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“One little girl who was jammed in the hallway in a dying condition begged one of her rescuers to save her. She grasped his hand, kissed it, then her little head dropped upon her breast and she was dead,”

Miner’s Bulletin, December 28, 1913

The heightened tension in the Copper Country came to a peak during the winter of 1913. On Christmas Eve 1913, the Calumet Women’s Auxiliary of the WFM organized a party in the Italian Hall for the children of striking workers. The party, held on the second floor of the building, turned into a nightmare as someone reportedly yelled “Fire!” into the crowded hall. There was no fire. People streamed down the stairs, but someone or something caused a clog to develop in the stairway. Body piled upon body in the hall's stairwell, causing the deaths of 73 people, including almost 60 children. The event became national news overnight and further polarized the local community. Confusion about exactly how many died, who may have called “fire,” and whether exit doors opened inward or out remain shrouded in mystery and are still debated today.
Italian Hall

Calumet’s Italian Hall, December 25, 1913. The building’s American flag had been lowered to half-staff in honor of those who died just hours before.

Line drawing of second floor interior of the Italian Hall showing the cramped quarters in the vestibule area that acted as a funnel directing people down the fateful stairway. Interior of Italian Hall
Italian Hall the day after Even a day later, the wildly strewn about chairs recount the chaos of a Christmas Eve gone horribly wrong. An inquest into events at Italian Hall convened later in December, but reached no conclusions.

A political cartoon in Hancock’s Finnish immigrant press left no doubts about whom organized labor thought was at fault for the deaths of those at Italian Hall.

political cartoon
procession of Italian Hall dead

Hundreds gathered to help carry coffins during the procession of Italian Hall dead to Lakeview Cemetery, just outside of Calumet. Thousands more gathered on Calumet’s streets to watch the somber procession.

The graveside ceremonies for the victims of Italian Hall lasted until nightfall. Speakers in a number of languages eulogized the dead, consoled surviving family, and condemned those they believed responsible for the tragedy. graveside ceremonies for the victims of Italian Hall