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  Long Memory
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Long Memory

Take a trip with me in 1913,
To Calumet, Michigan, in the copper country.
I will take you to a place called Italian Hall,
Where the miners are having their big Christmas ball.
I will take you in a door and up a high stairs,
Singing and dancing is heard everywhere,
I will let you shake hands with the people you see,
And watch the kids dance around the big Christmas tree.
You ask about work and you ask about pay,
They'll tell you they make less than a dollar a day,
Working the copper claims, risking their lives,
So it's fun to spend Christmas with children and wives…

“1913 Massacre” by Woody Guthrie

The 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike, and especially events at Italian Hall, cast a long shadow on Copper Country life. Some mineworkers left the region because of the strike. Others were drawn to manufacturing industries in larger Midwestern cities. Michigan’s significance as a national copper producer declined, particularly following the end of World War I. Yet memories of the 1913-14 strike lingered in the region and resonated through organized labor. Folk singer Woody Guthrie, for instance, recorded a song in 1941 about the Christmas Eve tragedy. Despite the Italian Hall’s importance – and in the face of conflicting public opinion – the building was torn down in 1984. A memorial park, featuring the building’s original sandstone doorway arch, was created to commemorate the site. But the demolition of Italian Hall also helped to increase interest in preserving Copper Country history through documents, museum artifacts, and the area’s countless buildings, mine sites, ethnic neighborhoods, and industrial landscapes. Preservation organizations such as the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections, Keweenaw National Historical Park, Finlandia University’s Finnish American Historical Archive and dozens of other museum and heritage groups carefully preserve aspects of Copper Country history, including important pieces relating to the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike. The tumultuous strike left its mark and remains a significant topic for research and debate in the Copper Country today.
Italian Hall building 1984

By 1984, the Italian Hall building was in disrepair. The decision to tear down the building was a difficult one that still creates controversy to this day.

Famous portrait of Woody Guthrie with a small sign on his guitar that reads, “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Guthrie wrote “1913 Massacre” to bolster union organizing in the early 1940s.

Woody Guthrie
* Original photo from Library of Congress
National Guard encampment Many of the buildings and sites relating to the 1913 Michigan Copper Strike have been removed from the landscape. Parade routes and places such as the National Guard encampments left little trace immediately after the strike. Shaft houses, commercial buildings, and houses have been lost to wartime scrap drives – or the Keweenaw’s heavy winters. And the number of people with first-hand memories of this important era declines each year.