We’d been talking about doing a field trip for years, so last year on my birthday my friend picked me up on a beautiful sunny day and we headed out, not to the beach, but to Centralia with several stops before and after planned for a local history extravaganza. She had it all mapped out but I had done my homework, too. We were going to focus on famous Wobbly sites, so in preparation I had reread John McClelland’s excellent study, Wobbly War: the Centralia Story. It was full of great—and site-specific information—with photographs to aid us in our identifications of old halls and other places of interest. We searched out all the places mentioned, and added some memorials built since the publication of the book: the plaza and flagpole with curiously enigmatic commemorative plaques, the colorful and oddly Diego Rivera-like mural, and most moving of all, the gravesite of Wesley Everest, the lynching victim, whose gravestone minces no words: Killed (not died) Nov. 11, 1919. Someone had recently placed flowers there and someone, perhaps the same person, had gone to the trouble of procuring a second marker that identified Wesley as a veteran of World War 1, much like the American Legion members who also died that day in the infamous violent confrontation at the Wobbly hall. Standing there at the gravesite in the silence of the cemetery, all the messy, contradictory bits of history remained unresolved, not smoothed over by flapping flags or cartoon images on a mural wall. And so it should be, and this is why going to the actual historic sites, looking at the bridge where the body hung so ignobly, the streets where men marched and ran, the remaining old buildings that reverberated to the sounds of gunfire and shouts, is so important. John McClelland guided us through the story but it was cemented by our day of exploring and by softly touching that gravestone and confronting that word: killed.
We meandered through other places that day, too: among others, the Tenino quarry, swimming pool and the Depot Museum, the old Claquato Church, and even the monument to the original state prison at Seatco, now Bucoda.
Images of these places come to mind as we plan this year’s adventure, but also because Ed Echtle has made our efforts so much easier by giving us a wonderful list of historic sites and local museums located in a day-trip driving arc from and in Olympia. His essay, A Brief History of the South Sound Country, newly posted on the OHS website, not only sweeps the area for known and little-known places of interest, he embeds them in a survey of history so that you can pick your era as well as area of interest. From easily reached Native American sites to pioneer structures to early industrial remains, Ed guides you through the years and provides a map for your own explorations. Don’t wait for your birthday; pack a lunch and grab the camera: history is all around us! And then write a review to be posted here about the special historic places to be found nearby.