The Copper Miner’s Strike of 1913 and the tragedy at Calumet’s Italian Hall
December 8, 2007
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.