Monday, December 24, 2012

The Italian Hall Tragedy and Long Memory

This day, Christmas Eve 2012, marks the 99th anniversary of the sad and tragic events at Italian Hall in Calumet, Michigan. The events of Italian Hall turned the Copper Country on its head, and a bitter 5-month strike dividing workers and companies, friends and neighbors, and in some instances family member from family member became even more acrimonious. People associated with the Western Federation of Miners union blamed a vigilante group, the Citizens' Alliance for orchestrating the events.

Työmies, a Finnish-language socialist-unionist newspaper published in the strike zone at Hancock, Michigan, printed a rare English-language article in a special impromptu edition published on Christmas Day. The beginning of the article read:

The most appalling disaster in the history of Michigan occurred last evening at the Italian Hall in Calumet where hundreds of men, women and children had gathered to witness Christmas exercises for the strikers[’] children. The program which was quite lengthy had just begun when a strange man ascended the stairway, yelled “fire” and quickly made his escape to the street. Several persons who stood near the entrance where this man appeared, state that he had his cap pulled down over his eyes, and that pinned to the lapel of his coat was a Citizen’s [sic] Alliance button. At the cry of fire the great crowd arose as one and made a mad rush for the exit in the front of the building. In the rush down the stairway many fell and being unable to regain their feet were trampled to death, their bodies acting as stumbling blocks for others who followed, until the hallway was entirely blocked by the dead and dying. The fire alarm was soon sounded and those responding were forced to gain entrance to the hall by ladders at the front windows. Firemen entered the building in this manner and stopped the panic stricken crowd from further crowding into the hallway upon the dead bodies of their friends in a frantic effort to escape. The bodies in the hallway were so tightly packed that they could not be released from below, and firemen were compelled to remove the dead from the top of the stairway carrying the dead and dying back up into the hall before the stairs could be cleared. At the time the cry of fire was sounded in the hall Mrs. Annie Clemenc was making a talk to the little ones present who naturally were crowded as near the stage as possible, their little faces beaming with happiness, their hearts bounding with Christmas cheer. In less than three minutes afterward fifty of their frail little bodies were jammed and crushed in the hallway being used as a roadway over which their companions were vainly endeavoring to escape. The scene was a horrible one, and will never be effaced from the minds of those who witnessed the terrible tragedy.

The bodies of the dead were taken to a temporary morgue established in the town hall as soon as they were removed from the building. As soon as identifications were made, the bodies were removed to their homes. In some homes the mother and all the children lie cold in death, the husband and father crazed with grief. In others the mother being the only one spared has been plunged into despair and sorrow that yet dazes her, the full truth not yet dawning upon her terrified brain.

An estimated 73-79 people died in this horrific event. Close to 60 of these deaths were children.

A terrible and tragic event, Italian Hall should be remembered for several reasons. Primarily because we should always honor the memory of those who died in the hall. Mostly children, the lives of those who passed at Italian Hall were filled with so much potential. Additionally, these were working class folks who died at Italian Hall, and often "history" at the very least forgets, or in worst cases, is negligent of the struggles and tribulations of those in the working class. Most traditional histories champion the memories of the presidents and industrialists who supposedly gave so much, while overlooking the people who did the actual work in building America--the WORKing class. Remembering those who died at Italian Hall gives their lives as working class members involved in a hotly contested labor strike the due diligence that most textbook histories dismiss. 

Finally, as the great folk singer Utah Phillips notes, one of the most important gifts to America's working class is "the Long Memory." Referring to "Long Memory" as the most radical idea in America, Phillips opines in his spoken-word song "The Long Memory," that those of us coming up today battling many of the same injustices in the wage-slave system, can only begin to understand OUR exploitation and attempt to control the conditions of OUR labor by understanding OUR collective past as a united working class. 

So, where does this knowledge come from? According to Phillips, it is OUR elders. Those elders who sat-in, spoke-up, and sometimes tuned-out, have a wealth of knowledge that can never be learned from a text book. 

Those working class elders who marched in strike parades, nearly froze to death in picket lines, and sacrificed their lives for something as simple as a Christmas Eve party in Italian Hall have demonstrated to all of us how important, essential, and vital something as simple as collective action can be. That lesson is not inherent, it is learned and earned from each battle on the picket line, each fight for free speech, and every tragic loss to senseless labor violence directed at workers trying to assert their rights to organize in a collective body. The "Long Memory" allows us today to carry the lessons of the past into the future and gain the wisdom of those who have fought the good fight before us. 

