Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembering History: The Centralia Massacre

It all started with Breakfast....on our way south my Wife insisted that we eat at this restaurant that her friend had told her about.
The restaurant is called Berry Fields Cafe, it is in Centralia Washington. We used Google Maps to find the place. It was next to a park with a statue of a solider.

It was after we ordered our food that it hit me......I had never been to downtown Centralia, yet I knew of a historical event that happened here nearly 100 years ago.

The event came to be known as "The Centralia Massacre"...although depending on who you ask it might also be called something else like : "The Centralia Tragedy", "The Centralia Conspiracy", "The Centralia Riot", "The Armistice Day Riot", "The Wobbly War", even the "The Murder of Wesley Everest".

I began looking things up on the internet (on my smart phone) to see if I could figure out where some of the landmarks were. As it turns out the very building I was eating my breakfast in was the former home of the Elks Lodge. It was dedicated on November 11, 1920, one year to the day after the infamous massacre and just blocks away from the site of the initial violence.

Here is the Centralia Square Building, constructed in 1920. 

Here is what it looks like today (Google Maps)

You might notice the mural on the side of the building. It was painted by communist sympathizing artist from Connecticut (perhaps that is a little redundant?).

You could file this under Yin & Yang. The Mural is filled with symbolism, typical of communist propaganda, in addition it faces north, directly towards the Sentinel statue in George Washington Park just across Centralia College Blvd (E. Locust Street)
At some point the owner of the building re-installed the upstairs windows and doors to the balcony that had been bricked in, the communists raised a huge fuss and the mural was repaired by painting over the glass. 
Kind of ironic when you think about it, the IWW does not own the building and the building owners, being the capitalists they are, modified the building (and thus the mural) to make more money, which pissed off the commies....
Here is what it looks like today:

In Contrast the simple Sentinel Statue is a reflection of the WWI solider, with his trusty Springfield M1903 rifle he is willing and ready to fight for American ideals.

The Memorials to the slain Veterans

The inscription is a little had to make out, it says: 
"To the Memory of 
Ben Cassagranda
Warren O Grimm
Earnest Dale Hubbard
Arthur McElfresh 
slain on the streets of Centralia Washington Armistice Day Nov 11 1919 while on peaceful parade wearing the uniform of the country they loyally and faithfully served."

A little background on the event. The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) was/is a communist labor organization seeking to kill capitalism in America and replace it with a Marxist Utopian society, where everyone works hard and is supplied with riches and luxuries....(the italicized part was added for ironic emphasis).
If anyone doubts their some research, you can start with this poster (note the phrase "abolition of the wage system").

The following narrative was put together from known facts and some eyewitness accounts. It is difficult to pin down the truth, not because of the passage of time, but because of the lies, innuendos and legends that surround the case. The Wobblies made up stories such as the castration of Wesley Everest or that two Wobblies were lynched instead of one, in the hopes they might carry favor with the press and the general public.  They were more than willing to re-write history to help make their comrades martyrs.
While the Legionnaires lied to justify their actions....either way we are left trying to piece together what really happened that day.

This excerpt from the University of Washington Libraries it explains how it all started:

Centralia's first exposure to the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) had not gone well. It was 1914 when 47 members of the I.W.W., unemployed and homeless, came to Centralia looking for food and shelter. The small town, about 85 miles south of Seattle, didn't know what to do with them, and quietly hoped the men would move on, but they didn't. Citizens of Centralia were deputized, and instructed to march the Wobblies (as I.W.W. members were commonly called) out of town to the local fairgrounds. The men went peaceably, but eight men returned to town shortly, explained that the men were hungry, and would return to town, whether they were wanted or not. True to their word, they did come back, and helped themselves to food from local stores. This time the deputized men walked the Wobblies all the way to neighboring Chehalis, where the police there met them and escorted them out of Chehalis.
The passage of time did not serve to endear the Wobblies to the people of small, conservative Centralia. The I.W.W. was philosophically against US participation in W.W.I, thinking that the US should concentrate on labor problems here at home. This was generally viewed as unpatriotic, if not outright treason. Centralia didn't want these unpatriotic radicals in their town.

It wasn't long before these leftist agitators set up shop and began recruiting uneducated or under-educated workers, filling their heads with Marxist dreams (and collecting dues from their minuscule paychecks)

Fast forward to Memorial Day 1918, the IWW hall was raided by citizens participating in the Memorial Day Parade. The communist propaganda was burned, the furniture smashed and/or stolen and the Wobblies beaten and driven out of town (again). Keep in mind this was before the end of the war and before the establishment of the American Legion.

That same year on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, The guns of the Great War (WWI) went silent.

The following June (1919) The Grant Hodge American Legion Post #17 was formed in Centralia. If you didn't know, the American Legion is a fraternal organization for veterans.

