The centennial of the Copper Miners' Strike of 1913 has been observed this past year in the Keweenaw Peninsula. This labor strike lasted from July 1913 to April 1914, and to a large extent shut down or drastically curtailed copper mining in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. One of the most notable events of the strike was the Italian Hall Tragedy where 73 people, the majority of them children, lost their lives on Christmas Eve.
The events of that fateful day are chronicled in an expanded edition of "Death's Door" by Steve Lehto. No stranger to Copper Country, Lehto first explored this disaster in the original version of the book which was named a Michigan Notable Book in 2006. Since that time, he has collected new material and photos and doubled the size of the book. He has also served as an expert for two film documentaries about the strike and Italian Hall Tragedy.
Lehto has also written "Shortcut-the Seeberville Murders" and "The Dark Side of the American Dream." This book details the tragic events surrounding mine security harassment of immigrant miners near Seeberville. When the harassment escalates, two innocent people are left dead.
Filmmakers Louis Galdieri and Ken Ross were introduced to the copper miners' strike by the Woody Guthrie ballad "1913 Massacre." The two spent almost 10 years filming and researching background for the film by the same name. What was created is a film that looks at the impact of the Italian Hall tragedy on Calumet and the Keweenaw Peninsula using personal interviews of several of the event's survivors and local residents. The song, sung by Arlo Guthrie, provides a haunting backdrop to the film.
Larry Lankton, professor emeritus at Michigan Technological University, has done a great deal of research into copper mining history in the region.
He has written several books that capture the technology, business and social history related to copper mining. "Cradle to Grave, Life, Work, and Death at the Lake Superior Copper Mines" documents the industrial cycle of copper mining from the 1840s to 1960s.
Lankton's "Hollowed Ground; Copper Mining and Community Building on Lake Superior, 1840s to 1990s" is an in-depth look at the industrial landscapes that dot the Copper Country. He tackles the daunting task of making the complex technology of mining and architecture accessible to the average reader.
Arthur W. Thurner grew up in Copper Country, received his doctorate from the University of Chicago and served as a professor of history at DePaul University. His book "Rebels on the Range" is a full scale study of the labor conflict that gripped the area in 1913. He has written a number of other books about the Keweenaw including "Calumet Copper and People, History of a Michigan Mining Community 1864-1970."
"Range of Opportunities" by Richard A. Fields is a historic study of the Copper Range Company that operated in Copper Country along with the Quincy Mining Company and Calumet and Hecla Mining Company. Founded in 1899, by William A. Paine, also founder of the stock brokerage firm Paine-Webber, the company outlasted most of the other copper mining firms.
The book combines photos and text to tell the story of mining operations from Ontonagon to Mohawk.
One of the most visible strikers during 1913 was Annie Clemenc. Standing over six feet tall, this Slovenian daughter of a miner and wife of a miner crusaded for social and labor reform during the daily parades held in the streets of Calumet. "Tall Annie" by Virginia Law Burns is the story of her Calumet years and her role in the strike and children's Christmas party which forever scarred the community.
Gary Kaunonen has researched the history of Finns in the U.S. and their role in the mining industry. "Challenge Accepted -a Finnish Immigrant response to Industrial American in Michigan's Copper Country" examines how the surge of Finnish immigrants changed the Copper Country. His latest work, "Community in Conflict" is written with Aaron Goings, and is a working class history of the 1913-1914 Michigan Copper Strike and Italian Hall Tragedy. Using a vast collection of documents, many of them in code, Kaunonen and Goings challenge the perception that the strike was an aberration, and claim it was actually a significant event caused by years of social, political and economic divisions based on race, ethnicity, gender and class.
"History of the Finns in Michigan" by Armas K.E. Holmio, originally written in Finnish, translated by Ellen M. Ryynanen explains why the Upper Peninsula was a major destination for Finns immigrating to the U.S. The society and culture brought to Copper Country by these new citizens is described and illustrated by many photos.
Joseph Heywood traces the history of the strike in a mystery novel set during the period featuring Luke Bapcat, a fictional account of one of Michigan's first civil service game wardens. Lovers of Grady Service will enjoy this new type of sleuth who takes on poachers in "Red Jacket."
These and many more titles about copper mining, the Keweenaw Peninsula and Strike of 1913 are available at the Peter White Public Library.
- Pam Christensen