Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Woody Guthrie’s Michigan Lament

Remembering the story behind “1913 Massacre”



 

Aglow in a darkened room at the heart of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, a giant backlit map of the continental United States beckons visitors to investigate the towns and byways of “Woody’s America.”

The interactive exhibit explores the history behind the stories of Woody Guthrie’s iconic songs – from California to the New York island, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters, and the roads in between.

Oddly, the map does not include Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – an especially curious omission since it was there, 105 years ago, that a deadly Christmas Eve incident would inspire one of Guthrie’s most memorable ballads: “1913 Massacre.”

 

The dirge-like song begins:
Take a trip with me in 1913,
To Calumet, Michigan, in the Copper Country.
I’ll take you to a place called Italian Hall,
And the miners are having their big Christmas ball…

 

Boom times for copper mining in Michigan began in the 1840s, powered by the brawn of immigrants who would descend into the mine shafts and tunnels, working by candlelight or in virtual darkness to wrest ore from the earth in 10- to 12-hour shifts, six days a week, for pay ranging from $1.50 to $3 a day.

Demand grew with the spread of copper wires in industrialization, electrification and communication. Michigan became the nation’s largest producer of copper. Along the way, thousands of miners died – in fires, rock falls, shaft plunges, machinery accidents and misfired explosives.

By the summer of 1913, more than 9,000 miners unionized and asked for safety precautions, a raise and shorter work weeks. The mining companies refused to acknowledge the demands or meet for discussions, prompting the Copper Country’s first strike on July 23, 1913.

Tension and Tragedy As the months dragged on and winter set in, tensions rose. Belts were tightened. James MacNaughton, general manager of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, declared: “Grass will grow in the streets before C&H recognizes the union. The union must be killed at all cost.” Protests were met by National Guardsmen, deputized strike breakers and company-funded anti-union rallies.

Five months into the strike, the women’s auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners organized an afternoon Christmas Eve party for the miners and their families. On the second floor of the town’s Italian Hall, a Christmas tree was lit, piano pieces were played, Santa visited and small gifts were distributed to dozens of children. For many, it would be the only present they would get for the holiday.

 

Guthrie’s fourth verse described the scene:
There’s talking and laughing and songs in the air,
And the spirit of Christmas is there everywhere,
Before you know it you’re friends with us all,
And you’re dancing around and around in the hall…

 

The mood changed when a man twice shouted – falsely – that there was a fire in the hall. In the panic to retreat down the steep staircase to the street, people were smothered and crushed by the weight of others trying to flee.

Within minutes, 73 people were killed – and 59 of the dead were children, as young as 2.

In his book Death’s Door: The Truth Behind Michigan’s Largest Mass Murder, attorney Steve Lehto reports the man who cried fire worked as a supporter of the anti-union Citizens’ Alliance, and that the doors appeared to be blocked from the outside, preventing an escape from within. Investigations at the time were slipshod, and no charges were filed.

 

Guthrie’s final verses conclude:
Such a terrible sight I never did see,
We carried our children back up to their tree,
The scabs outside still laughed at their spree,
And the children that died there were seventy-three.


The piano played a slow funeral tune,
And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon,
The parents they cried and the miners they moaned,
‘See what your greed for money has done.’

 

Written by Guthrie after reading an account of the disaster and performed in New York City on New Year’s Eve 1945, “1913 Massacre” memorialized an American tragedy that had faded from memory after two World Wars.

 


 

Aftermath and Legacy Although the Guthrie Center map omits Calumet, Calumet remembers Woody Guthrie.

 

Its population, which once numbered 6,000, is now around 700. The Italian Hall was razed in 1984; only the lonely arched doorway that had been the entrance remains. The site near the corner of Elm and Seventh is today preserved as a memorial, run in partnership with the Keweenaw National Historical Park.

Signs and plaques tell of the months-long strike that preceded the deaths, and of the heart-breaking aftermath of dozens of white caskets being marched down the frozen streets to Lakeview Cemetery on Dec. 28.

The strike would last four more months. On April 10, the miners voted to end the walkout, despite the lack of concessions. Only half were hired back – and then only if they disavowed any further attempt to organize. The 8,235 returning men were required to sign back into work in a ledger, which was then presented to James MacNaughton. Each also was required to give 5 cents toward a commemorative watch for the mine’s superintendent, which was presented to him with a decreed note of thanks: “Due to your attitude of no compromise, the Copper Country is not afflicted with the presence of the Western Federation of Miners.”

Every Christmas Eve, the town lights 73 luminaries to line the walk to the door where the hall once stood.

