The 1913 Italian Hall Massacre

The copper strike of 1913-14 started in July and lasted nine months. It was one of Michigan’s most bitter labor actions. The introduction of the one-man drill triggered the strike. Miners feared cutbacks on the number of jobs and working alone. Strikers also demanded recognition of the Western Federation of Miners as their bargaining agent, a reduction from a 10-hour to an 8-hour work day, and $3.50 per day wages. The mining companies refused to recognize the union or to return to the two-man drill, but did, in the end, cut hours and increase wages. Miners who returned to work found themselves alongside men who had been hired as strikebreakers. In the following years, many experienced miners left the Copper Country for the auto factories of Detroit, mining jobs inthe western U. S. or military service with the outbreak of World War I in 1917. The strike was a bitter struggle. Michigan state militia, on horseback, was deployed against the strikers. Strike leaders, lead by “Big” Annie Clemenic, rallied the strikers by hosting a Christmas party at the Italian hall. While the miners’ families were celebrating Christmas Eve at Italian Hall in Calumet someone yelled, “Fire!” In panic, the crowd rushed to get out of the second-floor hall. They could not open the door to the outside, and 73 people–mostly children–died in the crush.There was no fire. Many miners believed that the mine companies had sent the person who caused the panic, although this could never proved it seems the most likely explaination. Eye witnesses saw company agents in the area but could not identify them. The crime remains unsolved.

In recent times the hall fell on disrepair. Local Unions, including the North West Upper Peninsula Labor Council, and a variety of volunteers, purchased the site and the surrounding land. They restored it and preserved it as a monument to Michigan’s workers. These individuals kept the incident and the site from fading into the mists of history.

BeforeBefore

Mother Jones marches with the strikers before the masscreMother Jones marches with the strikers

The victimsThe victims

Woody Guthrie’s song about this event

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The 1913 Italian Hall Massacre

  1. What a good blog you’ve here. Make sure you revise it more often. This subjects will be my interest. Thanks.

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  4. Kathleen

    It was my understanding that the building was torn down in 1984. Are you saying that the building is still there?

    • Kathleen

      I also wanted to say that I dig your blog. You seem to have many of the concerns that I have for justice and peace.
      I just saw a very informative documentary recently on PBS re: the fire. So many people have just plain forgotten or never been informed of the sacrifices that union organizers made on behalf of the working class.

      • rick s

        Thank you for your kind words. Most working people have no idea what sacrifices were made in the fairly recent history of this country to get things that are now taken for granted.

    • rick s

      You are correct- the main portion of the building was demolished in 1984. The only part left is an archway. A state historic marker was erected in 1987 I think. That marker originally stated incorrectly that the tragedy was due in part to “inwardly opening doors”. It has since been corrected.
      Thanks for the fact check!

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