Simply, the "Long Memory" allows us to never forget the past, while always moving forward.   

A link to Utah and Ani DiFranco's song "The Long Memory":  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDTtuKarY7U

Our thoughts go out to those who died at Italian Hall this holiday season--Aaron and Gary

Monday, November 19, 2012

Italian Hall Archaeology Write-up Michigan Tech Lode

Michigan Tech's student newspaper The Lode did a write-up on the archaeology done at Italian Hall. The article's writer, Sawyer Newman included my thoughts on what an honor it was to be included in the dig. 

(Right click on the images and choose open link in new tab to view enlarged image.)

 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tumult and Tragedy Public Materials

(Right click and select open in a new window to read larger version of images)

In addition to the traveling exhibit, the Project Team (Erik Nordberg, Mike Stockwell, and I) also created materials for public consumption that include: a brochure, a handbill, a poster, and a web site.

The web address for the "Tumult and Tragedy" exhibit is: www.1913strike.mtu.edu 

Handbill created by Project Team 
As part of the grant, the exhibit will be "traveling" to other sites in the Copper Country. The Project Team decided to use a poster and handbill to announce these next stops after the exhibit leaves Michigan Tech. Included on the poster and handbill are dates, speakers, and topics for exhibit openings as the exhibit visits other sites in the Copper Country.

I'm (Gary) giving a presentation on writing the interpretive text for the exhibit at the Keweenaw National Historical Park on May 23, 2013, at 7 pm in the Park's Visitor Center in Calumet.


The front and back covers of the brochure. The back cover, seen on the left-hand side of the image contains names of the Project Team as well as the Narrative Committee. This entire project was truly a collaborative venture from beginning to end and displays the power and importance of having as many voices as possible in a public history exhibit. 

Inside cover of the brochure featuring mineworkers posing for a picture outside of one of the area's many shafthouses and the funeral for Finnish immigrant people who died at Italian Hall. This image is from the interior of a Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church on Pine Street in Calumet, Michigan. 

Two of the four exhibit content areas.

The two other exhibit themes contained in the brochure. 
The brochure is intended to give an encapsulation of the exhibit's main themes and direct the reader to the exhibit's on-line content. The four content areas, or themes, of the exhibit are displayed as titles on each of the brochure's inner folds and then the sub-headings for the exhibit are contained in the top right corner above the each heading. The four thematic areas I chose to tell the story of the "Tumult and Tragedy" of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike were "Context," "Community," "Conflict," and "Consequence."

As you will note, there are QR Codes (Quick Read Codes--available as apps on most mobile devices) on each of the public material handouts. QR Codes are the funny looking, square bar code-like blocks that are seen everywhere nowadays. Though they look and sound a little mysterious, QR Codes are simply a way to direct mobile device users to on-line content. QR Codes have been used in marketing for a while now, but they also provide public historians and exhibits a valuable way to link people at physical exhibit sites to cyber, or on-line, content such as web pages and streaming video or audio content.

The QR Codes on "Tumult and Tragedy's'" public materials direct readers to the web site hosted by Michigan Tech, while QR Codes were also used on the exhibit panels as well as a way to direct viewers to various content and web sites on the internet including web pages and content from the Copper Country Historical Collections, Keweenaw National Historical Park, and Finlandia University.

Tumult and Tragedy ABC 5 and 10

Link to short ABC 5 and 10 on-line article about "Tumult and Tragedy" exhibit:

http://abc10up.com/mtuarchives-premiers-new-exhibit-about-1913-strike/

As you'll note, a list of presenters that will give public talks on an aspect of the exhibit's main themes is included in the article.

I'm (Gary) giving a talk on writing the interpretive text for the exhibit on Thursday, May 23, 2013, at 7 pm in the Park's Visitor Center in Calumet. I'm really looking forward to that event.

Tumult and Tragedy Article in the Daily Mining Gazette

(Right click on the image and open in new window to read the article)

From the Friday, November 2, 2012, Daily Mining Gazette. The exhibit opening was a great success with over 70 people in attendance. The Project Director, Erik Nordberg, began comments on the exhibit, then I (Gary Kaunonen) as Project Historian talked briefly about the exhibit's research and writing, and then Mike Stockwell, Project Designer, talked about the original artwork and design of the traveling exhibit panels. 

