CALUMET - A new film played three times over the weekend to the very people it was about. "1913 Massacre" explores the 1913 Italian Hall tragedy, in which 73 people were killed, and its continuing affects on the people of Calumet.
The film, directed by Ken Ross and Louis V. Galdieri, was shown to near-capacity crowds at the Calumet Theatre Friday and Saturday.
Inspired by Woody Guthrie's song of the same name, the film includes interviews with survivors about the night of the incident, as well as with current residents grappling with the legacy.
Louis V. Galdieri, left, and Ken Ross, directors of the film “1913 Massacre,” talk about the film, which premiered over the weekend at the Calumet Theatre. There were three showings of the film about the 1913 Italian Hall disaster in Calumet and its lingering impact on the community. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Garrett Neese)
On the night of Dec. 24, 1913, striking Calumet & Hecla Mining Co. miners and their families were holding a Christmas celebration at the Italian Hall. It is widely believed someone yelled "fire." In the ensuing panic, 73 people suffocated in the stairway.
Many questions remain about the night. Some of the most common - did the doors open in or out? Were strikebreakers holding the doors shut? - are brought up. But the filmmakers said they were less interested in exploring those questions than why they're still so alive today.
"This is a town full of questions," Ross said in a question-and-answer session after the Saturday matinee. "It's not a place full of answers. What that tells us, is this is a really phenomenal place."
Though there were many interviews with historians, they were left on the cutting-room floor with most of the 300 hours of footage. Instead, Ross said the goal was to make a "living film" with the stories of the people of Calumet.
Galdieri said they contacted Universal Oil Products, which holds the rights to Calumet & Hecla, for comment. However, the company wanted final editorial approval of the movie, so Ross and Galdieri refused.
The film also goes into the history of the song, which appears numerous times throughout the film, performed both by Woody Guthrie and his son Arlo, who performed it at the Calumet Theatre.
While Ross and Galdieri considered a more neutral title, such as "Calumet," in the end they stuck with the song that inspired them.
"It was Woody's song that led us here, and the telling of the story of the song was our motivation," Ross said.
Saturday's matinee showing received a standing ovation.
Diane Hoyum of Chassell was struck by one Calumet resident's memory of seeing an endless procession of small white coffins.
"I thought it was very heart-wrenching," she said. "It really is a sad story, but they did a really good job of showing the people who live here, their stories."
Sue Vernier's uncles and grandfather were miners at Calumet & Hecla Mining Co. mines. She said she was struck by the photos of children from the aftermath of the stampede.
"That's when it hit home more than anything," said Vernier, who lives in downstate South Lyon and owns property near Calumet.
The filmmakers said they hope to have the film for sale on their website in 2013. They also plan to show their film in movies and union halls.
"We think that Calumet's story is an American story - really the American story," Ross said. "We would like the story to be part of school curricula. We would love it to be part of people's history of the United States."
It could be part of at least one school. A Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw School District elementary school teacher asked the filmmakers at Saturday's matinee if they would donate a DVD.
For more information about the movie, visit the website at 1913massacre.com.