Italian Hall Tragedy in Calumet, Michiganby Former Senator Carl Levin
Posted on 2013-12-18
LEVIN. Mr. President, a century ago on December 24, 1913,
hundreds of miners and their families had gathered for a Christmas Eve
celebration in the small Upper Peninsula town of Calumet, MI. Their
community was under tremendous stress; the miners of what is known to
this day as ``Copper Country'' had been on strike for 5 months. But
they had come for a brief holiday respite from the trials and struggles
of those difficult days.
What began as a joyful day ended in tears and wails and inconsolable grief. While no one will know for certain what sparked the families' rush to the doors at the bottom of the stairs leading from the hall, most believe that someone yelled ``Fire!'' even though there was none. What resulted in the rush to the exit is almost unimaginable: 59 children and 14 adults were dead, having been trampled or suffocated.
This dreadful disaster has forever brought back painful memories on December 24, Christmas Eve, for the community of Calumet, MI. On the centennial anniversary of this event, the anguish is still real. The sadness is only overshadowed by the senselessness of the event.
The families celebrating in the Italian Hall were hard-working immigrants, struggling through the labor strike to fight for better wages, hours and working conditions. They came to Copper country for the promise of work, even though mining was difficult and dangerous. This area was home to the largest known deposits of pure elemental copper in the world, drawing hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. It was here that the lives of immigrants shaped our nation, with their successes and their struggles.
So many reminders of the copper mining heyday remain in the quaint town. From the historic architecture to the Yooper accents; from the variety of ethnic foods to the hard living work ethic that exists today, the Copper Country communities are reminded every day of their heritage. The historic buildings, landscapes and museum collections of the area are protected and preserved by the Keweenaw National Historical Park, working collaboratively with local and State governments, historic organizations and private property owners. The park brings to life the multi-faceted story of [[Page S8974]] copper mining history including its social, ethnic, commercial and technological dimensions. However, no artifact can compete with the feeling that Christmas Eve presents to the Village of Calumet every year when it is reminded of the Italian Hall tragedy.
On this centennial, we remember those who perished, and celebrate their lives and the heritage they have left for us.