In the darkness, the lights flicker on the surrounding plaques. One from the AFL-CIO Northwest Upper Peninsula Labor Council states: “Mourn the dead; fight for the living.” Another features a photograph of Woody Guthrie and his guitar with a tribute to his “1913 Massacre,” concluding: “His song drew renewed interest in the strike and provokes listeners to this day.”

The PBS documentary Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913 ends with a rendition of Guthrie’s ballad, concluding, “Taken as history, the song is a flawed work … But taken as art, the song is transformative. It became a staple in the folklore canon, and elevated a tragedy into folklore.”

 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »You Might Like

What's Up in the 405

Our top 6 picks for fun stuff to do in and around OKC

Boutique Resort Living Inside OKC

Contact Cole Strickland for a private showing: (405) 246-5592

VegFest Returns

Celebrating a plant-based lifestyle

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2019

Start your Sunday morning by perfecting your practice during our outdoor yoga class. Enjoy the beauty of yoga outdoors in the glow of the Ferris Wheel lights! This class welcomes all levels, from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wheeler Ferris Wheel
1701 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Art Moments 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Enjoy a variety of 10-minute spotlight talks throughout the galleries to introduce different works in the Museum’s temporary exhibitions or permanent...

Cost: Free with Museum admisison

Where:
National Cowboy Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Join us at September's Lift Session for an inside look at Oklahoma's expanding local food and agriculture economy. The event will feature panelists Erick Worrell from Ghost, speaking on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Vanessa House Beer Co.
118 NW 8th Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405-475-3782
Contact Name: Kristin Alsup
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Art Awakening 2019 is our sixth annual art show highlighting the artistic talents of persons living with mental illness and addiction. The event is family-friendly, free to attend and open to...

Cost: FREE

Where:
NorthCare
2617 General Pershing Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: NorthCare
Telephone: 405-858-2706
Contact Name: Kaitlynn Wilkinson
Website »

More information

Aging doesn’t have to mean getting old, slowing down, or dealing with falls. Aging should come with the dignity and independence of a life well lived. The risk of falling as we age is...

Cost: Free

Where:
FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers of Oklahoma City
7415 N May Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers of Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405-400-8909
Contact Name: Sean
Website »

More information

Join us Thursday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. when Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Justin Echols helps to kick off the 19th season of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s acclaimed...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Ballroom
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405-574-1310
Contact Name: Katie Davis
Website »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

As seen on America's Got Talent, this comedic adventure, written by opera-veteran Matthew Lord with music arranged by award-winning composer Craig Bohmler, has been said to be the closest...

Cost: $35-$40

Where:
OCCC Visual and Performing Arts Center
7777 South May Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73159
View map »


Sponsor: BancFirst

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Musical Swings is an interactive public art installation featuring 10 swings that each activate a different note, allowing participants to make music, connect to one another and have a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bicentennial Park
201 North Walker Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Community Foundation
Telephone: 405-606-2922
Contact Name: Kasey Gardner
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

Join us for a night of music under the Ferris Wheel lights. Enjoy live music from Saint Loretto, Flock of Pigs, and Sophia Massad. Come hungry: Taco Nation, Wicked Hangry, Cook'n It...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wheeler Ferris Wheel
1701 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »

More information

The Barber of Seville Rossini’s comic masterpiece comes to the Freede Little Theater! When Count Almaviva and his love Rosina run into an issue preventing them from being married -...

Cost: $35 or $50. Prices do not include fees.

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Painted Sky Opera
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

With Special Guest Joe Robinson “If you like guitar playing, it simply doesn’t get any better than Tommy.” – Jason Isbell Tommy Emmanuel has achieved enough musical...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Hudiburg Chevrolet Cneter
6000 Prosper Blvd
Midwest City, OK  73110
View map »


Sponsor: Emporium Presents
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Musical Swings is an interactive public art installation featuring 10 swings that each activate a different note, allowing participants to make music, connect to one another and have a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bicentennial Park
201 North Walker Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Community Foundation
Telephone: 405-606-2922
Contact Name: Kasey Gardner
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The Hennessey Wine & Chocolate Festival has become legendary in Oklahoma, drawing thousands of wine and chocolate connoisseurs. Spend the afternoon in the beautiful Hennessey Memorial...

Cost: $15

Where:
Memorial Park
204 N Main St
Hennessey, OK  73742
View map »


Sponsor: Hennessey United
Telephone: 580-484-1682
Contact Name: Angela Bruner
Website »

More information

We're poppin' champagne on the patio this Saturday and raffling off a bottle of Perrier-Jouet valued at $300! Come pre-party with us and DJ Catherine Ouellette from 6pm-10pm -...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sheraton Oklahoma City Downtown Hotel
1, N Broadway Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags