ITALIAN HALL CONFESSION
by R.C. Peterson and Carl Peterson (Gazette writers)
Tuesday, March 16, 1982
CALUMET--Was it just a couple of drunken men out on the town and looking for fun, who were responsible for the deaths of 72 people on Christmas Eve of 1913 at the Italian Hall in Calumet?
According to Leslie Chapman of Calument that's exactly what one of the two men told him in a hotel lobby in Butte, Montana 58 years ago. The Italian Hall tragedy is one of the saddest chapters in the history of the Copper Country, written at the height of a bitter copper mining strike on the Keweenaw Peninsula. The popular opinion then and for years afterward was that the strikebreakers had falsely yelled fire at the crowded hall as a heinous act of vengence against the union.
Men women and children ran to the stairwell leading down and out of the hall, which still stands on 7th Street in Calument. The doors opened inward. The first people that reached the bottom of the stairs tried to push their way out and it wasn't long before the stairwell was filled with bodies---men, women and children---all people who had been suffocated to death.
Chapman recently told the story of the confession to Lawrence Westola of Calumet, whose father, John, was a victim of the tragedy. Westola said he ran into Chapman downtown. While the two were talking, Westola happened to mention that his father had died at the hall that Christmas Eve. Chapman then told him of the hotel encounter in Butte, Westola said.
Chapman, who will be 88 next Sunday, confirmed the story this week. He said he was in Butte in 1924---11 years after the tragedy---for a trial in which a Copper Country man was suing the Anaconda Copper Co. At the time, Chapman was a security officer for the Calumet and Hecla Mining Co.
News of the trial had appeared in the Butte newspaper and it was mentioned that several persons from Michigan's Copper Country would be in town. Chapman said that a sickly looking man "in his 50s or 60s" came up to him as he sat in the hotel lobby. "This fella got to talking to me and he asked me if I was from the Copper Country. I said that I was and he said, "I've got a confession to make. Do you remember the tragedy they had in 1913 in Calumet, where all those people died? Well, I was there at the time with my partner. We were both single men and drunk and thought we'd have some fun. As we walked by the hall, we decided to yell "fire" and watch the people come down. We didn't know it would turn out bad. We both left town afterward.----My doctor told me I have a few weeks to live as I have tuberculosis and I want to get that out of my mind."
Chapman said he asked the man his name, but the man told him it didn't make any difference. "People have wondered why it happened and I wanted to relieve my mind," the man said, according to Chapman. Chapman said he may have mentioned the man's story to a few friends when he returned to Copper Country about a week later, he said, but he didn't make any kind of an announcement, he said. "I was too busy with other things those days," Chapman said. Anyway, I don't like notoriety." Chapman said the man also told him his partner had been killed in a mining accident about a year earlier in Butte
AN ENTRY IN OUR GUEST BOOK
Name: Tony Shuty Hometown: negaunee mich--an calumet Sent: 7.52 PM - 8/28 My dad Peter Shuty-brother of Mike Shute--(Shutes Bar Calumet)--came to America in 1911--age 20--he was on his way to the hall that day--the talk of all the workers in the mining co after it happened was a young C&H security cop (PM) was the one shouted fire--talked to a MRS Bennit from Calumet ave few years back--was in her 90s--passed away now---her husband was a higher up at Calumet main office---she said she also heard it was him.
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