The Copper Miner’s Strike of 1913 and the tragedy at Calumet’s Italian Hall

December 8, 2007

Copper Miners outside Dunn's Bar

dunns 6th calumet, photo by Ztef

I usually try to make Michigan in Pictures a happy place to be because there’s enough unhappy things out there. Every so often, however, I think there are stories that warrant a look and rememberance if only to say: “Let’s make darn sure this never, ever happens again.”

Ztef captioned the above photo rather sparsely with Copper miners strike outside of Dunn’s bar on 6th Street in Calumet, Michigan – 1913, but he has provided a link to Calumet: The Copper Miner Strike of 1913. This page offers a very detailed and readable account (complete with some great old photos) of the labor troubles in Keweenaw during the early part of 20th Century from the perspective of the Zawada family, Poles who worked in the copper mines for the mining giant Calumet & Hecla. Of this photo it says:

Strikers outside of Dunn’s Bar, a favourite among miners. Just next door to Dunn’s was the No. 203 local WFM office (Western Federation of Miners). The sign on the left reads: “Something just as good Miners ask for bread, Jim [MacNaughton, C&H General Manager] offers lead”. The sign in the middle reads: “One man machine Our Agitator”. The sign on the right reads: “We demand higher wages and better working conditions”. The men in front are holding copies of the Miner’s Bulletin, but the headlines are not clear.

As you can read at the link above, the strike was characterized by escalating violence, calling in of the National Guard and even murder. The chaos culminated with what has been called a Disaster, Tragedy and even Massacre at Calumet’s Italian Hall. Copper Country Reflections’ Italian Hall Tragedy page at Pasty.com explains:

By the end of December, the miner’s strike had been waged for 5 long months, with no end in sight. The mining companies and their supporters were holding firm in their resistance to the WFM, while the union was still somewhat solid in its position.

To temporarily set aside their cares, a group of union members planned a Christmas eve celebration for their children at the Italian Hall on Seventh Street in Calumet. I can only assume that the activities that evening must have been the most fun these children had since the start of the strike. Unfortunately, the excitement turned to tragedy as someone, his identity never learned, cried FIRE. As the children and adults panicked, many worked their way towards the stairwell. The first unlucky souls quickly realized the doors at the bottom would not open. Were they locked? Was somebody holding them closed?

It is hard to comprehend, but 73 men, women and children died in that staircase. Some were crushed, others died from suffocation. Can you imagine the shock of the rescuers when they finally pried open the doors? As they pulled bodies up and out of the staircase?

The page above also includes photos that are definitely not for the faint of heart. If you’d like to explore further, there’s more information and photos at the Italian Hall 1913 Massacre site and you can see a photo of the Michigan historical marker & memorial at the site of Italian Hall in Calumet.

One thing you definitely should do is watch the moving accounts of survivors of the tragedy at the December 2007 update from the 1913 Massacre Film Project. The movie project has been going for several years and it looks like it will be very good.

The Absolute Michigan map of Michigan has the location of Italian Hall in Calumet.

12 Responses to “The Copper Miner’s Strike of 1913 and the tragedy at Calumet’s Italian Hall”

  1. oinkseterez Says:

    hmmm

  2. Ztef Says:

    Wow, thank you so much for linking to my site at http://www.stephsfamily.com, for the compliment on the work I’ve done, and especially for continuing to educate people through your own blog!

  3. matt Says:

    the people made the doors jam because the doors leading to the outside of the hall opened inward rather than outward causing the people to be stuck inside with all of the people that rushed to the doors made it impossible to open

  4. matt Says:

    thats why emergency exits and doors in theaters and wherever else are designed to open outward.

  5. adam Says:

    The doors opened outwards. The building code specified the doors had to open outward. The building was built after the code was passed. The building was up to code.

  6. farlane Says:

    I’ve always heard they didn’t – where did you get your information Adam?

  7. Ryan Says:

    Both sets of doors opened towards the street. There is a book “death’s door” with a clear picture on the cover showing the doors opening outward. It was even published when the hall was built in 1908 that the doors opened towards the street.

  8. Steve Says:

    I am the one who wrote Death’s Door. Both sets of doors opened outwards. The inward-opening door theory is just an old wive’s tale. If you read my book (you don’t have to buy it — find it at a library) you will see that there is overwhelming evidence that the doors had nothing to do with the disaster.

    Steve

  9. Samantha Says:

    I agree with Steve, I have just written an extensive research paper about he copper mining strike. I spend an excessive amount of time in the archives and on the web research events like the Italian hall disaster. The doors were not locked because prior to major rush towards the door, a few individuals exited.

  10. Steve Says:

    Samantha – I just wrote another book and included EVERYTHING About the doors (and also about the cry of FIRE). I decided to end all the arguments (Although I know it’s probably not possible).

    What did you write your paper for?

  11. Dave Freeze Says:

    The doors did open outward. By then it was a law that doors had to open outward from the inside of the building. The Iroquois theater had doors that opened inward. They had a fire there around 1906, as a result of the doors opening inward 600 people were killed.

  12. John Says:

    I’m glad to read that your article did not state that the halls doors opened inward. Unlike what is written in some articles on this subject, the doors did indeed open outward.


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