the sky” and the angel protestors: The pie in the sky is a reference to a satire song by slain Wobbly folk singer Joe Hill. He coined the pie in the sky phrase that appeared in his song “The Preacher and the Slave,” a parody of the well-known hymn “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” which promised a better home in heaven after hard labor on Earth. The dripping wet angels holding the sign are meant to be the wives of the Wobblies who were shot with water from fire hoses when they called for the release of their husbands, imprisoned after the massacre.

    8) Wesley Everest: The slain Wobbly was beaten and eventually shot and hanged from a bridge over the Chehalis River. He is pictured half in logger clothes and half in his military garb to show his experience in both fields.

    9) Coal mining: The heavy equipment is meant to show Centralia’s strip mining industry, which was still in action until the TransAlta coal mine was shut down in 2006.

    10) “The powers that be”: This figure, described by Alewitz as an “ugly human” is spewing fecal matter from his mouth. Alewitz said the suited man is meant to symbolize the established power in Centralia, including the press, which created hysteria about the Wobbly threat. The fecal matter is turning into a mob of people waving crosses, nooses and American flags, marching toward the Wobbly hall over the imprisoned workers and flames of discontent. Alewitz said some of the mob members have “block heads,” which was a term to describe workers who believed their bosses when they were told hard work would lead to a better life for them.

    11) The capitalist pig: The pig symbolizes the logging company owners surrounded by piles of timber and bags of money. The pig is being hugged by a block head and a “porkchopper,” a reference to a bureaucratic union boss who doesn’t really care for the union members.

    12) The Elks Club: Members of the Centralia Elks Club, which formed alliances with other established groups in the town to oppose the Wobblies, are shown as rats with a noose, a knife and a gun. The Elks Club at the time of the massacre was located in what is now the Ayala Brothers Furniture Co. on South Pearl Street.

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