What the hell happened in Centralia? AKA The Centralia Tragedy.
The history of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is filled with tragedy, as well as victory. For some reason a lot of these events took place in the month of November and several of them took place here in the Northwest. One of these such events is known as the Centralia Tragedy. What follows is a brief history of that event which will have its 100th anniversary next year.
Even to this day some people still have strong feelings about the Tragedy. For a longtime there has been a monument to the American Legion. The side that attacked and lynched the wobblies. While only about ten years ago was a mural created in Centralia recognizing the tragedy as such.
The American Legion in its early years was little better then a collection of fascist sympathizers and organized vigilantes. In 1923, a just a few years after the Centralia Tragedy, American Legion Commander Alvin Owsley cited Italian Fascism as a model for defending the nation against the forces of the left. Owsley said: “If ever needed, The American Legion stands ready to protect our country’s institutions and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the deconstructionists who menaced Italy!… The American Legion is fighting every element that threatens our democratic government – Soviets, anarchists, IWW,revolutionary socialists and every other red… Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what The American Legion is to the United States.”
So this gives you an idea of what kind of people the Legion was made up of. November 11th1919 was the 1st anniversary of the end of World War I. Then it was known as Armistice day. Today it is known as Veterans Day. That war was also called the war to end all wars. That clearly wasn’t the case so they later had to celebrate the end of other wars. Or just celebrate war, who can tell.
Anyway, in Centralia that day the Legion, as well as some other groups, had planned a parade. There had been talk that they would try and attack the IWW union hall. So the wobblies were somewhat prepared. We should note that there were veterans of WWI on the union side as well. Particularly Wesley Everest. As the parade when down the street where the union hall was. It stopped in front. Legion members stormed the hall. As I said the wobblies were not entirely caught by surprise. They opened fire at the invaders. Also, across the street on a hill union members had been stationed with guns to set up a cross fire, if the Legion attacked.
A mob further attacked and burned out the union hall. Everest was one who fled the hall as it was being attacked. He was eventually caught and was dragged back to town to be lynched, however, the police intervened and put him in jail. Later that night vigilantes/legion members went into the jail, without resistance, and took Everest to a railroad bridge that crosses the Chehalis River.
Everest was hung twice from the bridge because the first time his neck didn’t break. After that the mob used their cars to spotlight him and they took turns shooting at him. Some time in the night the body was cut down taken back to the jail where it was put back in the cell with his friends for the rest of the night.
Of course since the wobblies were the ones that were attacked 12 of them were indicted for murder and six of them were later convicted.
This is what happen in Centralia.