It was a fun night and a number of people from the Narrative Committee, who helped brainstorm for the exhibit, were in attendance as well, including Larry Lankton (retired Tech history prof), Deidre Erbisch (local school teacher), and Carla Strome (local school administrator). 



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Premier of 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike Traveling Exhibit

Original artwork by graphic designer Mike Stockwell for "Tumult and Tragedy" a traveling exhibit on the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike.

On November 1. at 6.30 pm, Michigan Tech's Copper Country Historical Archive is premiering a traveling exhibit titled "Tumult and Tragedy" on the first floor of the JR Van Pelt Library.

I (Gary) had the great and very fortunate opportunity to be the Project Historian for this traveling exhibit. I can truly say it was a pleasure working with Project Manager Erik Nordberg and Project Designer Mike Stockwell of Cranking Graphics. I really think we have put together a comprehensive look at the strike that includes not only information and interpretation about the actual strike, but also events that preceded the strike and consequences of the strike.

In this traveling exhibit, we included primary quotations from historical actors, text, historic photos, drawings, and maps to give the most well-rounded portrayal of the great complexity of the strike and the people who lived through it.

The traveling exhibit will move throughout the Copper Country and at each new exhibit installation there will be a featured speaker presenting on an aspect of the strike's history associated with the exhibit's content.

For more information on the exhibit, the exhibit opening on November 1, and the presentations take a look at the Archive's blog: http://blogs.mtu.edu/archives/2012/10/26/archives-premiers-new-exhibit-about-1913-strike/.

Terrible News at Michigan Tech's Copper Country Archive

Bad news to report on the heritage preservation front. The Copper Country Historical Collections are closed until further notice due to a fire and the resulting water damage of the zoned fire suppression system.

Full information is detailed on the Archive's blog: http://blogs.mtu.edu/archives/2012/10/27/archives-closed/

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Italian Hall Archaeology Part II

This Saturday and Sunday students from Michigan Tech's Industrial Archaeology program began doing physical archaeology at the Italian Hall Memorial site. The purpose of the archaeological work was to do sampling, in the form of shovel test pits, of what is under the site of the Italian Hall. With this information, the National Park Service's Keweenaw National Historical Park will create a landscape design for future interpretation and education efforts at the site.

Dr. Tim Scarlett, who was leading the dig, was surprised and confident that the archaeological work at the site yielded enough information to give Keweenaw National Historical Park some solid information on which to plan for the landscaping work at the site.

I (Gary) was able to participate in the dig on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a beautiful fall day in the Keweenaw and the group that I was working in found what is likely the foundation of the Italian Hall. I'll post photographs of this foundation, which we found at about 40 cm underground, and other interesting finds from this weekend. I have to write that excavating and finding what is likely a part of the Italian Hall's 1908 building foundation was a unique and moving experience. What we uncovered was buried for over 100 years and the simple smooth faced stones buried in the ground are physical connections to the tragic building that reminded us all of the significance of the work we were doing.

I got chills when I first saw the rough face of the stone foundation as I saw it emerging from the dirt and rubble that had buried it for over 100 years. It was truly a great experience and I feel honored to have been a part of the students, volunteers, and project staff who were working at the site. My thanks to Dr. Tim Scarlett and Keweenaw National Historical Park for including me in this work.

Now, the photos from Saturday:

Saturday's digging was under warm, sunny skies. This group of Tech Industrial Archaeology Program students digs into the lot adjacent to Italian Hall as the Memorial Arch watches over the work.

In the upper right hand corner of this test pit is what is believed to be a small section of stone foundation from the Italian Hall. Our team of workers unearthed this through rubble seen sticking out into the shovel test pit. It was amazing to be able to dig this up; it was an experience I will always remember.

Sunday's work at the site brought much less favorable weather, but interesting finds none-the-less. Conditions got so cold and rainy that at times we had to tent the shovel test pit holes to keep water out and workers dry. Images from the soggy Sunday:
Michigan Tech Industrial Archaeology program student Roger Gerke beginning a shovel test pit in the rear quarter of the Italian Hall Memorial site. There were three shovel test pits dug in the Italian Hall Memorial site, of these only two were inside the historical building. The shovel test pits, once bottomed out, are then filled in and sod is replaced to leave as little impact at the site as possible. 

