Italian Hall Disaster - Aftermath


After the first wave of grief had passed following the tragedy, while there was bitterness against the company, it was considerably greater against an organization known as the Citizens' Alliance (the "Alliance"). The Alliance was funded by mine management and actively opposed the union and the strike. Knowing what poor condition the strikers were in, the Alliance took steps that purported to help the families. It offered money to the union, telling union leaders to spend it as they wished.

The Alliance's offer was not unconditional. Rather, it insisted that Charles Moyer, president of the Western Federation of Miners, publicly exonerate the Alliance of all fault in the tragedy. Moyer refused. Rather than provide such an exoneration, Moyer announced that the Alliance was responsible for the catastrophe, claiming that an Alliance agent yelled the word “fire”. Members of The Alliance subsequently assaulted Moyer in nearby Hancock, then shot and kidnapped him. They placed him on a train with instructions to leave the state and never return. After getting medical attention in Chicago (and holding a press conference where he displayed his gunshot wound) he returned to Michigan to continue the work of the WFM.

The Italian Hall has since been demolished, and only the archway remains from that day, although a state historical marker was erected in 1987. The site is a park maintained by the Keweenaw National Historical Park. The marker incorrectly states that the tragedy was partially caused by inward opening doors. The Michigan Department of History Arts and Libraries has indicated that it will replace the marker to correct that error.

Ella Reeve Bloor was present at the disaster, and puts forth her own version in her autobiography. Her telling is problematic. She claims she was near the stage when the panic occurred but no witnesses ever testified to her presence. Critics have noted that Bloor's version of events in Calumet in 1913 are untrustworthy. For example, she claimed that Big Annie Clemenc led the funeral procession for the victims carrying a "red flag," even though all other accounts say that it was an American flag.

The event was memorialized by Woody Guthrie in the song "1913 Massacre", which claims that the doors were held shut on the outside by thugs.

The disaster has generated a fair amount of scholarly debate. Historian Arthur Thurner's Rebels on the Range: The Michigan Copper Miners' Strike of 1913–1914 raises the possibility that there actually might have been a fire in another part of the hall, perhaps in the chimney of the building. Perhaps the strongest argument against an actual fire is that none of the investigations found any witnesses who would claim there was a fire. The fire log of the Red Jacket Fire Department (the local fire department that responded to the fire call) also specifically states, "no fire." Death's Door: The Truth Behind Michigan's Largest Mass Murder, by Steve Lehto, concludes that the culprit was most likely an ally of mine management. Lehto does not identify the specific person who yelled "fire" but does exhaustively examine news reports, transcripts of interviews with the survivors, the coroner's reports, and other documentation in an attempt to answer the question of whether this was a calculated act by the mine management or a tragic error. In a later book, Lehto identifies who he believes was the man who cried "fire," going so far as to give the man's name, occupation, and evidence to support the claim.

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