On anniversary of Everett Massacre, memories live on

At 81, Molly Eisenman Donnelly has memories stretching back a lifetime. Even so, she’s too young to remember Everett’s most infamous day.

She grew up hearing about Nov. 5, 1916. Her late father, Jack Eisenman, was an eyewitness to what today is known as the Everett Massacre.

“That bloody Sunday — I have talked to my relatives and friends about that day,” said Donnelly, who grew up on Everett’s Federal Avenue. Her girlhood home wasn’t far from the City Dock, at the foot of Hewitt Avenue, where 96 years ago at least seven people died in the now legendary labor battle.

Donnelly, a widow, lives in Mill Creek. Her father died in 1995. She’ll never forget what he told her about that day so long ago.

“He was 16,” she said. “He was down on the shore and watched the commotion and what was going on. All I can recall, when the firing of guns began — he was not a man used to violence — when the firing started, he got up and ran home.”

It’s a spare memory, a secondhand snippet relayed to a daughter by a man reflecting back on his youth, and one chaotic day. It’s not much, compared with all we know of the Everett Massacre from news accounts and historical research.

The story of the killings can’t be briefly told. It wasn’t really a one-day event. Weeks before shots rang out, Industrial Workers of the World — union members known as Wobblies — had been coming to Everett. Outsiders, they spoke up for local workers, shingle weavers on strike.

On Oct. 30, 1916, according to a HistoryLink essay by Everett historian Margaret Riddle, 41 Wobblies were beaten by citizen deputies near the interurban station at Beverly Park, then south of town. To keep the IWW from organizing here, city leaders barred the Wobblies from speaking at Hewitt and Wetmore avenues downtown, Everett’s “free-speech corner.”

That Sunday after the Beverly park beatings, two vessels from Seattle, the Verona and the Calista, came to Everett carrying about 300 Wobblies. Some members of Everett’s ruling class were armed and ready. Tensions exploded in a gun battle.

At least five Wobblies were shot to death, along with two local deputies, Jefferson Beard and Charles Curtis. Nearly a century later, it’s still not clear which side fired first.

After the shootings, a Wobbly funeral drew a crowd in Seattle.

After all these years, Everett’s Bloody Sunday still draws attention.

In February, ACT Theatre in Seattle presented a mini-opera titled, “Smokestack Arias.” Composed by Seattle’s Wayne Horvitz with lyrics by his wife, Robin Holcomb, it’s a fictional Everett Massacre tale told in women’s voices — wives of a newspaper man and a shingle weaver, along with a society woman and a Wobbly’s sister.

Horvitz, who earlier wrote a musical piece about labor activist Joe Hill, said he hopes to bring “Smokestack Arias” to Everett someday, perhaps for the Everett Massacre centennial.

For Donnelly, the story her father shared is a powerful reminder of the place where a workingman earned a good living — the Everett waterfront.

With his fifth-grade education, Jack Eisenman started working for the American Tugboat Company at 16. He stayed with the company for more than 40 years. The house where he and his wife raised three daughters cost $1,500 — “$15 down, and $15 per month” — Donnelly said.

Her father had good wages and benefits, she said.

Donnelly has good memories of the waterfront. “I was on that dock many times,” she said of the Pier 2 dock where the shootings happened in 1916.

David Dilgard, an historian at the Everett Public Library, also left footprints on the City Dock before it was taken down in the 1960s. Years ago, Dilgard, along with Riddle, interviewed witnesses to the Everett Massacre, including Jack Miller. “He was one of the last of the Verona passengers — an old lefty,” Dilgard said. “I think all those people are gone now.”

He believes some with connections to Everett’s waterfront felt indebted to the labor activists who died.

“A lot of those guys who worked the waterfront were always kind of haunted, that those IWW men died for them,” Dilgard said. “People we interviewed in the 1970s had this kind of survivor guilt. They felt pretty strongly that something horrible happened to somebody else, and they benefited.”

Dilgard hadn’t heard Jack Eisenman’s story before. As spare as it is, he was touched by it.

“Some people engaged in the battle. Other people ran away and told the story. The story has to survive,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Massacre memorial

Everett’s Anchor Pub will host a program, “What was the Everett Massacre, and Why Does it Matter in 2012?” led by David Blacker at 7 p.m. Monday, followed by an 8 p.m. memorial to those who died on Nov. 5, 1916.

The Anchor, a 21-and-older venue, is at 1001 Hewitt Ave.

Learn more at www.anchorpubeverett.com.

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