Difficult to believe, but there is a person under this makeshift tent and down about 80 cms below the ground. This shovel test pit, located in a lot adjacent to the Italian Hall Memorial site yielded very interesting finds and bottomed out at about 100 centimeters. The person excavating the shovel test pit only stopped because a wooden floor was hit at 100 centimeters.

As dirt is screened from digging in the shovel test pits, small pieces of physical history emerge. This tiny artifact is a piece of porcelain from the lot adjacent to the Italian Hall Memorial site. Through historic photographs and maps, it was determined that this lot housed a saloon and residences and this piece of porcelain probably came from one of those historic residences. 
Iron artifact from a shovel test pit inside the Italian Hall--or rather from inside where the Italian Hall once stood. It is thought that this artifact is perhaps a piece of hardware, perhaps a coat hook. The Italian Hall's interior had many coat hooks and the depth of this coat hook in the ground, indicated that it was a historic artifact, likely from Italian Hall. The next step for this artifact is a good cleaning in the Tech's Industrial Archaeology lab to remove the rust and dirt from around the artifact.

Difficult to tell from this image, but this shovel test pit goes down about 100 centimeters. The various layers or levels of soil can be seen in the walls of the shovel test pit. The bottom of this shovel test pit proved very interesting as a number of glass bottles and glass bottle fragments sat on top of a wood floor.

More Italian Hall Archaeology News Stories

From the Houghton Bureau of NBC's Marquette affiliate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lGrc6VUs4c

From ABC 5 & 10: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7lXKXnM1Cs

Italian Hall Archaeology Article Daily Mining Gazette


The Daily Mining Gazette featured this October 22, 2012, article about the archaeological work on the Italian Hall site. My daughter and I volunteered to help work at the site and our group was lucky enough to have dug an archaeological test pit that uncovered what is likely the foundation of the 1908 Italian Hall building. It was an amazing moment knowing that our crew of diggers had uncovered large foundation stones from Italian Hall that had not seen the light of day in over 100 years (it was also amazing working with my daughter on this project). Thus, it was a great day all around and especially gratifying were the number of people that stopped by and asked questions about the dig and the site. It was great talking with them and answering questions about the site.




Thursday, October 18, 2012

Italian Hall Archaeology

GPR scanning below the surface at the Italian Hall memorial site, Calumet, Michigan

GPR readout monitor, showing what lies underneath the surface of Italian Hall

Michigan Technological's University's Industrial Archaeology program is undertaking an archaeological study of the Italian Hall site in Calumet, Michigan, for the National Park Service's future landscape improvements to the incredibly significant historical site.

I (Gary) gave a presentation to the class undertaking the archaeological investigation on October 11, 2012, and stressed the significance of Italian Hall and the memorial as an important site in American labor history and that the memorial and events of Italian Hall were a part of public history that was simultaneously "contested history."
The crux of my presentation was that the Italian Hall, the events of the fateful Christmas Eve, and the memorial site were all parts of public history--not the purview of any one person, institution, or agency. There are many stakeholders associated with a site like Italian Hall, and this makes the memorial site and the tragic history associated with it "contested history." Contested history because of its very nature is complex, but the best definition that I have run across comes from Charles Darwin University in Australia. It reads:


History is often portrayed as the description of what happened in the past...it is understood that 'history' is more correctly described as 'histories'. If what we see and do is dependent upon our observations, then each person will have a different view of a particular event, they will construct their own history. Add to this the complexities of interpretation and language and there is likely to be no chance of there being one 'true' history. History is contingent and dependent upon the circumstances in which you find yourself, the image you want to portray and the rights you have to present your turn of the events. History is often described as the story of the winners!


...the issues at stake then are not just the accuracy of the textbooks, but the actual power and influence that goes with being the person or group that gets your story heard. It is the history of the dominant group that gets to be told and it is their story that is often the one that becomes normalised whilst the stories of others gets 'othered' or ignored. Minority groups and outcasts in society don't get to tell their story or their side of a story.


As a note: our research and writing on Italian Hall aims to present the working class history associated with the site. We are presenting the "other side" of the story and from the perspective of strikers, workers, and those that did not have an "official" voice during the events of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike.

