Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula is known for its rugged beauty, freezing weather, and copper. Copper mining is a way of life in the UP whose tradition goes back more than a century. And it was a century ago that one of the darkest episodes in the history of Copper Country played out in the small town of Calumet.
On Christmas Eve, 1913, hundreds of striking miners and their families were attending a holiday party in a building called Italian Hall. Someone yelled “fire!” But there was no fire. Panic ensued, and 73 people were killed in a stampede for the door.
Michigan author Steve Lehto has written about the tragedy, and he’s also featured in an upcoming PBS documentary, Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913, which airs on WKAR-TV on December 17.
Lehto says that at the time, miners were on strike to push for safer conditions, and the party was held for the children of strikers. He says evidence indicates that the man who yelled "fire" intended to break the party up.