Sunday, April 7, 2013

1913 Massacre--Calumet, Michigan

The end of this year will mark the 100th anniversary of a crime of unthinkable proportions. It was December 24, Christmas Eve. Over 700 people, the families of copper miners representing several ethnicities and speaking several languages, were crammed into the Italian Hall to celebrate the holiday. Money was tight, and the miners were on strike. Outside in the street, mine boss thugs were gathering--and then one of them yelled, "Fire!"

Within minutes, 62 children and 11 adults would be dead after having been crushed or suffocated by panicked celebrants racing to get down the stairs and outside. There was, of course, no fire at all.

In 1941, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the tragedy: 1913 Massacre, Woody Guthrie

In 2005, a film company released a documentary about it, inspired by Guthrie's song: The Documentary

In 2006, author/historian Steve Lehto, released "Death's Door," a detailed accounting of life in a copper mining boom town preceding and following the tragedy: The Book

I was introduced to Guthrie's song when his son, Arlo, released a newer version of it more than twenty years later. The words disturbed me, and hooked me. "Michigan," after all, was my home state. What was this story all about? I never found good answers...until I picked up Steve Lehto's book. That's what I'm reading now, a full century after all those children died, and all those families saw their Christmas dreams trampled into nightmares.


  1. Hello Debra. It's been a while. Hope all's well. I didn't know about Calumet but after a little internet search, I do now. A terrible business.