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THE ITALIAN HALL DISASTER

It is impossible to understand what truly meant to be a miner in the early 1900s. The Italian Hall Disaster, a tragedy that occurred on December 24, 1913 in Calumet, Michigan, is a perfect example of the struggle our ancestors had to endure. Seventy-three people, including fifty-nine children, were crushed to death in a stampede when someone falsely yelled "fire" at a crowded Christmas party attended by 400 people, mostly Finnish striking mine workers and their families.

Among the victims, there were three Italian-American girls: Jenny Giacoletto (9), Teresa Rinaldi (12), and Caterina Bronzo (21). A steep stairway to the second floor, a poorly-marked fire escape, and ladders down the back of the building, which could only be reached by climbing through the windows, were the only way out. The tragedy was commemorated by Woody Guthrie in the song "1913 Massacre", which claims that the doors were held shut on the outside by thugs hired by the owners of the mines, who also caused the tragedy by yelling ‘fire’, to punish the stricking miners. Here is an article written the day after the massacre by N. D. Cochran for The Daily Book. 

Chicago, Friday, Dec. 26, 1913 - One of the meanest of human hypocrites is the rich man who pauperizes his fellows who work for him, and then noisily contributes charity to the starving families of his victims. And among such hypocrites, I would give the mine operators and their servile tools, the business men of the Citizens' Alliance of Houghton county, Michigan, first place. There is no thankfulness in my heart for any of those greedly "business" brutes because they are now making a loud noise in the newspapers about trying to help the families of the children who were hurled into eternity in that awful Christmas-eve panic at Calumet. For years the multi-millionaire mine owners have been pauperizing the parents of those dead children, by working them long hours and paying them a beggarly wage.

And, when their slaves finally got the courage to organize for self-protection and to strike for merely an approach toward justice, the masters hated them for it; and they hated most the officials of the Western Federation of Miners who carried into the camp of slaves the gospel of unionism when both press and pulpit had been bound and gagged by capitalism, and the sweet gospel of Christ was preached by preachers who wore the deputy sheriff stars doled out by the operators. When the Western Federation came to Calumet, they came to free the copper miners from slavery.

And the masters of the slaves hated them for it. They stirred up hatred among the business men. They told them the coming of the union would ruin the copper country. They controlled the newspapers. They owned the ground on which churches were built. They had subsidized the preachers by their money favors. Finding no consolation, no comfort, no help, no hope, no encouragement in their churches, the miners and their wives and children found a new religion in their union. They found there brothers from other states who wanted to help them with their daily problems, their bread-and-butter problems. The churches lost business and men of various creeds got together as members of the common human brotherhood in the halls of their unions.

And if I know anything about God, He was with them there at least quite as much as He had been interpreted to them through various creeds in numerous churches before they saw the new light. These overworked, underpaid slaves were seeking out a beggarly existence; and the owners of the principal mine had taken out, since 1870, 121,000,000 in dividends on an original investment of $1,250,000. The mine operators controlled the government; they controlled the board of county supervisors; they controlled the sheriff and all of the machinery of government. They controlled the militia, whose officers wined and dined at the club owned by the mine operators, and made headquarters in an armory owned by the same operators. They brought into the county of Houghton a private army of hired thugs and gunmen desperadoes recruited from the toughest sections of the big cities; and with this imported private army of mercenaries, they bullied the miners and their wives and children. The operators also owned business and the business men those abject slaves of selfishness and greed, who think more of a metal dollar than they do of a human being created in the image of God.

The Citizens' Alliance was formed-made up of "business men" – God save the mark! And these "business" men, with a subsidized pulpit and press, combined with capitalism to enslave the miners and their loved ones. There was only one chance to free those slaves,' and that was by organizing them into a union. The laws of their state and country were no good to them; for their enemies and persecutors owned the minions who administered the law. Imported gunmen in the pay of the mine operators fired into a miner's cottage and killed two miners. They shot off part of the head of a little girl daughter of a miner. They beat up miners and insulted their wives. And if the miners rebelled they were beaten up again and thrown into a filthy jail. And then came that Christmas-eve celebration, with its Christmas tree, its Christmas gifts that didn't come from the operators or the business men, but from friends who were trying to help the enslaved miners to liberty. With a room packed with men, women and children gathered together to catch something of the spirit of Christ in spite of the slave drivers, somebody yelled "FIRE." You know the rest. And now the kept press tells us how the mine operators and the business men of the Citizens' Alliance are doing everything in their power to help.

They can't help the children who are dead. They can't help those who are alive by giving them a few pennies, or some food and clothing. Any sympathy they express will be empty words coming from hollow hearts and uttered by lying lips. What the miners and their wives and children want is LIBERTY and JUSTICE.

They want the right to LIVE as decent human beings, brothers of the millionaires down in Brookline, Massachusetts, who live in luxurious ease on the money ground out of the overworked bodies and impoverished minds of their slaves of the mines. It is unthinkable that any mine operator would deliberately inspire any man to such fiendish work as that of the devil who is responsible for that awful calamity of Christmas Eve. But those operators had inspired hatred of the miners and of the union, and it is not reasonable to suppose that any miner friendly to the people in that hall would do what was done.

If it was done by a man who had been hired to hate the miners and the union leaders, and who was wearing a deputy's badge as his badge of servitude, then the men who hired and inspired that deputy or gunman are morally responsible for his crime. But the shame of it all is upon ALL of us, we who make this land of the free and home of the slave. For had it not been for our selfishness and our cowardly indifference, there would have been an investigation long ago of the barbarous conditions in Houghton County, an investigation by the United States government an investigation of such public character that the kept newspapers of Privilege and Big Business would have been forced to give it that publicity which the situation deserves. All we read now is that a FUND is being raised for the victims of man's greed and man's inhumanity to man. FUND! Bah! What those human slaves in Hougton County want is liberty and JUSTICE. You can't get that for them by passing the hat. Either YOU and I have got to help them get it, or they've got to fight for it. The mine owners won't drop it in the hat.

SOURCE

The Day Book, December 26, 1913, LAST EDITION http://www.angelfire.com/mi2/1913/

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