This archaeological project is a great example of public history at a contested space in that a number of agencies and stakeholders are involved in the project: local government, a state university, and a federal government agency--the National Park Service. Partnerships like these give a wide breadth of knowledge and resources to under-served, but crucial, complex historical sites like Italian Hall.


Then on October 14, 2012, a morning and afternoon crew of undergraduate and graduate students in Michigan Tech's Social Sciences department laid outs lines and a historic preservation professional from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community scanned the site with ground penetrating radar (GPR) to gain an idea of what lies beneath the surface of the ground at the tragic historical site.


Doing a GPR scan of the site is the first step in an archaeological survey of the site. Step 2 happens this upcoming weekend when students will be doing shovel test pits (STPs) to check for significant historical remains on the site. This archaeological work is mandated by Section 106 heritage preservation law.


This process will help Keweenaw National Park, the organization that administers the site for the Village of Calumet, determine what types of changes to incorporate for the site's landscape improvements during the centennial year of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike. 


Pictures of this weekend's dig will be posted on the site early next week. I'm extremely excited to see what artifacts come from the STPs. This type of analysis at Italian Hall has never been done before, and promises to be an interesting and informative experience.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 North American Labor History Conference

If it is fall (and by all weather indications here in the Copper Country it is--down to 34 F tonight) it is time for the North American Labor History Conference at Wayne State University.



A link to the 2012 North American Labor History Conference web site: http://nalhc.wayne.edu/ 

I (Gary) presented at the conference last year on extra-legal direct action and met a bunch of great folks--academics and activists alike--it was a great experience. Also stayed in a wonderful union hotel in downtown Detroit.

Again, this year the Copper Country is represented at the conference by historian Dr. Larry Lankton of Michigan Technological University's Social Sciences department. Larry, who has been doing Copper Country history for over two decades, is providing comments on a documentary related to a Woody Guthrie song about the Italian Hall tragedy, 1913 Massacre by Ken Ross and Louis V. Galdieri. The documentary is being shown Thursday, October 18, at 6 pm.

(Larry is also giving a presentation on workers' compensation in the "Michigan State Bar Sessions" of the Wayne State University Law School Auditorium on Friday, October 19, at 9 am on the "View Above the Bridge and Below the Ground.")

The film and Larry's commentary are being sponsored by "The Workers Compensation Section of the Michigan Bar and Wayne State University Law School, in celebration of 100 years workers' compensation in Michigan."

A link to the 1913 Massacre documentary page: http://1913massacre.com/

Here, a link to the trailer on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/30913221

The documentary looks at public memory of the Italian Hall and 1913-14 Strike in Calumet using Woody Guthrie's lesser-known, but powerful ballad, "1913 Massacre." Guthrie penned and then sang the song after reading Ella Reeve "Mother" Bloor's account of the Italian Hall tragedy in her autobiography We Are Many, which was published in 1940. Guthrie then hit the airwaves, concert halls, and outdoor venues with the song to bolster unionization efforts during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, which was overall, and in a general sense, sympathetic to organized labor.

Ken and Louis and 1913 Massacre will also be appearing at the Calumet Theater this fall, October 5 and 6 for a showing of their film, and will be in the Copper Country fall of 2013 for the Writing Across the Peninsula Conference sponsored by Michigan Tech's Humanities Department.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fort Wilkins Presentation

File:Fort Wilkins.JPG
Image of the parade grounds and officers' quarters at Fort Wilkins, a restored 19th century frontier fort in Copper Harbor, Michigan, on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

I (Gary) had an opportunity to round out the Summer 2012 Evening Programs at Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor a couple of weeks ago. Occurring August, 24, 2012, the talk went well and was attended by around 45 people from all over Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

I've been giving talks at Fort Wilkins for about five years and really enjoy the setting and people. I started giving talks on my experiences with training and racing Alaskan husky sled dogs, moved to talking about Finnish American labor history, and now presented on "The 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike: New Perspectives."

I unveiled some of the new material we have come across in our research for the upcoming book, and the response was very good...many interesting and challenging questions. Authors can learn so much from these talks just by listening to and thinking about audience questions. I'm continually impressed by the questions I get and always try to think if I've addressed these ideas in the book and if not how I might be able to when given the chance to edit the book.

