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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"1913 Massacre" filmmakers talk about their documentary on Italian Hall disaster

By Michele Bourdieu

After screening their documentary film 1913 Massacre, about the Italian Hall Tragedy, at Michigan Tech University's Writing Across the Peninsula Conference in October 2013, filmmakers Louis V. Galdieri (left) and Ken Ross speak with Keweenaw Now about the making of the film in Calumet. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Filmmakers Ken Ross and Louis V. Galdieri thought Calumet, Michigan, was "the end of the earth" when, inspired by Woody Guthrie's song about the Italian Hall tragedy, they first came up to the Keweenaw in 2001 to explore Calumet and interview its residents, including survivors of the tragedy that is being commemorated on various occasions during this centennial year of the 1913-14 Copper Miners' Strike. They returned nearly a dozen times for the making of their documentary film 1913 Massacre, which had its premiere in October 2012 in the Calumet Theatre and has been shown in the Upper Peninsula on several occasions this year.

Today, Dec. 24, is the 100th anniversary of the terrible loss of life that occurred in Italian Hall -- 73 dead including 59 children gathered for a Christmas Eve 1913 party organized for families of striking miners by "Big Annie" Clemenc and other members of the women's auxiliary. The victims were crushed to death in a stairwell in the panic that ensued when someone yelled "Fire" during the party. There was no fire.

Historic photos like this one, by J. W. Nara, of the coffins of Italian Hall victims pictured with their mourning families will be on display again in the Calumet Village Hall today after a ceremony at the Italian Hall site, beginning at 3:30 p.m. This is one of several historic photos displayed during the June 20, 2013, commemoration.*

In Calumet, the centennial of the 1913 Italian Hall Tragedy will be commemorated at 3:30 p.m. TODAY, Christmas Eve, at the Italian Hall Site on Seventh and Elm Streets, where the original arch from the building (demolished in 1984) is preserved. Surviving family members are cordially invited to attend the ceremony and gathering afterward, both of which are free and open to the public.**

On Oct. 24, 2013, Ross and Galdieri were special guests at Michigan Tech's Writing Across the Peninsula Conference, which included themes related to the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike and Upper Peninsula working-class issues. The filmmakers showed their documentary and fielded questions during a special evening program that included "Strike Songs" by the 1913 Singers and "Copper Country Folk" songs by the Thimbleberry Band. The following day, at Michigan Tech, Keweenaw Now interviewed the two filmmakers about their experiences in making the documentary 1913 Massacre.

Here are some video clips from our interview:

After screening their documentary film 1913 Massacre at Michigan Tech University's Writing Across the Peninsula Conference in October 2013, filmmakers Louis V. Galdieri, left, and Ken Ross speak about the making of the film in Calumet, where they interviewed survivors of the tragedy and other local residents, including descendants of some of the victims. The title of the film is from a Woody Guthrie song about the disaster. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Ken Ross and Louis V. Galdieri, producers and directors of the documentary film 1913 Massacre, describe the role of lodges, such as Italian Hall, among various ethnic groups during the copper mining boom in Calumet, Michigan. They also speak about Big Annie and the role of women during the 1913-14 Copper Miners' Strike.

In the above video clip, Galdieri tells how Woody Guthrie's song was influenced by labor organizer Ella Reeve Bloor's autobiography, We Are Many, which tells the story of the Italian Hall disaster -- mainly from the viewpoint of the women's auxiliary members who had organized the Christmas party. In their documentary, Ross and Galdieri interview folk singer Pete Seeger, who also mentions this book as the source of Woody's song.

Ross notes that local musician Oren Tikkanen sang a Finnish song that gives a miner's (male) voice during the Thimbleberry Band's performance preceding their screening of the film at the conference. The song is "Kaivantomiehen Laulu" ("The Pitmen's Song") by Santeri Mäkelä of Hancock (1909).

During the Writing Across the Peninsula Conference on Oct. 24, 2013, in the Isle Royale Ballroom at Michigan Tech, Oren Tikkanen, right, is joined by other members of the Thimbleberry Band -- from left, Belinda Mattfolk, Dave Bezotte and Libby Meyer -- in performing songs by "Copper Country Folk," including "The Pitmen's Song," which Tikkanen sang in Finnish and in English. In the background is an image of a placard used by the Western Federation of Miners' Calumet Local to enhance solidarity among striking workers. It was prominently displayed in Dunn's Hall, the location of the Calumet Local, and also used during strike parades.

Here is a selection from Tikkanen's own adaptation of a literal translation by Dennis Halme of "The Pitmen's Song":

"It’s blacker than ink, it’s darker than night,
And there is the 12 o’clock bell.
It’s here that we earn our poor daily bread
In a pit that is blacker than hell.
My comrades are sweating and straining away
Like rats that are digging a hole.
The bosses have bought us and put us down here.
They own us now, body and soul."

The late Jack Foster of Calumet, local historian and collector of mining memorabilia, who passed away in 2003 at age 94, appears several times in the 1913 Massacre film. He expresses that same idea when he describes the attitude of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Co. toward the miners as "We'll take care of you. We own you."

The historic photos that Ross and Galdieri selected for their film are not just presented in full size as in a slide show. Their video camera moves in to capture emotion in close-ups of faces in a crowd -- not only the faces of miners pausing in their work but also, and especially, the very expressive faces of children. Here the filmmakers comment on what they call their "low-tech" use of these photos:

Filmmakers Louis V. Galdieri  and Ken Ross speak about their techniques in using historic photos in 1913 Massacre. They also discuss their reasons for using a hand-held camera for interviews -- part of their attempt to achieve an intimate, quiet, conversational approach.

