Remembering Italian Hall
October 6, 2012
By Kurt Hauglie, The Daily Mining Gazette
CALUMET - About 12 years ago, Louis Galdieri heard a song by Woody Guthrie about a tragedy, which took place on Christmas Eve 1913 in a place called Calumet in a building called the Italian Hall, and it piqued his interest.
"I thought, 'What are Italians doing in Michigan?'" said Galdieri, who is of Italian descent.
The song, written in 1941 after Guthrie read about the death of 73 people who were attending a Christmas party sponsored by striking copper miners, is Guthrie's interpretation of what he read. Guthrie wrote someone, a "copper boss thug man," yelled fire causing a stampede down the steps from the second floor ballroom during which men, women and children were either crushed or suffocated to death.
After hearing Guthrie's "1913 Massacre," Galdieri said he made a visit to Calumet and brought a movie camera with him to shoot some scenes around the village.
After returning to the Brooklyn, N.Y., headquarters for their Dreamland Pictures, Galdieri said he showed the footage he took to partner Ken Ross and the seed of an idea for a film was planted.
Ross said when he saw the footage Galdieri took, he was struck by the architecture of the buildings and width of the streets, but also by the fact it looked less vibrant than the size of the streets indicated it must have been at one time.
"I saw this town and there was nobody in it," he said. "It looks like a place from a hundred years ago frozen in time."
Ross said in the footage Galdieri took, there was a woman whom he asked to tell him about what she knew about the Italian Hall tragedy, and he was surprised by her reaction.
"She was silent, then she started to cry," he said. "That was all I needed to see. It totally meant there was something very powerful about this place."
Ross and Galdieri said they decided to do a film about Calumet and how it changed in the aftermath of the Italian Hall tragedy and the decline of copper mining. Their film, also called "1913 Massacre," was shown at the Calumet Theatre Friday night, and a second and third showing will take place today at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., again at the theatre. The film makers will be present to answer questions after the showing.
Ross said the film isn't intended to be a historical examination of the incident or the strike, but more about the people who lived here at the time of the tragedy and their descendants who still live in the area.
"The film is about a song," he said.
Ross said he and Galdieri made seven trips to the Calumet area to make the film between July 2001 and February 2006. They shot more than 300 hours of digital video and some film for the finished product of 65 minutes. For the past five years, they've been editing the raw footage.
During one of their trips to Calumet in 2004, Woody Guthrie's son Arlo Guthrie was also in Calumet and they shot some footage of him at the Italian Hall site, which is now a park.
Although the film does contrast the boom times of the copper-mining era and the current less vibrant period, Ross said the intent is not to be dismissive of the people of Calumet.
"We tried to show the dignity of the place," he said. "There's a lot of hope in the people in the film."
Galdieri said he and Ross talked to hundreds of people for the film, and although there is an effort now to revitalize Calumet and the surrounding area, the past should be remembered.
"It's important to own the history and own it in a full way," he said. "There was a violent, violent strike here. It's important to have that as part of the story. It's not the whole story."
Ross said the film doesn't examine the controversy of whether someone yelled "fire" and who that might have been, or whether the doors at the bottom of the stairs to the ballroom were intentionally being held shut so people couldn't get out.
"Our film is about the memory of Italian Hall," he said.
Ross said not all miners were in favor of the strike, and they found there still are some divisions between their descendants because of that disagreement.
"It's part of their family history," he said.
However, Ross said he thinks there is hope for the future.
"What we saw is that there's a tremendous possibility to heal old wounds," he said.
Galdieri said the film was financed from grants and donations from individuals and organizations, including labor unions.
Eventually, Galdieri said he and Ross would like to sell copies of the film from their website, and he thinks it will resonate with people all over the country.
"This is about America," he said.