This Saturday is the 100th anniversary of the Everett Massacre, a shootout between Wobblies and deputies during a shingle-makers’ strike. “100 Years Ago Tomorrow,” a one-night concert, features musicians Jason Webley, Tomo Nakayama, Kevin Murphy of the Moondoggies and others.
One hundred years ago this Saturday, a steamboat called the Verona chugged north from Seattle and pulled alongside a dock in Everett — then quickly became a bloody battlefield in the U.S. labor movement.
The Verona was packed with around 250 Wobblies (activists from a union called the Industrial Workers of the World) coming to face down an angry sheriff and hundreds of armed men he’d deputized during a vicious, months-long strike by local shingle makers. Nobody knows who shot first. But soon at least seven people were dead — two deputies, the rest Wobblies — other people were missing and newspapers were writing headlines about “the Everett Massacre.”
“It’s amazing to me that it wasn’t worse,” said musician Jason Webley, who spent months reading through archives — books, articles, court transcripts — to commission songs for “100 Years Ago Tomorrow,” a commemorative concert featuring musicians from Everett (Kevin Murphy of the Moondoggies) to New York (composer Kate Copeland).
‘100 Years Ago Tomorrow’
by Jason Webley and friends. 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, at Historic Everett Theatre, 2911 Colby Ave., Everett; $15-$40 (800-838-3006 or 100yearsagotomorrow.com).
Once the shootout started, Webley said, Wobblies rushed to the other side of the steamer, which nearly capsized. Some deputies on the dock were shot from behind by friendly fire. “Everybody,” Webley said, “was responding out of fear.”
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The Wobblies have a strong musical tradition, but Webley didn’t want a night of covers from the union’s Little Red Songbook. Instead, he studied the strike, looking for its odd details and unusual corners — “places,” he said, “where some songs could live.” He purposefully chose musicians without strong ties to labor activism, shared what he’d found and let his guests take the reins.
One, by Tomo Nakayama, is sung from the perspective of a 19-year-old on the Verona who caught the body of Wobbly Abraham Rabinowitz after he was shot in the head. “Cuts,” a hauntingly soft song by Johanna Warren, is based on photographs and accounts of how often shingle makers lost fingers on the job: “They churn us up and spit us out/They couldn’t give a damn about/The digits we are now without.”
Webley, who grew up in Mukilteo, said he’d vaguely heard of the Everett Massacre before the “100 Years” project. But the more he dug into the history, the more complicated things became.
The angry sheriff, for example, had been a unionized shingle maker himself before getting elected — but reportedly beat labor activists and stood by while his deputies did the same. One night, men with ax handles and clubs rounded up a few dozen Wobblies and made them run a gauntlet — beating out teeth and breaking bones — before forcing them to limp 30 miles back to Seattle. “People in farms a half-mile away could hear the screams,” Webley said, “and came and saw all the blood.”
As the Verona left Seattle, Webley said, Everett started lighting up with rumors that “armed anarchists were coming to burn the town down … but the main weapon they had was red pepper to throw in the faces of people beating them.”
Conor Casey, a labor archivist at the University of Washington, said young boom towns like Everett were volatile places, heavily polarized between “bosses, hired security and workers — and not much of a middle class as a buffer.”
Nov. 5, 1916, was a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s fitting, Casey said, that “100 Years Ago Tomorrow” is a theatrical concert. “The Wobblies were so about culture creation,” he said, with songbooks, newspapers and a long history of street-theatrics and satirical cartoons. “I call it the first punk rock — it’s got that irony, that sardonic take on the events of the day. It’s current.”