Because of their personal approach, Galdieri and Ross discovered the pain suffered by people who were not in the habit of talking about the tragedy or who only spoke of it within the privacy of their families. In the film, Joe Krainatz, who lost an aunt who was one of the child victims, related with great emotion his grandmother's pain, noting she did not even allow a Christmas tree in the house after her daughter was killed on that terrible Christmas Eve. Dorothy Perkins of the Houghton County Historical Society in Lake Linden said she knew things she learned from her father, who was a policeman at the time of the 1913 Strike; but she would not reveal the details for fear of causing problems in the community.

Galdieri and Ross speak about the painful impacts of the Italian Hall tragedy of Dec. 24, 1913, on the residents of Calumet whom they interviewed for the film.

Galdieri and Ross also related how, at first, people gave them the impression there were no survivors of the Italian Hall tragedy. However, with persistence, they found several. While many of the people interviewed claimed the doors of Italian Hall opened inward, contributing to the victims' inability to exit, a viewpoint that has since been disproved by close study of photographs of the doors (noted in the film by photographer Peter Oikarinen, who mentions the photographs indicate the doors opened outward). The filmmakers do not express their own view but allow the people to tell their own stories.

Here they mention the story related by Irene MacDonald of Lake Linden, who witnessed the funeral from a window when she was only three years old and trying to figure out the reason for "the little white caskets":

The filmmakers answer questions about the challenges -- and good memories -- of making this documentary. Joanne Thomas, whose Croatian ancestors lived in Calumet at the time of the strike and the Italian Hall disaster and who has created an exhibit about Big Annie Clemenc, women's auxiliary leader during the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike, asks Galdieri and Ross how making the film changed them.

The 1913 Massacre also includes scenes from the 1984 demolition of the Italian Hall and interviews with residents who witnessed that event, film clips of the 1989 dedication of the park with the remaining memorial arch, an interview with folk singer Pete Seeger, segments of Arlo Guthrie's performance of his father's song at the Calumet Theatre and Arlo's comments on the significance of the Italian Hall disaster in Woody Guthrie's custom of relating history through songs.

Gary Kaunonen, organizer of the Writing Across the Peninsula Conference this year and Ph.D. student in Humanities at Michigan Tech, who studies United States labor history and working class cultural studies, offered these comments about the documentary: "1913 Massacre uses a powerful people's, or public history, approach, which examines how Calumet's contemporary population views events during the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike and the tragic events at Italian Hall. This approach is filtered through the lens of Woody Guthrie's haunting and tragic song, which though not especially accurate, captures the ethos and emotion of striking workers during the terrible and tragically historic events of Italian Hall."

Ross and Galdieri tell the story of the making of this documentary on their Web site, 1913 Massacre. Click here to see a trailer of the film on their Web site and to learn more about the film, Woody Guthrie and his song. Click here to order the DVD of the film.

More photos from the Writing Across the Peninsula conference:

Preceding the screening of the documentary 1913 Massacre on Oct. 24, 2013, at Michigan Tech's Writing Across the Peninsula Conference, the 1913 Singers perform "Strike Songs."

The 1913 Singers led the audience in singing this refrain to the "Workingman's Song" as published in the Miners' Bulletin. It is sung to the tune of "Red Wing."

After screening their documentary 1913 Massacre on Oct. 24, 2013, filmmakers Ken Ross and Louis Galdieri field questions from the audience at Michigan Tech.

Graduate students from Northern Michigan University came from Marquette to attend the conference. Pictured here with Joanne Thomas, far right, are, from left, Matthew Weinkam of Cincinnati, Ohio; Christen Leppla of Cincinnati; Ryan Kauffman of Cincinnati; Amy Hansen of Bloomington, Illinois; and Cory Ferrer of Traverse City, Michigan.

On Oct. 25, 2013, Joanne Thomas presents a paper on labor leader Big Annie Clemenc. On the podium is a small version of a portrait of Annie that Thomas painted this year to accompany her exhibit on Big Annie in the Coppertown Museum in Calumet during the past summer as part of the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike Centennial commemoration.*** At right is a photograph from the exhibit that shows Annie after she was wounded during one of the 1913 strikers' parades. Tom Tikkanen, former Main Street Calumet director, tells the story of this incident in the film 1913 Massacre.

On Oct. 25, 2013, Elizabeth Flynn, Michigan Tech emerita professor of reading and composition, presents "The Copper Country Women's Heritage Project: An Archival Odyssey," which, in 1981, honored several important Copper Country women, including Big Annie Clemenc, whose portrait was on display in the Michigan Tech Library at that time and then went to the Women's Hall of Fame in Lansing. Annie Clemenc was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1980. Gladys Beckwith of Michigan State University spoke about Big Annie during the 1981 Copper Country Women's Heritage Project. Flynn was the co-director of the project, a week-long program sponsored by the Michigan Humanities Council, the first program in Michigan Tech’s history to focus on women’s issues.

* Click here for our July 7, 2013 article on the June 20, 2013 Italian Hall Ceremony in Calumet.

** Click here to learn more about the Dec. 24, 2013, ceremony to commemorate the centennial of the Italian Hall disaster.

*** Click here to see photos of Joanne Thomas's Big Annie exhibit at Coppertown Museum.

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