February 2008 Oral History Digitization Project

Finnish American Historical Archive | Finlandia University

1913-1914 Copper Strike and Italian Hall Disaster




Overview:

The 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike was an extremely important event in American labor history. The strike began July 23, 1913, in Michigan's Copper Country. Many in the Copper Country were soon bitterly divided between two camps, a pro-mining company contingent and a pro-union (Western Federation of Miners) faction. Acts of violence from both sides further polarized the copper region...in August, company "gun hounds" shot wantonly into the Putrich boarding house in Seeberville, which was occupied by striking miners, killing two. In December, strikers shot up a pro-mining company home in Painesdale, killing three pro-company miners. Public opinion often swayed from side-to-side with each passing strike vote, organizational parade, importation of “scab” workers from New York City and pro-company (Citizen's Alliance) gathering.

 
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Hearses filled with Italian Hall dead.


Services for deceased Finnish persons at the
Pine St. Apostolic Lutheran Church,
Calumet, Michigan.

  No incident during the 9-month strike was more significant than events that occurred on December 24, 1913, at a multi-ethnic Christmas party for strikers and their families at the Italian Hall in Calumet. Sadly, the Christmas Eve party would turn calamitous and tragic. In the waning hours of the afternoon, a stampede of men, women and children went streaming down the stairs of the Italian Hall's second floor where the party was being held. In the stairwell, bodies of fallen people began to pile up on one another, assumingly after a number of people tripped and fell. The events of that night will likely forever be shrouded in mystery, but some maintain that a cry of fire initiated the fateful rush and some propose that a man wearing a pro-mining company Citizen's Alliance button shouted the false, dubious cry of fire. This assertion has never been legally verified even after congressional inquires sought to root out fact from fiction. Regretfully, even the gruesome toll of the dead is in question. For many years it was thought that 73 men, woman and children died (children were the majority of those lost in the stampede), but in recent years that number has been placed between 74 and perhaps 80. Shortly after the disaster, the Finnish language, pro-labor newspaper Työmies, published in Hancock, Michigan, placed the number of dead at 83.


Events of that night will seemingly always be surrounded in a cloud of mystery where more questions than answers exist, but what is horrifically true is that on that Christmas Eve in 1913 the Italian Hall became the scene of incredible horror, misery and sorrow for many Copper Country families.



Contained in these audio excerpts from Finlandia University's Finnish American Historical Archive's 1970s Oral History Collection are rare recollections of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike and Italian Hall Disaster. The audio samples contain a variety of perspectives, eye-witness memories of the 1913-14 Strike and Italian Hall Disaster and greatly varying ideological viewpoints regarding labor-management relations of that era.  
Workers on parade in South
Range, Mich.



Workers on parade in
Hancock, Mich.
  The interviews of Al Harvey and Robert Olander give incredible accounts of eye-witness memories from the Italian Hall Disaster. Interviews with Henry Luokkanen and Alex Nelson afford great recollections of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike and Arthur Oinas, William Parsons Todd and Frank Walli recount contrasting ideological perspectives about labor organization and the various historical actors involved in the western Upper Peninsula’s often tense interactions between wage workers and mining companies.



Copyright:

The Finnish American Heritage Center is very proud and excited to make samples of its Oral History Collection available to the public. However, Finlandia University, formerly Suomi College, holds the exclusive copyright to these files. Any utilization that does not fall under the United States standard of Fair Use (see U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress), including unauthorized re-distribution, is a violation of Federal Law. For any other use, express written consent must be obtained from the Finnish American Historical Archive: archives@finlandia.edu.



1913-1914 Copper Strike And Italian Hall Disaster, Interview Excerpts:


Al Harvey. 18 June 1973. Was a witness to the Italian Hall Disaster of 1913. Interviewed by Dr. Arthur Puotinen.

Harvey1.mp3  6:43, 3.07 MB (Tape 1 Side 1, 7:31- 14:16)

Italian Hall Disaster eye-witness account.



William Parsons Todd. 19 March 1975. Owner of Quincy Mining Company and son of a former owner, 97 years old at time of interview.

WmTodd1.mp3  4:56, 2.26 MB (Tape 2 Side 1, 19:13 - 24:04)

Air blasts. Stope height. “I don’t know if we ever lost a man from air blasts, directly.” Underground deaths. Miner dying from chasing pigeon. “[Deaths] underground very seldom really anything but men’s own fault.”

WmTodd2.mp3  6:23, 2.92 MB (Tape 2 Side 1, 25:15 - 31:37)

“Q: How strong was the union at its peak?” One-man machine. The strikers were after “the easy life…” Meeting with Union leaders. Wages. Corporate paternalism (doctors, drug stores). Working conditions.

WmTodd3.mp3  7:54, 3.61 MB (Tape 2 Side 1, 33:30 - 41:21)

Mining Companies stick together during strike. Condition of unemployed men. Correspondence with Michigan governor in 1913. National Guard and militia of Michigan. World War II Unions. State of workers after strike. Mobs at shaft houses, “most men had to have their wives take them to work.”

WmTodd4.mp3  7:43, 3.53 MB (Tape 2 Side 1, 42:36.-46:57 and Tape 2 Side 2, 0:00-3:21)

Communism. The strike and World War I. Contracting agencies to hire strikebreakers (scabs). The problem of transporting and keeping strikebreakers.



Robert Olander. 30 June 1975. Interviewed by Peter Oikarinen

Olander1.mp3  3:39, 1.67 MB (Side 2, 0:00 - 3:39)

Lived behind Italian Hall and brought a ladder to the Hall during the night of the 1913 disaster. Waddell Detective agency.



Henry Luokkanen. 6 August 1973. Interviewed by Wally Anderson in Eagle River

Luokkanen1.mp3  10:00, 4.58 MB (Side 1, 31:05 - 32:19 and Side 2, 0:00 - 8:42)

Did not attend the Italian Hall Christmas Party during the disaster. 1913 Copper Strike. National Guard, militia, and Waddell men. Violence directed at strikebreakers. Home remedies. Cupping.



Arthur Oinas. 3 August 1972. Interviewed by Arthur Puotinen

Oinas1.mp3  6:26, 2.94 MB (Side 2, :01 - 6:27)

Mining company political pressure. The difficulty of voting if one was a miner. Serving as Justice of the Peace for Stanton Township. Farming in 1910’s through the Great Depression. Prices of farm products during the Depression.



Frank Walli. 26 June 1977 Union Organizer. Interviewed by Deborah Barnhart in Mesaba Park, Minn.

Walli1.mp3  10:18, 4.73 MB (Side 1, 2:21 - 12:39)

Union Organizing. National Miner’s Union. Wagner Act. International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers. Steelworkers' Union. Työmies newspaper. Recruitment of Finns and Italians. Bruno Hall. Treatment of strikers. Unemployment Committees.



Alex Nelson. 28 July 1972.

Nelson1.mp3  9:44, 4.45 MB (Tape 1, Side 1, 8:11 - 17:55)

The mine's immigration services. Norwegian language in Sunday School. 1913 Strike and the strikers' parades. Alexander Agassiz (President of Calumet-Hecla Mining Company) and corporate paternalism. Calumet-Hecla Library and the Librarian, Mrs. Grearson.



Links and Further Reading:




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Created by Kent Randell. Overview written by Gary Kaunonen.
Spring 2008.