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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 <>).

* * *

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 Ala12 yearsFemaleFinnish
2.Herman Alla60 yearsMaleFinnish
3.Sanna L. Aaltonen39 yearsFemaleFinnish
4.Syvia Altonen3 yearsFemaleFinnish
5.Wilama Altonen9 yearsFemaleFinnish
6.Will Biri7 years 11 moMaleFinnish
7.Ivana Bolf9 years 4moFemaleCroatian
8.Katarine Bronzo21 yearsFemaleItalian
9.Victoria Burcar.9 years 4 moFemaleCroatian
10.Joseph Butala.7 years 8 moMaleSlovenian
11.Nick Cvetkovich33 yearsMaleCroatian
12.Jenny Giacoletto9 years 10 moFemaleItalian
13.Katarina Gregorich10 years 10 moFemaleCroatian
14.Edwin Heikkinen7 yearsMaleFinnish
15.Eino Felpus O. Heikkinen10 years 5 moMaleFinnish
16.Eli Issac Heikkinen9 years 5 moMaleFinnish
17.Ina Isola33 yearsFemaleFinnish
18.Tilma Isola5 years 4 moFemaleFinnish
19.Barbra Jesic25 yearsFemaleCroatian
20.Rosie Jesic5 years 6 moFemaleCroatian
21.Uno Jokepil13 yearsMaleFinnish
22.Anna E. Kalunki9 years 7 mo.FemaleFinnish
23.Brida Liisa Kalunki42 yearsFemaleFinnish
24.Efia P. Kulunki8 yearsFemaleFinnish
25.Johan Emil Kiemaki7 yearsMaleFinnish
26.Katarina Karich7 yearsFemaleCroatian
27.Kristina Klarich11 yearsFemaleCroatian
28.Mary Klarich9 yearsFemaleCroatian
29.Johan Hendrik Koskela10 yearsMaleFinnish
30.Anna Kotajarvi4 yearsFemale Finnish
31.Anna Kotajarvi39 yearsFemaleFinnish
32.Mary Krainatz11 yearsFemaleCroatian
33.Hilja K Lanto5 yearsFemaleFinnish
34.Maria G. Lanto40 yearsFemaleFinnish
35.Sulo Rubet Lauri8 yearsMaleFinnish
36.Mary Lesar13 yearsFemaleSlovenian
37.Rafael Lesar2 years 6 moMaleSlovenian
38.Arthur Lindstrom12 yearsMaleUnknown
39.Lydia Johanna Luoma10 yearsFemaleFinnish
40.Alfred J.W. Lustic7 years 9 moMaleFinnish
41.Elina Manley26 yearsFemaleFinnish
42.Wesley M. Manley4 yearsMaleFinnish
43.Ella E. Mantanen8 yearsFemaleFinnish
44.Mathias E. Mantanen10 yearsMaleFinnish
45.Y.H. Mantanen13 yearsMaleFinnish
46.Agnes Mihelchich7 yearsFemaleCroatian
47.Elizabeth Mihelchich5 yearsFemaleCroatian
48.Paul Mihelchich9 yearsMaleCroatian
49.Walter Murto9 yearsMaleFinnish
50.Edward Emil Myllykangas7 yearsMaleFinnish
51.Johan W. Myllykangas10 yearsMaleFinnish
52.Abram Niemela24 yearsMaleFinnish
53.Maria Elizabeth Niemela22 yearsFemaleFinnish
54.Annie Papesh6 yearsFemaleSlovenian
55.Mary Papesh14 yearsFemaleSlovenian
56.Kate Petteri66 yearsFemaleFinnish
57.Saida M. Raja10 yearsFemaleFinnish
58.Terresa Renaldi12 yearsFemaleItalian
59.Elma W. Ristel6 yearsFemaleFinnish
60.Emilia Rydilahti16 years FemaleFinnish
61.Heli Rydilahti13 yearsFemaleFinnish
62.John Saari5 years 11 moMaleFinnish
63.Elida Saatio11 years 9 moFemaleFinnish
64.Mary Smuk5 yearsFemaleSlovenian
65.Antonia Staudohar7 yearsFemaleCroat/Slov
66.Elisina J. Taipalus6 yearsFemaleFinnish
67.Sandra M. Taipalus4 yearsFemaleFinnish
68.Edward Richard Takola9 yearsFemaleFinnish
69.Lydia E. Talpaka10 yearsFemaleFinnish
70.Kaisa G. Tuippo45 yearsFemaleFinnish
71.Mamie Tuippo10 yearsFemaleFinnish
72.Hilja Wualukka8 yearsFemaleFinnish
73.Johan Peter Westola48 yearsMaleFinnish

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 <>.

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