The veterans forming and joining the American Legion were none to happy about their town being infested with communist agitators. The recent Bolshevik Revolution in Russia also led to fears of a similar uprising in the U.S., this was later called a "Red Scare". Despite what Hollywood and the leftists in academia say, it was a real concern, with real consequences.

On the anniversary of the Armistice (now known as Veteran's Day) the American Legion, along with the Boy Scouts of America, the American Red Cross, the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks and other business and civic leaders planned a parade to mark the occasion (the 1st Veteran's Day Parade). 
Rumors were circulated (weather based in truth or not is still up for debate) that the IWW hall (now located in the Roderick Hotel) would be raided again as it had been a year and a half earlier. These fears were exacerbated by the parade route being extended on North Tower Street to where it meets 3rd Ave, just up the block from the Roderick.

The Roderick Hotel at 805 North Tower Street (just off the NW corner of 2nd Ave and North Tower St.)

The parade began at 2pm. When the parade reached 3rd Ave it turned around and headed back south, just after making the turn it was halted (for one reason or another). 
What happened next is still in dispute, but we have evidence to prove some truths.
Some of the Legionnaires in the parade broke ranks and stormed the Roderick Hotel. Whether they were prompted by parade leaders, the sight of gun barrels in windows or the sound of gun shots, is still unclear.
A high powered rifle bullet struck Legionnaire Warren Grimm, the blood trail showed that he was hit in the street and subsequently dragged to the sidewalk. Grimm was mortally wounded and died before life saving treatment could be rendered. 
Grimm was the first one shot, no one has disputed that, but he was not breaking down the door of the IWW hall, he was in the middle of the street.
The shot could have come from the Roderick, it also come from the Avalon Hotel where witnesses saw Wobbley members with guns just prior to the commencement of shooting. Speculation is that Eugene Barnett (in the Roderick Hotel lobby) fired the opening shot, killing Grimm. He admitted to having a rifle that day, supposedly having just returned from "coyote hunting".

Another shot hit Arthur McElfresh in the head killing him instantly. This shot was said to have come from Seminary Hill some 500 yards away. More than likely it was from someone settled on a large sawdust pile in the Eastern Mill yard just a couple of blocks to the east of Tower Street.

John Doe Davis was also a potential shooter. Armed with a revolver at the Avalon Hotel he rained bullets upon the parade goers and may have been the one to kill Ben Cassagranda as he ran down 2nd street seeking shelter. Some witnesses claim it was Wesley Everest who killed Cassagranda as he made his escape out the back of the Roderick Hotel.

Inside the Hall Wobblies Ray Becker and Wesley Everest had their handguns at the ready. No one knows for sure who fired first, but shots were definitely fired at the men breaking down the doors to the union hall.

Testimony put a Colt 1911 .45 pistol in Wesley Everest's hands, supposedly a World War One souvenir. Everest was also heard saying "....The first man that comes in this hall, why, he's going to get it."
Legionnaires Bernard Eubanks and Eugene Pfister were injured by gunfire, shot in the leg and arm respectively. At this point not a single shot was fired by anyone but the Wobblies.

A WWI vintage 1911 pistol:

Wesley Everest made a break for it out the back door of the Hall, heading north down the alley between Pearl & Tower streets. He was being pursued by several angry Legionnaires including Earl Watts and Dale Hubbard. Watts was struck by bullets from Everest's gun as they ran toward the Skoocumcuck River. Watts fell just a few feet from where Ben Cassagranda lay bleeding to death.

Everest, (unable to make it to the Pearl Street bridge?), started to wade across the river and then decided he wasn't going to make it (or that he would rather fight than run?). He fired at Dale Hubbard several times (some say he reloaded and fired the last two shots just for good measure) before being tackled, he threw his M1911 in the river (I wonder if it was ever recovered?).
His captors wrapped a belt around his neck and dragged him back to town.

At one point the mob attempted to hang Everest from a telephone pole, but cooler heads prevailed and convinced the others to remand him to the jail.
He was badly beaten, but still alive when he reached the concrete floor of the jail cell. The time must have been in the 3 or 4 'o clock hour.
During the chase and capture of Everest, the IWW Hall at the Roderick Hotel was demolished

These pictures are stills from a video taken on the 12th, the crowd is standing in about the spot where Warren Grimm died the afternoon of November 11th.

During the looting of the IWW hall, the membership list was recovered and four men were found hiding in a walk in cold storage locker (that was not being used). The four men, Ray Becker, Mike Sheehan, Bert Faulkner and John McInerey were taken to the jail. 
Later in the evening John Lamb, Dewey Lam and O.C. Bland were captured at the Lamb home.

