Bill Moeller Commentary: Remembering When Chehalis Made Life Magazine


You may have noticed that the world seems to be a bit crazy these days. Some problems are new, others shouldn't surprise us. 

Take prejudice and hatred for example. 

It's been demonstrated that it isn't all that difficult to acquire a following of sympathizers: All one needs to do is identify a group of people and make a public show of hating them and fellow disciples will begin to gather around. 

History shows that. 

Nations have hated other nations ever since nations were first formed. Napoleon could stay in power as long as he made a show of hating the  English (and the Germans, the Russians and any other Europeans). 

If we had been around, it would not have been a surprise if we'd have joined them. Hitler played that game to great success for a dozen years, hating the Jews, the Gypsies, homosexuals and most intellectuals. 

Back in the 1930s, Charles Edward Coughlin, better known as Father Coughlin, achieved a large following through his radio rantings against Jews, communists, atheists and whatever other minorities came to his attention. 

The late Rush Limbaugh was the most obvious recent example by singling out liberals as the cause of every earthly woe since original sin. 

Would you believe that Lewis County and — specifically — Chehalis has not escaped from harboring hate groups in its history? It was a center for a group known as "Silver Shirts," a title that  compared them to the dreaded "Brown Shirts" of Nazi Germany. Sandra A. Crowell, in her book "The Land Called Lewis,” gave a brief description of their activities. Most of the information reported is  based on two issues of Life magazine from 1939. 

The now deceased chiropodist Dr. John McCord, whom I considered to be the best friend available in a human being (and a Chehalis native), had two fragile copies of the Life magazine issue referenced and once loaned them to me. 

So here's how Chehalis was presented to its readers under the heading of "Fascism in America.” 

First, officially, the organization was known as "The Silver Legion" and its political philosophy tied it to the same teachings as the Nazis. So, in 1939, this was pre-World War II for us in the United States, but the members of this group had lost their faith in democracy, and believed the only true ideological conflict was between fascism and communism. They cast their lots with the fascists. 

An insurance agent (which I see no reason to single out now) was the leader of the local cell. He was officially called a "Council of Safety" and he assigned himself "State Liaison Officer." He once  defended the organization by writing, "The killing of Jews seems to be the understanding of many  people towards us. … As a matter of fact there is nowhere in our instruction the killing of Jews is advocated." 

They were apparently oblivious that the fascists were already known to stand for that when the issue of Life was printed.  

After the March 6 issue of Life came out, three students from Chehalis High School — Dorothy Riley, Maida Martin and Elizabeth Allen — wrote to the magazine, complaining that the story did not  accurately depict the feelings of local citizens. 

So, in the May 15 issue, Life devoted almost two pages in the back of the magazine to 10 pictures of such wholesome activities as Harold Quick leading the singing at a Kiwanis meeting, Art Hamilton showing three turkeys, a log truck driving down Market Boulevard, L.B. Hope showing a 1,900-pound bull and "hilarity reigning at Bill Smith's Fountain,” the town refreshment and  gathering center. 

An editor's note at the end stated, "Life learns that since publication of the Chehalis cell of  Silver Shirts, the local leader has left town. He is said to have soon come back and spend the last of his days with much less notoriety in the Rose City.”


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at