On This Day in History: Remembering the Centralia Massacre

Posted

    Ninety-eight years ago Saturday, gunshots rang out over Centralia.

    The same day, The Centralia Daily Chronicle splashed a headline across its front page detailing its version of the melee and fallout that ensued from a direct clash between a radical labor union and marching veterans of World War I on Tower Avenue.

    The story’s basic structure is mostly undisputed, but the finer points of the incident could spark a lively argument.

    The Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labor union also known as the Wobblies, clashed with the established townsfolk during a Tower Avenue parade on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I.

    Five people died violently that day — four gunned-down veterans and one IWW member, beaten, shot and hanged from a narrow bridge over the Chehalis River.

    Tensions over labor conditions had been ongoing between the Wobblies and logging industry captains. The second of three Centralia IWW halls had been burned in a Red Cross parade a year earlier, and Wobblies were reportedly preparing for a raid on their third hall, now a vacant lot at the corner of Tower Avenue and Second Street.

    As the Centralia residents marched, IWW members waited with guns in their labor hall, at a nearby hotel, and on Seminary Hill. The workers, many of whom had come from outside the city for work, had drawn strong disfavor from groups like the Centralia Elks Club, the American Legion and other business-oriented groups.

    Wobblies were known to use sabotage in Centralia and elsewhere in their push for a socialist economy in America.

    The basic context that led up to the massacre makes the street battle a little less surprising. The events are described in the book “Wobbly War,” written by Longview newsman John McClelland, Jr.

    According to the book, the parade began at 2 p.m. The route on Tower Avenue had actually been extended from earlier parades. It proceeded slightly past the IWW hall, where it turned around to march the other way.

    What happened next is hopelessly in dispute, except that it ended in the quick death of three of the Legionnaires — Warren Grimm, Arthur McElfresh and Ben Cassagranda.

    One marching veteran, and some Wobblies, said members of the parade suddenly dashed toward the hall and were in the process of breaking down the door when the Wobblies started shooting.

    Most of the Legionnaires, however, said the Wobblies began shooting from both sides of the street as part of a well-planned ambush on the unsuspecting veterans.

    Wesley Everest, a Wobbly who had served in the Army’s spruce logging division, ran from the Wobbly hall and was chased. In a final confrontation on the banks of the Skookumchuck River, Everest fatally shot Dale Hubbard, the young veteran who was trying to apprehend him.

    Everest was captured, beaten, and dragged through town with a belt around his neck to the jail, the site of Centralia’s current police station and City Hall.

    As the afternoon turned to evening, the mood of Centralia was apparently fearful and dangerous. That night, the lights went out downtown and Wesley Everest was removed from his cell, put in a car, and taken to the bridge at Mellen Street. He was hanged twice and shot several times. Some stories say he was castrated, though that remains under major dispute.

    His body was left to dangle through the night from the span over the Chehalis River near Mellen Street that came to be known as Hangman’s Bridge. No one was ever arrested or tried for Everest’s lynching.

Commenting is currently disabled for all users