The Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center at Northern Michigan University is partnering with WNMU-TV to present a documentary series featuring films related to the people and cultures that give the Upper Peninsula its unique identity. The second film in the series is “1913 Massacre,” about the Italian Hall tragedy in Calumet. It will be shown at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30.
The live broadcast on the PBS station will include an interview with the filmmakers, Louis V. Galdieri and Ken Ross. Viewers can watch the program as it airs, or they can stream it for 30 days on WNMU’s Passport App. The app can be downloaded at https://www.pbs.org/pbs-video-app/.
The documentary follows singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie to the town of Calumet, a once-thriving mining town still haunted by the tragic events that inspired Woody Guthrie’s ballad, “1913 Massacre.”
On Dec. 24, 1913, the striking copper miners of Calumet were gathered with their wives and children for a holiday party at the Italian Hall. After the festivities had begun, someone—to this to this day, no one knows who—yelled “Fire!”
Despite efforts to keep the hall under control, panic took hold of the crowd. The miners, their wives and children made a mad rush for the stairs. In the ensuing chaos, 74 people were crushed and suffocated to death on the stairway; 59 of the dead were children. There was no fire. The town itself is still divided over exactly what happened.
The film captures the last living witnesses to the 1913 tragedy and reconstructs Calumet’s past from individual memories, family legends and songs. It traces the legacy of the tragedy to the present day, when the town still struggles to come to terms with this painful episode from its past.
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