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Tale of 1916 Everett Massacre retold in style of radio play

Library offers recorded melodrama as podcast

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  • Courtesy of the Everett Public Library
Everett Massacre

    Courtesy of the Everett Public Library Everett Massacre

  • Courtesy of the Everett Public Library
Everett Massacre

    Courtesy of the Everett Public Library Everett Massacre

EVERETT — On one explosive day 93 years ago, citizen deputies and a shipload of labor radicals tussled in a bloody battle on a city dock.
When the dust settled, two deputies were dead. So, too, were at least five members of the Industrial Workers of the World, otherwise known as the Wobblies. It became known as the Everett Massacre.
For right or wrong, Everett earned an infamous reputation as a place unfriendly to labor unions.
Now contemporary Everett folks can get a window into how some of their counterparts in 1916 may have felt and talked about the event — at least people who sympathized with the labor movement.
The Everett Public Library is offering a free
radio show-style performance of a one-act sketch written by a union activist in the weeks after the massacre. The sketch, “Their Court & Our Class,” is performed by local actors and will be available to listen to free on the library’s Web site and available now at www.epls.org.
Historian David Dilgard describes the sketch as a “rare, entertaining piece of the history of Everett and the labor movement.” It was written by Walker C. Smith, a radical labor journalist of the time. He also wrote “The Everett Massacre,” a book so controversial the Everett Library had trouble keeping copies on the shelves.
Smith’s sketch is a scathing one-sided smackdown of what he called “the Lumber Trust” — Everett’s mill owners.
He wrote it to raise money for the legal defense of 74 Wobblies involved in the massacre, and it was performed by amateur but enthusiastic actors at union halls around the region in 1916.
The courtroom drama focuses on the fictional trial of A. Wise Wobbly, a hardworking laborer with calloused hands, accused of first-degree murder because bullets intended for him instead struck two agents of the Lumber Trust.
This is socialist satire at its most sophomorically vicious.
The judge needs to step out for a drink, the trial takes place in the “dishonorable Court of Snohomish County” and everyone in power, including the press, is pitted against the working man.
Dilgard, who voices the part of prosecutor, describes the sketch as all about Smith’s “furious invective against the master class and the evils of capitalism.”
Even with the passing of time, there are only a few references the contemporary listener might not grasp. For instance, you might not know that the prosecutions’ main witness, Ananias, is an allusion to the evil high priest in the Bible. The name is synonymous with liar.
Dilgard explains this and a few other references in an introduction to the podcast.
The sketch was resurrected in 1993 by David Blacker, Dilgard’s brother-in-law and a local actor and a founder of the Mukilteo-based Rosehill Players. After several performances over the following years, the script was tucked away.
This year, they wanted to do it again but had trouble coming up with a venue. A radio-style show made perfect sense for this play, which is more about the dialogue, Dilgard said.
They recruited local actors to fill the dozen parts. Rory O’Neill, for instance, plays the part of A. Wise Wobbly pitch-perfectly, effecting an Irish immigrant’s brogue.
The ending to the sketch won’t be given here, but the reality is different than what’s depicted.
The Wobbly trial was moved to King County and into the courtroom of an even-handed judge who is nothing like the drunkard in the sketch, Dilgard said.
Death by friendly fire did, however, turn out to be a factor in winning an acquittal in the real trial. The labor defense attorney argued that it was impossible to tell who fired the fatal shots. The defendant, Thomas Tracy, was acquitted and the other 73 Wobblies were released.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

Return with us now
Listen to a radio-style performance of a 1916 satirical sketch at the Everett Public Library’s Web site at www.epls.org. Everett historian David Dilgard also plans a program about the 1916 Everett Massacre at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Anchor Pub, 1001 Hewitt Ave. in Everett. The evening begins with a bagpipe ceremony at 6 p.m. For more information about Historic Everett, go to www. historiceverett.org.

Story tags » EverettLaborUnions

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