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Two Films About the Italian Hall

The Italian Hall Tragedy is the topic of two documentary videos. The first is a work commissioned by the Brothers and Sisters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 58 in Detroit.

Jeff Radjewski, Business Agent for Local 58 was instrumental in the production of this wonderful documentary. It is entitled “Our History, Our Hopes, The IBEW in Michigan. This video features an extensive segment devoted to the Italian Hall incident as part of the general story of labor struggle in the early part of the last century.

The 30 minute film was filmed by Diedre Bellomo and features interviews with Calumet area residents as well as picture from this very web site. Filming was completed in 2000 and the tape has been shown on PBS TV 56 in Detroit. As the video is being offered to public TV stations across the state, please watch for it on a PBS station in your area!

If you are interested in contacting Ms. Bellomo about the video, she can be reached at :

The second yet to be completed documentary is about Woodie Giuthrie’s song “1913 Massacre” The song, which was said to be one of Guthrie’s favorites, details the events of the tragedy. A transcript of the words to the song as well as an mp3 of the song can be found on this web site.

The work is being co-produced by New York based film makers, Louis V. Galdieri and Ken Ross. They started filming in the U.P. during the Spring / Summer of 2001. They welcome input from area residents.

Mr. Galdieri can be reached at : 521 2nd Street Brooklyn, NY 11215 USA telephone: 718.965-0385 E-mail:

Mr. Ross can be reached at: 72 East 3rd Street, #4A New York, NY 10003 USA telephone: 212.982.0343

Click here to read a newspaper article about the project


As of December, 2003, this project is entering a critical fundraising stage that will kick into high gear in 2004. If you can, please send a donation of any size. Hopefully by next December the project will have made significant progress. Please ccontribute to the worth while effort by sending donations to this address: 1913 Massacre Film Project 521 2nd Street Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215

Article from the Grand Rapids, Mi. Press, 12.28.03

Remembering a tragedy ; Filmmakers tell story of mysterious Christmas Eve in Calumet that killed 74

:[All Editions] Dale Killingbeck / The Grand Rapids Press. The Grand Rapids Press.Grand Rapids, Mich.:Dec 28, 2003 Full Text=1531 words

Call it the remnants of a holiday turned horror day.

A brick arch in Calumet is all that remains of the place where, 90 years ago, great pain and sorrow befell an already suffering people.

The Italian Hall disaster.

On Christmas Eve 1913, about 700 people crowded into the second floor auditorium on Seventh Street to celebrate the holiday. Most of them were children.

Amid the merriment, something sparked a panic that led to a stampede for the exit and 74 deaths.

For Keweenaw Peninsula residents, questions about the disaster still can fire up a passion about the terrible blow inflicted upon striking mining families fighting the iron will of the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company. For those who live outside of the peninsula, there remains interest as well.

"I have people come in here every summer wanting to know where it is," says Sue Cone, comptroller for the village.

The "it" is the site and the arch, the same arch that held the doors where a wave of human bodies piled up from the first floor to the second.

Eye of the lens

Three years ago, a New York City filmmaker and historian came to see it with his camera and learn the story for himself. Louis Galdieri went back to New York and showed some footage to his filmmaker friend, Ken Ross. The clip included a woman Galdieri had stopped on the street and asked about the tragedy. She started crying. He learned how powerfully the tragedy is woven into the community.

"This story has an entire existence of its own," Galdieri says. "It's a whole subculture."

Ross immediately caught Galdieri's zeal to capture the story, the emotion surrounding it and the influence one version of the story has on history. The version was penned by folksinger Woody Guthrie. It's his song "1913 Massacre."

"I heard the song and got inspired to go out to Calumet," Galdieri explains. "I first heard it sung by Arlo Guthrie."

Now, the filmmakers are raising funds to complete their project.

Calumet in 1913 was the village of Red Jacket. Immigrants from Croatia, Italy, Sweden, Finland and elsewhere spent up to 12 hours a day 1,000 feet or more into "copper country" mines chipping out the precious metal that was making Thomas Edison's invention available to the world.

However, mine owners realized the end was in sight, says Michigan Technological University history professor Larry Lankton. The Bureau of Mining was being formed, copper prices were falling and other regions of the country produced copper more cheaply.

"It was the last hurrah of their running the world, and they knew that," Lankton says. "Nobody, not even the president, was going to tell the mining companies what to do."

Miners tired of long days, desiring more pay and worried about the safety of the new one-man drill, struck Calumet & Hecla in July 1913 after months of organizing by the Colorado-based Western Federation of Miners.

Anna Clemenc, wife of a Croatian miner, stepped up to help lead the effort against the mining bosses. She spent some time in jail for her efforts. A private detective agency from New York had been hired to protect mining property, and Gov. Woodbridge Ferris dispatched the Michigan National Guard to the city to protect the railroad and other vital interests.

