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The Centralia Massacre
Lt. Warren O. "Wedge" Grimm (March 9, 1888 - November 11, 1919), was born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. An All-American at the University of Washington and an officer in the United States Army, he served with distinction as part of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia stationed in Russia in 1918-1919. He was assassinated on November 11, 1919, by members of the IWW (Wobblies) during the Centralia Massacre in Washington State.
Warren (Wedge) Grimm, University of Washington Husky, circa 1911.Warren Grimm moved to Centralia, Washington at the age of four. He regularly achieved high academic marks and was a star on the local high school football team. Upon graduation, Grimm worked as a clerk in the Assessor’s Office of King County, Washington, to pay for college. This experience led to his interest in the practice of law.
Grimm then attended the University of Washington, entering in the fall of 1908. During the following years, Grimm was best known for his athletic prowess, earning All-American honors on Washington’s famous football teams of the era. The leader of his freshman class, Grimm also joined the Sigma Nu fraternity.
It was at this inaugural event that Grimm earned the nickname “Wedge” that would identify him on football fields throughout the Northwest. Chosen Captain of the Freshman “tie-up” squad because of his size, Grimm actually showed his tactical acumen and organized his classmates into a tightly focused wedge that charged the sophomore formation. This highly successful maneuver became a staple of Husky football teams and contributed to his later All-American honors.
In 1910, Grimm was awarded the Flaherty medal by the University of Washington. He was also honored with memberships in every honor society to which he was eligible including the Oval Club and Fir Tree. His growing potential in the practice of law was also noticed and he was awarded membership in Phi Delta Phi, a national law school honorary fraternity.
After graduation from law school he returned to his home in Centralia. When the United States entered World War I, Grimm put his private practice on hold and volunteered for the Army. Sent to Officers Training Camp, he earned a commission of First Lieutenant and was assigned to the 12th Infantry. The 12th was ordered to Camp Fremont in January, 1918. On April 15th, 1918, Lt. Grimm received exceptional leave as he would once again tie the knot, this time to Miss Verna Barstad, Kappa Sigma, who was Centralia's librarian.
In August, 1918 Grimm's regiment was ordered to Siberia as part of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia (A.E.F. Siberia), under the command of General William S. Graves. Upon arrival at Vladivostok, Grimm was assigned to Co. I of the 31st Infantry and was stationed on guard duty about one hundred miles north of the Siberan seaport. Lieutenant Grimm was then transferred to Hardin, Manchuria, and assumed command of the 50 man detachment. In December, 1918, Grimm was rotated back to the HQ Company of the 31st Infantry and served as legal attaché for General Graves. Successfully completing its tour of duty, Grimm’s company left Vladvistock on April 1, 1919 and returned to San Francisco.
Grimm returned to Centralia to greet his wife and see his infant daughter, Shirley Ann, who had been born during his deployment. The town of Centralia decided to reward him for his combat service and elected him Commander of the Grant Hodge Post of the American Legion. Despite these honors, Grimm’s primary focus was his wife, newborn daughter, and the resumption of his law practice. Unfortunately, Grimm had barely begun to resume his private life when his life was tragically cut short.
The Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) was a radical syndicalist labor union. Composed primarily of unemployed and homeless workers, including dissatisfied elements from the lumber industry, the IWW had a contentious relationship with the town as far back as 1914 when 47 members descended upon Centralia and tried to take up residence. After run-ins with local authorities led to the group being escorted from town, eight union members returned to Centralia and looted the local stores for food and other supplies.
Creating Union Halls was a key part of IWW strategy at that time since the vast majority of its members were homeless. In 1917, the IWW was finally able to open a Union Hall in Centralia at which point the already bad blood with the town of Centralia worsened. The hall was attacked in 1918 during a Red Cross parade, most probably at the hands of the local lumber companies and with support from Centralia's Elk Lodge.
Consequently, by the fall of 1919, the Wobblies were spoiling for revenge. Whether by design or unfortunate circumstance, Warren O. Grimm, war veteran, local hero, All-American football player, husband, and new father, would become most famous as the first victim of the Centralia Massacre.
Centralia and the neighboring town of Chehalis had planned to celebrate November 11, 1919, Armistice Day with a parade and subsequent festivities. As Post Commander, Grimm was leading the Centralia contingent of the American Legion in the parade. With the combination of poor parade planning, bad timing, and an already volatile situation, a tragedy may have been inevitable.
An entirely inadequate route had the parade doubling back upon itself at 3rd Street in the middle of Centralia. As the Chehalis contingent countermarched, the Centralia group paused to reform ranks, which allowed a gap to build between the two groups of Legionnaires. To make matters worse, the Centralia contingent was forced to halt in front of the IWW Union Hall.
Fearing a repeat of the 1918 looting of their hall, the Wobblies had armed themselves. In addition to manning their Union Hall, members with rifles had also taken up positions in the Avalon Hotel across the street and on a nearby hill with a commanding view, thus creating a killing ground in which to trap the Legionnaires.
As the Legionnaires approached the front of the Roderick Hotel, Grimm gave the command to “Halt… Close Up.” At that instant, shots broke out. Standing in the middle of the street facing his troops, Grimm was the first to be hit and fell mortally wounded. Legionnaire Arthur McElfresh was the next victim and died instantly, shot in the head. Rifle fire continued to pour into the unarmed Legionnaires. Finally, as the dying Grimm was dragged to the sidewalk by his aide, a group of Legionnaires charged the Union Hall, breaking down the barricaded doors. Though armed, many of the Wobblies attempted to flee but were captured and turned over to local authorities.
To this day, the IWW claims that a small group of Legionnaires broke off and stormed their hall first, initiating the confrontation. However, eight of the captured Wobblies were convicted of Second Degree Murder for the deaths of Grimm, McElfresh, and two more Legionnaires. As a result, Mrs. Grimm and her daughter were placed under Federal protection and relocated.
Ted Rudow III, MA