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Christmas Eve, 1913

This is a Christmas story you probably won’t hear retold during those sleek holiday shopping advertisements or around the flush tables of Don Blankenship or other mining company executives.  Because this is the supposed season of joy, you may never have heard about Christmas eve in Calumet, Michigan in 1913.  Perhaps it’s best to let Woody Guthrie tell it first:

Up on northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula copper belt, seventy-five people — the brunt of them women and children — were crushed to death in the staircase of the Italian Hall where they had gathered for a holiday party organized by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners.  It was the height of the 1913-1914 Copper Strike.  Someone — historians of the disaster believe it was mine management, newspapers of the time variously describe the man as drunk, bearded, and “maudlin” — yelled “Fire!” (there was no fire) and the ensuing stampede crushed those who could not exit from the blocked doors at the bottom of the second floor stairwell.  Readers of the New York Times awoke on Christmas morning to the gruesome details:

The grown persons trampled the children under foot and dozens of the smaller children were killed at the first onrush of the crowd.  One man was seen to stoop to pick up his little girl, only to be pushed forward with such great force that he fell on her and crushed her to death.  A woman who seized three small boys were crushed with them as she sought to shelter them in her arms.

Images such as this filled the newspapers:

Italian Hall Victims

Rereading the New York Times story this morning, of course, reminded me of 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour, a temporary worker at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, New York who was crushed to death on the “Black Friday” shopping day in 2008.  (For those of you who don’t remember the story, you can watch Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez’s coverage of the story on Democracy Now! here.)

Both of these stories — the Christmas Eve Massacre of 1913 and the Black Friday Wal-Mart killing of Jdimytai Damour — remind us of the price paid by immigrant families and migrant workers during these short days when, across America, the halls are said to be decked with holly and chestnuts are supposedly roasting on open fires.

This holiday season, let us remember Jdimytai Damour, the victims of the 1913 Calumet massacre, and all the other workers and workers’ families whose lives were unnecessarily lost while engaged in labor (including those in the global mining sector whose deaths continue to be documented at <coalmountain.wordpress.com/category/mine-disasters/>).

* * *

For interested readers, a list of those who died on December 24, 1913, along with their age, gender, and nationality, appears below.  Other versions of this list can be found here.

1. Lempi Ala 12 years Female Finnish
2. Herman Alla 60 years Male Finnish
3. Sanna L. Aaltonen 39 years Female Finnish
4. Syvia Altonen 3 years Female Finnish
5. Wilama Altonen 9 years Female Finnish
6. Will Biri 7 years 11 mo Male Finnish
7. Ivana Bolf 9 years 4mo Female Croatian
8. Katarine Bronzo 21 years Female Italian
9. Victoria Burcar .9 years 4 mo Female Croatian
10. Joseph Butala .7 years 8 mo Male Slovenian
11. Nick Cvetkovich 33 years Male Croatian
12. Jenny Giacoletto 9 years 10 mo Female Italian
13. Katarina Gregorich 10 years 10 mo Female Croatian
14. Edwin Heikkinen 7 years Male Finnish
15. Eino Felpus O. Heikkinen 10 years 5 mo Male Finnish
16. Eli Issac Heikkinen 9 years 5 mo Male Finnish
17. Ina Isola 33 years Female Finnish
18. Tilma Isola 5 years 4 mo Female Finnish
19. Barbra Jesic 25 years Female Croatian
20. Rosie Jesic 5 years 6 mo Female Croatian
21. Uno Jokepil 13 years Male Finnish
22. Anna E. Kalunki 9 years 7 mo .Female Finnish
23. Brida Liisa Kalunki 42 years Female Finnish
24. Efia P. Kulunki 8 years Female Finnish
25. Johan Emil Kiemaki 7 years Male Finnish
26. Katarina Karich 7 years Female Croatian
27. Kristina Klarich 11 years Female Croatian
28. Mary Klarich 9 years Female Croatian
29. Johan Hendrik Koskela 10 years Male Finnish
30. Anna Kotajarvi 4 years Female  Finnish
31. Anna Kotajarvi 39 years Female Finnish
32. Mary Krainatz 11 years Female Croatian
33. Hilja K Lanto 5 years Female Finnish
34. Maria G. Lanto 40 years Female Finnish
35. Sulo Rubet Lauri 8 years Male Finnish
36. Mary Lesar 13 years Female Slovenian
37. Rafael Lesar 2 years 6 mo Male Slovenian
38. Arthur Lindstrom 12 years Male Unknown
39. Lydia Johanna Luoma 10 years Female Finnish
40. Alfred J.W. Lustic 7 years 9 mo Male Finnish
41. Elina Manley 26 years Female Finnish
42. Wesley M. Manley 4 years Male Finnish
43. Ella E. Mantanen 8 years Female Finnish
44. Mathias E. Mantanen 10 years Male Finnish
45. Y.H. Mantanen 13 years Male Finnish
46. Agnes Mihelchich 7 years Female Croatian
47. Elizabeth Mihelchich 5 years Female Croatian
48. Paul Mihelchich 9 years Male Croatian
49. Walter Murto 9 years Male Finnish
50. Edward Emil Myllykangas 7 years Male Finnish
51. Johan W. Myllykangas 10 years Male Finnish
52. Abram Niemela 24 years Male Finnish
53. Maria Elizabeth Niemela 22 years Female Finnish
54. Annie Papesh 6 years Female Slovenian
55. Mary Papesh 14 years Female Slovenian
56. Kate Petteri 66 years Female Finnish
57. Saida M. Raja 10 years Female Finnish
58. Terresa Renaldi 12 years Female Italian
59. Elma W. Ristel 6 years Female Finnish
60. Emilia Rydilahti 16 years  Female Finnish
61. Heli Rydilahti 13 years Female Finnish
62. John Saari 5 years 11 mo Male Finnish
63. Elida Saatio 11 years 9 mo Female Finnish
64. Mary Smuk 5 years Female Slovenian
65. Antonia Staudohar 7 years Female Croat/Slov
66. Elisina J. Taipalus 6 years Female Finnish
67. Sandra M. Taipalus 4 years Female Finnish
68. Edward Richard Takola 9 years Female Finnish
69. Lydia E. Talpaka 10 years Female Finnish
70. Kaisa G. Tuippo 45 years Female Finnish
71. Mamie Tuippo 10 years Female Finnish
72. Hilja Wualukka 8 years Female Finnish
73. Johan Peter Westola 48 years Male Finnish

Mark Nowak, a 2010 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009) and Shut Up Shut Down (Coffee House Press, 2004).  Read his blog Coal Mountain at <coalmountain.wordpress.com>.




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