By Tom Marshall
The decade before Ole Hanson became the founding father of San Clemente, he was the mayor of Seattle. World War I was in full swing, with many of our young men serving overseas. A pandemic also roared across the globe. The Russian Revolution had brought fear of Communism into the political arena, most notably here in the United States.
Dread of a Communist revolution weighed heavily on the minds of many citizens. At that time, Seattle’s most important industry was its ports. Goods and passengers arriving and departing daily for and from ports in Asia made a huge impact on the Seattle economy.
By the 1910s, longtime labor unrest was being exploited by Bolshevik sympathizers nationwide. In 1919, three such revolutionaries landed in Seattle for the express purpose of organizing its 105 unions into one powerful, 100,000-member International Workers of the World (IWW) union.
Being a staunch conservative, Mayor Hanson would have none of this.
Unable to reach wage and working condition agreements with the mayor, the union called for a general strike, including the port and dock workers. Inciting hatred of Mayor Hanson and other city leaders, the union staged a huge rally.
A reported 15,000 workers marched on Seattle’s City Hall. According to Ole’s son, Lloyd Hanson, the mob was met by the mayor standing alone on a flatbed truck with a rifle in one hand and an American flag in the other.
“I will fire upon the first man that soils my Stars and Stripes!” shouted the mayor, according to son Lloyd. The younger Hanson notes in his book, The Spanish Village, the leaders then ordered their marchers to go home. William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers jumped on the story, calling Ole “the fighting Norwegian.”
Now the movement went underground. A plot was hatched to assassinate the mayor. A package was sent to the mayor’s office with a bomb inside. It, however, was opened by a secretary. Fortunately, she opened it from the wrong end and the sand paper and flint never ignited the nitroglycerine.
A second attempt in 1920 involved a union man quietly substituting for an armed guard posted on Ole’s garage roof. He waited for Ole to sit down at his desk by a window as usual that evening, but fate intervened.
According to Lloyd, “I had croup (cough), so Dad didn’t write that night.”
The union finally relented, a labor agreement was signed and peace restored. Shortly thereafter, Ole Hanson resigned as mayor, finished writing a book, Americanism Versus Bolshevism, and mounted a nationwide speaking tour to promote it.
Money earned on the book and tour allowed him the capital to invest in his new dream—a Spanish village by the sea, or as we know it, San Clemente.
Tom Marshall is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist.