Monday, July 22, 2013

Coppertown Museum exhibit, Induction Ceremony honoring "Big Annie" Clemenc to kick off centennial commemoration of 1913 Copper Miners' Strike

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Keweenaw National Historical Park

Joanne Thomas, creator of the "Big Annie" exhibit at Coppertown Museum in Calumet, points out details about the life-size painted cut-out of labor leader Annie Clemenc to Calumet residents Margo McCafferty Rudd and her son, Max. Annie is pictured carrying the American flag during the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike. Coppertown will offer free admission tomorrow, July 23, to commemorate the 100 years since the beginning of the Strike on July 23, 1913. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

CALUMET -- The 1913 Michigan Copper Miners’ Strike began on July 23, 1913, and continued until April 4, 1914. It was one of the most significant events of the labor movement in this country. One-hundred years later, on Tuesday, July 23, 2013, the commemoration of the centennial will begin with an Open House at Coppertown Mining Museum in Calumet.

Coppertown, one of the 19 Keweenaw Heritage Site organizations that work with the National Park Service (NPS) at Keweenaw National Historical Park (KNHP) to tell the story of the local copper mining heritage, will offer free admission from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23. The museum features a brand new exhibit about "Big Annie" Clemenc, the Italian Hall doors exhibit, and other exhibits related to the strike.

Joanne Thomas of Allouez, creator of the new exhibit, will be present Tuesday; and NPS will have a ranger on hand at Coppertown throughout the day.

This display panel in the "Big Annie" exhibit at Coppertown Museum tells about Annie's role as a labor leader during the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike in Calumet. Click on photo for larger view.

Thomas says she became interested in the story of Annie partly because of her own Croatian heritage (Annie has been called both Croatian and Slovenian) and partly because she noticed the plaque honoring Annie at the Italian Hall Memorial in Calumet had disappeared.

"I surmised that if someone or persons bothered to remove it, it was not because they wanted it as a keepsake," Thomas said. "They wanted the representation of Annie and her story removed from our local history. I contacted the Women's Historical Center in Lansing, and the director was eager to get the plaque replaced."

This panel recounts the influence of socialist writers and political leaders on Annie Clemenc -- including Mother Jones, who visited Calumet during the strike.

Thomas said that led to contact with KNHP, caretakers of the Italian Hall site, and to plans for a wayside that tells the story of the Italian Hall, the strike and Annie. It is expected to be installed soon at the Italian Hall Memorial in Calumet. Thomas also  decided to learn as much as she could about Annie and to create this exhibit as a part of Calumet's 2013 centennial commemoration.

This detail on the life-size painted cut-out of Annie in the exhibit shows the socialist political button she proudly wore.

"I found that reestablishing Annie's story and all she stood for could become an important form of social justice activism that interested me," Thomas adds. "Annie was not considered 'well behaved.' Not in her day, and not even by today's standards. She divorced her husband because he physically and verbally abused her -- which likely increased as she became an outspoken woman leader for the rights of her laboring community. It takes great courage to withstand the onslaught of disapproval, but courage is nonetheless required for a conscientious activist to realize the needed change. 'Behaving' in the sidelines did little to correct injustices."

This display of photos shows Annie carrying a large American flag during the strikers' parades in Calumet.

As part of her research, Thomas located family members of Annie's and some historical photos. She says this exhibit at Coppertown is a condensed collection of all the known material and photos of Annie's legacy.

"Her own quotes lead the viewer to tell her story," Thomas notes. "All elements were created to come as close to scale and accuracy as possible. The entire process from its inception to its actualization yielded opportunities and miracles, with very few obstacles. The KNHP staff that aided me in this project was meritorious in bringing this exhibit to the standard that it is."

This painting of Big Annie, by Joanne Thomas, hangs on the wall in the Coppertown Museum as part of the exhibit. Thomas based the painting on historical photos of Annie and Calumet.

At 7 p.m. on the evening of Friday, July 26, at the Calumet Visitor Center, Annie Clemenc will be inducted into Labor’s International Hall of Fame in a ceremony honoring the eminent strike figure. On hand for the occasion, Lyndon Comstock, author and nominator of Annie, will speak and conduct a book-signing afterward for his recently published Annie Clemenc and the Great Keweenaw Copper Strike. Several descendants of Annie’s will be in attendance as well to receive the honor on her behalf. A reception will begin at 7 p.m. followed by the induction ceremony. Coppertown will also remain open until 9 p.m. that evening for those who wish to see the new exhibit.

"The Strike Centennial provides great opportunities for park partners to collaborate in commemorating a nationally significant time period," said KNHP Superintendent Mike Pflaum. "The National Park Service is proud of our many partners whose passion and pride for their heritage continue to make the Copper Country a nationally significant place that has great relevance in today’s world."

Strike-related events and exhibits will be occurring throughout the remainder of the year at National Park Service facilities, Keweenaw Heritage Sites, and other park partners throughout Upper Michigan’s Copper Country. On August 17, Main Street Calumet’s Heritage Celebration will be commemorating the strike, and on August 22 the Calumet Art Center will be hosting an evening of labor music for a Fourth Thursday in History event.

For further information, contact Keweenaw National Historical Park at (906) 337-3168 or check the park’s website at

1 comment:

Gustavo Bourdieu said...

Good job, Joanne Thomas!!!.