As Christmas approached, Anna, better known as "Big Annie" organized a special Christmas celebration for the striking workers' families. On Dec. 24, children crowded into the auditorium that featured a five-foot stage and lined up in rows in front of it. As the audience looked up at the stage, they saw a beautiful tree on the right, decorated for the holiday.

"My grandmother, who was 13 at the time, wanted to go to the party," Cone says. "But her mother told her she couldn't go because they were bakers."

The program began. After songs and skits, the big moment arrived. Santa Claus walked onto the stage from wings with a big bag in his hand with goodies for the children. He stopped at stage center and raised his hand. Then something happened.

Papers the next day reported a man shouted: "Fire!"

The real cause is unclear; the result is known. Pandemonium. Chairs collapsing, children screaming and mothers and a few fathers grabbing infants and toddlers to head for the stairs and then down to the street. At the bottom of the stairs was the arch and two sets of double doors. One set opened in, and one set opened out. The doors that opened inward were shut.

Annie jumped up: "Everything is OK, sit down!"

But nobody listened. Despite valiant efforts by one woman to hold back the crowd and later a man caught in the current of flesh, wave after wave of bodies started falling down the steps and filling up the foyer below. Babies smothered. Adult hearts became pressed by the weight of the flesh pile until they burst.

Bodies blocked the doors.

Cone says a man came into her office shortly before the 75th anniversary of the incident, when the arch and memorial to the disaster were dedicated. Tears fell from his eyes. "He told me he wasn't going to come to the dedication because it was too painful to him," she recalls. "He had rushed to the stairs, and he was up to his waist in people and had to be pulled out."

The man told Cone he left the hall after his rescue and went to midnight Mass at a local Roman Catholic Church where he was an altar boy. The priest put his hand on his head and kept repeating: "You poor, poor boy."

Newspaper accounts at the time report the fire department arrived to find one woman standing on a window ledge with a baby, ready to leap. Firefighters quickly pushed her back inside after climbing a fire escape. Rescuers had to get at the pile from behind, or from the second floor, pulling bodies back into the auditorium.

When it was all over, 56 children, 13 women and five men were dead. There was no fire. And the great question fueled union anger.

Unanswered question

Who started it?

Was there a bearded man wearing a pro-mining company button who shouted through the upstairs doorway, as some alleged? One woman told reporters she sat next to a man whose son accidentally caught his hat on fire. And there are more stories -- all different and confused.

"I've come to the conclusion that there is no way to know what happened," Lankton says. "Eyewitness accounts are notoriously bad. Something caused a panic."

Galdieri, who has 70 hours of footage under his belt, agrees. "There are 30 different versions of this story," he says.

Sympathy for the bereaved families unified the village, and citizens began to raise funds and collect food and other necessities. But the union boss, Charles Moyer, refused any help, saying the union would take care of its own.

Funds started arriving anyway. Citizens met to form a committee to help those who had suffered a loss. When village representatives brought food, money and other aid to homes of those who lost loved ones, they refused.

A meeting was held with the union boss. He again refused to accept any aid. Shortly afterward, Moyer was visited by a group of men who escorted him out of the city. During the process, he was shot in the shoulder -- accidentally.

He was given a ticket to Chicago and told not to come back. He survived the gunshot.

Headlines across the nation spoke of the disaster and undoubtedly helped bring a congressional investigation of the mining strike and situation in the Calumet area.

In April, the mining company agreed to the eight-hour workday, and the strike ended. But many of the striking miners opted to leave the area for western mines or the auto factories downstate.

Guthrie's song puts the blame for the Italian Hall tragedy squarely on "copper-boss thugs." He wrote and recorded the song after reading about the incident in a socialist union organizer's biography in the 1940s.

Arlo Guthrie put the song on his "Hobo's Lullaby" album and Bob Dylan sang it at Carnegie Hall in 1961.

"It's a left-wing song and is therefore very predictable and very inaccurate," Lankton says. "Let's not take it for history."

However, the song still resonates. "Sure, everybody up here knows that song," Cone says.

Galdieri and Ross want to document how the song has influenced people's understanding of just what happened and how folk music transmits history.

"In a way, our film is about telling stories and passing them on," Ross relates.

During research at the Woody Guthrie Foundation, they also discovered a play Woody Guthrie wrote about the disaster.

They've interviewed Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and two survivors to the disaster.Ross is an award-winning filmmaker and teaches film classes at Purchase College, near New York City. Galdieri is a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor turned filmmaker and has worked as a producer and writer on PBS projects.

They cannot predict when the film will be completed, but they want no doubt it will happen. "We are actively doing this," Galdieri says.

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