Also met a couple of union folks in the audience. One gentleman was a UAW worker from downstate Michigan and another was a public school teacher from Wisconsin. Both had interesting stories and we talked about everything from the 1937 Sit-down Strike to the March on Madison of recent history. One conclusion I came to after talking with these men and studying labor history for years is that unions are under constant attack. Union folks always have to be vigilant because powerful lobbyists, politicians, and corporations are eternally looking to peel back some of the hard fought rights workers have won in the valiant working class struggles of the past.

This is perhaps one of the greatest lessons from our book on the 1913-14 Strike; people fought hard for workers' rights and we should honor and remember their sacrifices by continuing the fight. We honor the struggle of Copper Country workers by working for and being vigilant toward the rights they marched, sang, and sadly, in some instances, died for.

It is always an honor to be at Fort Wilkins and I learn and enjoy my time presenting there.

Fort Wilkins State Park is a real jewel among the Michigan State Parks system. There are (at various times) live historical interpreters, outdoor recreation opportunities, a lighthouse tour, some excellent exhibits, and in the winter some great cross-country ski trails. Please see the link for more information:
http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/details.aspx?id=419&type=SPRK

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Labor Day 1912: 100 Years Ago Today

Like this parade, which possibly occurred during Labor Day festivities in Hancock, Michigan, circa 1900, Labor Day at the turn of the century was about getting out and showing solidarity with your fellow workers. Membership in a union, such as the International Molders Union members above, often included uniforms so members could identify with other union brothers and sisters. Image courtesy of Michigan Technological University's Copper Country Historical Collections.

One hundred years ago today, thousands of working-class men, women, and children took to the streets of Hancock, Houghton, and Ontonagon to celebrate Labor Day.  Celebrated annually in cities and towns throughout the United States, Labor Day provided workers and their families with a day away from the workplace and the boss.  These parades provided unionists with their best opportunity to display their commitment to their unions, to unionism in general, as well as a pride in their crafts. Unionists sometimes wore identical uniforms or built floats that signaled their membership in a particular trade, or carried banners that proclaimed their union membership. 

The celebrations also provided workers with a chance to demonstrate their class solidarity by taking to the streets, holding mass parade, hearing pro-labor speeches, and enjoying picnics and games with their fellow workers.

Reporting on the September 2, 1912, Labor Day festivities, the Daily Mining Gazette wrote:

"Labor organizations of the Copper Country put forth their marching foot yesterday in observing Labor Day. In Hancock as well as in other cities throughout the country armies of men, the brawn of the great army of industrial toilers, observed it.  The significance of the movement, its benefits, its dangers, and its mission are questions peculiarly appropriate to yesterday and it required only one's presence at the grove to hear the speakers of the day explain in detail the meeting of Labor Day to learn what it represented. . . .  

Attendance Record Broken.  
The grove yesterday afternoon was the mecca for hundreds of copper country folk who congregated to help make the celebration a success.  There was music for dancing by the Quincy band, refreshments were served on the grounds, and an athletic program pulled off.  Yesterday's celebration may truly be said to have been the most successful in the history of organized labor in the Copper Country."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Presenting, Listening, and Learning in Calumet

Former mineworkers talking about their experiences working in Calumet, Michigan, area mines at Coppertown Museum in  Calumet's industrial core. Their talk was sponsored by Calumet Main Street and is a part of Heritage Days in Calumet, photo by the author.
I (Gary) had a unique opportunity last night...I was invited to give a presentation on labor history in Calumet as part of their Heritage Days activities. About 40 people showed up to the event, and things went really well. I discussed life in Calumet circa 1912 for mineworkers and how those lives, although described by a mining company official in a 1912 celebration as idyllic, was simply not the case. The best evidence for this was the bitter 9-month strike that started less than a year after the mining company official's statements in 1912.

The presentation was short at about 20 minutes, but the question and answer session lasted for almost 45 minutes, and great questions they were. My favorite was: "How was the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike like last year's Occupy Movement?"

Wow! What an incredible question and without going into huge detail my answer was, "Decentralization!," which we will be discussing in the book.

But, the highlight of the night was listening to former Calumet area mineworkers discuss their experiences working in area copper mines. Topics included in the memories of these mineworkers were mine accidents, good points of working in a mine, area saloons, and colorful characters of the Copper Country.

In essence, these memories were living testimonials to what conditions in the mines and the area were like...in their own voices and it was a great honor to hear these voices.