Also that evening many of the Legionnaires, Elks and concerned citizens met at the Elks Lodge (located at 305 North Tower Street, corner of Magnolia and N. Tower, in the Union Loan & Trust Bldg., 3rd floor) to discuss what to do. Many of them were deputized and given orders to find every Wobbly in town. At the same time citizens gathered at the jail yelling profanities and calling for the death of those responsible for the slayings.

The local newspaper gave the warning: "At the time of going to press the jail is surrounded by soldiers and citizens and if the IWWs contained therein are not hanged, they will be fortunate."

By this time news of the massacre had reached Seattle and Olympia. Citizens with relatives or interests in Centralia headed for the small town. While the Governor (in Olympia) ordered the Washington National Guard to be sent (from Fort Lewis, near Tacoma) to restore order.

Sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 pm the lights went out and the town went dark, whether coordinated with the utility or a subversive act, it was no doubt deliberate. The mob entered the jail and with little resistance from the City Police, they retrieved Wesley Everest, taking him in a car to the south end of town.

Everest was taken to the Mellen Street Bridge that crosses the Chehalis river. This is an old style steel girder bridge (probably chosen for that reason and that it was far enough away from downtown). The mob hung a rope from the bridge's structure, strung it around Everest's neck and pushed him off the bridge. The rope was not long enough to break his neck so a longer rope was used, the second attempt proved successful.
His dangling body was shot at and then left hanging all night.

Here is the old "Hangman's Bridge" on Mellon Street, next to the larger one that replaced it in 1959. This picture is looking East towards Centralia proper.
The 1959 bridge still exists, right next to Interstate 5, it is on the right spanning the Chehalis River

Sometime just before midnight, F Company of the Washington National Guard arrived by train from Ft. Lewis (Camp Murray) and mustered at City Hall waiting for orders. They were too late to save Everest and the City leaders did not want to start further hostilities, so they waited for daylight before initiating a show of force.

 A Washington National Guardsman walking a post (presumably on November 12th or 13th, 1919). It appears he is carrying the standard issue M1903 Springfield Rifle. This is supposedly the back wall of the City Jail, at the moment this was taken the IWW members were incarcerated behind that wall.
a WWI vintage M1903 Springfield rifle & bayonet
This is the movie, taken on November 12th, 1919, which some of the pictures above were taken from

In the morning someone cut the rope and Everest's body fell to the muddy river bottom. Soon the Police arrived to retrieve the body and bring it back to town.
Neither of the two coroners in town would take the body, so it was taken back to the jail and the other incarcerated Wobblies were given the task of building a coffin from scrap lumber.
His body was loaded into a moving van and taken to the pauper's cemetery where the Wobblies were forced to dig a grave and bury Everest.
Here is the moving van parked in the alley next to the City Jail
 The burial of Wesley Everest, overseen by WA Nat. Guardsmen with their Springfield M1903 rifles.
The Washington National Guard stayed in town for a few days and once the Wobblies had been rounded up and the mobs had come to their senses, they returned to Ft. Lewis.

News of the massacre reached Chicago the next day

On November 14th, 1919 a large funeral was held for the fallen Legionnaires. 

The next year a sensational trial was held in Montesano WA, authorities figured a fair trial would be impossible in Centralia.
Elmer Smith and Mike Sheehan were acquitted, Loren Roberts was declared guilty but insane, and the other seven were convicted of second degree murder and given 25-40 years in prison.

The convicted men were sent to the WA State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Many of them spent 10-12 years behind bars for their part in the conspiracy most of them were paroled in 1931 & 1932.


This is 805 North Tower Street, the site where the Roderick Hotel once stood. In 1930 the Roderick was torn down, this automotive shop replaced it.

111 West Main Street, the home of the American Legion Post 117, just a stone's throw from Washington Park and the Sentinel Statute (this picture was taken from the NE corner of Washington Park)

This building on the corner of Magnolia and North Tower (305 N. Tower Street) was the home of the Union Loan & Trust and the B.P.O.E. (Elks) were renting the 3rd floor in 1919, this is where the angry mob met before going out in search of the Wobblies.

The new City Hall at 118 West Maple street (corner of Maple & Pearl Streets), this is the location where the old City Jail was in 1919. The alley between the buildings is where Everest's body was loaded into the moving van.

The Mellon Street Bridge

on the north side of the existing bridge you can see the bridge abutments from the old bridge

This is the approximate location on the Skookumchuck River (in the shallows) where Wesley Everest shot and killed Dale Hubbard and was subsequently overpowered by the angry mob. This picture was taken from the Pearl Street bridge about the same time of year (on November 7, 2015)

On the map

Comparison pictures of then and now


University of WA

History Link

Tacoma Public Library

Northwest Anglican Blog

See Southwest WA


The Centralia Tragedy of 1919: Elmer Smith and the Wobblies