Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Author Steve Lehto to speak on Italian Hall Disaster, offer local book signings June 20, 22, 26

By Michele Bourdieu

At a presentation about his books and research June 7, 2012, in Atlantic Mine, author Steve Lehto speaks about the extremely dangerous and unfairly paid work of the trammer, who was paid according to the amount of ore he pushed from the mine without scales to weigh it -- simply according to the "eyeball" judgment of a supervisor. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated.)

HOUGHTON, CALUMET -- Steve Lehto, noted Finnish-American author, attorney and professor, will be giving three lectures based on his 1913 Strike and Italian Hall research at FinnFest on Thursday, June 20, and Saturday, June 22, and at the Calumet Library on Wednesday, June 26. Lehto will discuss what we know -- and don’t know -- about the Strike and the Italian Hall on the occasion of the centennial, and why it is that so much has remained hidden for so long.

The lecture, titled "The Italian Hall Disaster: What We Know 100 Years Later," will be offered at noon Thursday in Fisher 325 on the Michigan Tech campus and at 2 p.m. Saturday in Fisher 138. A day pass or full FinnFest pass is required for these FinnFest lectures.

The Calumet Library presentation will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. next Wednesday, June 26, in the CLK Commons (use library entrance) at Calumet High School, 57070 Mine St., Calumet. The library event, sponsored by Friends of the Calumet Public Library, is free and open to the public. It will include a book signing and sale of Lehto's new book, Death's Door: The Truth Behind the Italian Hall Disaster and the Strike of 1913 (2013). For more information call (906) 337-0311 ext.1107.

Lehto will also do three additional book signings this week: from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 20, at Copper World in Calumet; from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, June 21, at the Einerlei in Chassell; and from noon to 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 27, at Grandpa’s Barn, 385 4th St., Copper Harbor. Call (906) 289-4377 for more information on Grandpa's Barn.

At a book signing after his June 2012 presentation in Atlantic Mine, Steve Lehto signs one of his books for Joanne Thomas of Allouez Township. For the centennial commemoration in Calumet this year, Thomas has created an exhibit about Big Annie Clemenc, a formidable leader during the 1913 Strike, now displayed at the Coppertown Museum in Calumet.

Lehto says the new Death's Door -- just published June 1, 2013 -- is a second edition with more than 200 pages of additional material (compared to the first Death's Door which came out in 2006).

"It is remarkable, but we are still learning more about the Italian Hall, even after 99 and 1/2 years," he notes.

Lehto has also been a consultant for a documentary on the Strike and Italian Hall, Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913, which will premiere on  PBS Tuesday, December 17, 2013, at 9 p.m. as a primetime special.

"That's common carriage, but individual PBS stations can choose to air it at a different time," he explained.

In Calumet's Lakeview Cemetery last fall, filmmakers Bob Lee, left, and Jonathan Silvers of Saybrook Productions Ltd. film footage for their documentary, Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913, which will premiere on PBS in December 2013. Steve Lehto has been a consultant for the film. (Photo © and courtesy Steve Lehto)

The film will make its debut in time for the centennial of the Italian Hall Disaster in Calumet, which occurred on Christmas Eve, 1913, when more than 73 people, mostly children, died -- crushed in a staircase when someone yelled "Fire," a false alarm.

In his June 2012 presentation in Atlantic Mine, Steve Lehto projected this historic photo of Italian Hall in Calumet, the scene of the tragic disaster of Christmas Eve 1913.

Lehto practices and teaches law in southeastern Michigan, and he has taught history at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Steve Lehto is also the author of two other books concerning the era of the 1913 Strike: Death's Door: The Truth Behind Michigan's Largest Mass Murder (2006) and Shortcut: The Seeberville Murders and the Dark Side of the American Dream (2011). While his experience as an attorney is evident in his research of court proceedings and his knowledge of law as well as history, Lehto also digs for facts, often contrasting and analyzing opposing versions of journalistic and historical accounts of these significant and tragic events of the Copper Country's past -- which have reverberations into the present.

In describing accounts of the Italian Hall disaster, Steve Lehto notes the differences in 1913 news stories about the event -- depending on the language of the newspaper. Here he contrasts the Finnish report in the Työmies newspaper with accounts in the English-language papers of the time.

On June 7, 2012, The Adams Township School District (ATSD) Foundation, Inc., and the Sarah Sargent Paine Historical Research Center (SSPRHC) hosted a presentation by Lehto on those two books. Here are some video clips and more photos with highlights from his talk:

In this introduction to his June 7, 2012, presentation on his books and research in the Brownstone Hall in Atlantic Mine, Steve Lehto talks about events that led to the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike in the Copper Country. (Videos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Here Lehto speaks about the importance of women in the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike. Using historic photographs, many from the Michigan Tech Archives, he notes the key role of "Big Annie" Clemenc as a leader of the strike parades in Calumet.

Lehto tells the story of the Seeberville murders of two Croatian miners by strikebreakers during the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike. The incident and the court case that followed are the principal subject of Lehto's 2011 book, Shortcut: the Seeberville Murders and the Dark Side of the American Dream

This recently placed marker in Calumet's Lakeview Cemetery commemorates the two Croatian miners -- Steve Putrich and Alois Tijan -- who were murdered during an attack on a boarding house in Seeberville, near South Range, in August, 1913, during the Copper Miners' Strike. 

During his presentation, Lehto points out the shed entrance at the back of the boarding house where one of the armed strikebreakers chased a fleeing miner. Other armed men hired by the mining company then fired through the windows, killing two innocent miners.

Lehto displayed this historic photo of Anthony Lucas, the Croatian prosecutor who proved the strikebreakers were guilty of shooting innocent miners in Seeberville.

In this video clip Lehto speaks about the Italian Hall disaster on Christmas Eve, 1913, in Calumet, during the copper miners' strike. He has written about this event most recently in the recently published second edition (2013) of his book Death's Door: The Truth Behind the Italian Hall Disaster and the Strike of 1913.

Lehto will also give another presentation in Atlantic Mine on August 14, 2013.

Lehto's family connection to the Copper Country should also be of interest to FinnFest visitors. His grandfather, Waino (Pop) Lehto, was a long-time dean of Suomi
College (now Finlandia University) and his great-grandfather, Eelu Kiviranta, wrote and published poetry in Finnish.

At FinnFest, Lillian Lehto, Steve Lehto's mother, of Birmingham, Michigan, will present a Reading of "The Copper Country Strike of 1913" at noon on Friday, June 21, in Fisher 325 at Michigan Tech. Lillian Lehto, a volunteer librarian at the Farmington Finnish Center, graduated from the Lutheran Bible Institute and from Suomi College. She earned degrees from Oakland University and the University of Michigan. From 1984 to 1994 she edited and published The Fennophile : A Magazine for and by Those who Love Finland, published from 1986 to 1994 and now archived in the Finnish-American Historical archives at Finnish-American Heritage Center in Hancock.

Click here to see Steve Lehto's Italian Hall Disaster Resource page on Facebook.

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