This is actually what the upcoming books is all about: giving voice to those who did not have a voice during the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike. We are attempting to tell a type of working class or peoples' history of the event. That is our main focus with the book and our goal in doing our research and writing.

I went to give a presentation and inform on what life was like in the Copper Country circa 1912, but in the end I was given the opportunity to listen to and learn from people who incredible life experience. It was an honor to be able to listen to those folks wax nostalgic about their experiences.

So, the night was a great event and there are even more events planned for the rest of the week including the four year of the Red Metal Radio show, which is staged live at the beautiful Calumet Theater. Details on that radio show and the rest of Heritage Days' events: http://www.mainstreetcalumet.

com/

Monday, July 30, 2012

Copper Country Heritage

Once every summer one of the most unique and inspiring events happens in the Keweenaw Peninsula: the Baraga Powwow. This preservation of Ojibwa Native American culture is an incredible event for a couple of reasons: 1) it brings in thousands of people each year to the summer beauty of the Keweenaw and 2) it displays the fortitude of a people in the struggle to preserve their heritage, sometimes against seemingly overwhelming odds.

Before Europeans arrived in the Keweenaw searching for copper wealth, Native Americans occupied this beautiful and rugged land. Displaced as a result of the rush for copper, Native Americans were treated as second class citizens and placed in two government settlements on each side of Keweenaw Bay. These "reservations" included a "White" school at Assinins, where there was also an orphanage founded by Father Baraga, the Snowshoe Priest. Native American as well as "White" children were housed in the orphanage.

The Ojibwa people today, as part of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, carry on the cultural practices of their elders, and this ethic of cultural preservation is an amazing representation of what a subjugated people can do to maintain their heritage. The Baraga Powwow is a testament to the power of place and the perseverance of a people to preserve and protect their heritage and culture.

video

Working class Americans, of all backgrounds, can look to the great efforts of the Ojibwa people of Keweenaw Bay to preserve and protect the positive and powerful practices of culture. Too often working class culture is portrayed in less-than flattering ways. Often times working class "folks" are portrayed as buffoonish and unintelligent. This is not an accurate portrayal and one that is used by cultural elites in media and society to keep working class people in their place, while selling life-styles and products that are seen as somehow superior to working class realities.

A good critical examination of this phenomenon is the Class Dismissed documentary. A link to the first part of the two part documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyqXyn2O0S4.

While I think much of the documentary is right on, it has a perspective that somewhat mitigates the message. The "expert" analysis of working class media is done solely by academics in the university. Where are the working class voices outside of the academy? There is no examination of the topic by people outside of the university, and this is especially problematic, maybe ironic, in a media product examining how working class people are portrayed in the media...why not include a woman on the factory floor or a fry cook at McDonalds in the commentary?

Despite this shortcoming, the documentary does raise interesting questions about working class culture and heritage. In many ways media creates the stereotypes by which we think about our "working class," and this is a tragic mistake because media, and especially broadcast media, is owned and run by the very people that want to keep working class folks in their place.

The control of culture and heritage by outside entities is a vicious circle for certain, but one that Native Americans at Keweenaw Bay are effectively addressing in hosting such a great event as the Baraga Powwow.      

Monday, July 23, 2012

Aaron's Talk at the Tech



Ninety nine years ago today, thousands of mine workers from Michigan’s Copper Country went out on strike, paralyzing  the region’s mines and inaugurating one of the era’s most important labor conflicts.  The strike lasted more than 9 months and was fought between an inter-ethnic group of workers and huge corporations like Calumet and Hecla. 

The Copper Country’s labor history in the years leading up to the strike was the topic of a talk entitled “Class Conflict in the Copper Country” by Aaron Goings on July 17 at Michigan Tech’s Van Pelt Library.

Goings explored the “long history” of the region’s labor movement from its early formation among members of the Knights of Labor through the organization of dozens of trade unions during the early 20th century.  He also discussed the influence of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies), among the region’s workers.

The talk concluded with Goings discussing the similarities between the 1913-1914 Copper Country Strike and contemporary labor conflicts.  He also highlighted the strike’s significance to Progressive Era unionists and radicals.

Around 75 people turned out to hear Goings’ presentation.  The talk, as well as Goings’ visit to the Copper Country, was made possible through a travel grant from the Friends of the Van Pelt Library.