Category Archives: News

Pete Seeger, 1919-2014

Ken emailed late last night with the news that Pete Seeger had died. I found out this morning. We both feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have spent time with Pete, talking about Woody, their time on the road, “1913 Massacre” and all sorts of musical and historical topics.

There was no such thing as a brief visit or a short interview with Pete. Once he got talking, telling stories and playing music, time just opened up and the thought of leaving never entered your mind.

The Times obituary does a pretty good job of telling his life story. I doubt Ken or I have much to add when it comes to the details.

Instead, here’s some unedited footage of Pete.

Pete singing “Soldier and A Lady” — the tune Woody borrowed for “1913 Massacre.”

“The Star Spangled Banner,” sung the way it was supposed to be sung.

A story called “Us and Our Little Teaspoons,” which Pete introduces as a “metaphor” he likes to use when people feel that their efforts to make things better are in vain.

Pete Seeger was so alive and he made so many others come alive. The world is a better and more beautiful place for Pete’s having been in it. It’s hard to believe he’s no longer around.

“‘Well,'” writes Arlo on his Facebook page, “‘of course he passed away!’ I’m telling everyone this morning. ‘But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.'”

Quick Holiday Round Up — 1913 in 2013

Calumet Ceremony

There was a ceremony in Calumet this past Tuesday to mark the 100th anniversary of the Italian Hall disaster, and all around the country there were news articles, blog posts, TV shows and radio programs about the trouble in Calumet on Christmas Eve, 1913.

Our film came in for some notice, too. Here are a few highlights:

There was, first of all, Bill Meyer’s remarkable review of the film, which I cited in a previous post, likening 1913 Massacre to Strange Fruit and Bill Moyers’ Amazing Grace.

Michele Bourdieu published a thoughtful piece based on an interview she did with us back in October, when we showed the film at Michigan Tech. Bourdieu includes video clips from the interview and deals with both the story we tell in 1913 Massacre and the filmmaking process.

Gabriel San Roman interviewed us and wrote a (widely shared) review for Truthout about the film, which he characterizes as “a vivid portrait of a people coming to terms with their past.”

Over at The Nation, Greg Mitchell published a piece about “Woody Guthrie’s Christmas Massacre”, in which he connects the film, and the posts on this site, with “current anti-labor moves in Michigan.”

2013 has been a big year for 1913 Massacre. Thanks for being part of it, and Happy New Year to all.

“Joins the Ranks of Great Progressive Movies”

Bill Meyer sums up his review of 1913 Massacre:

Seamless editing, engrossing interviews and a stirring well-integrated music soundtrack make the film flow like long lost friends catching up on history. Arlo makes the point early on that it was folk songs where people learned about working class history, such as this tragic event, that may have been forgotten to the world otherwise. This movie could be called a “folk movie” as it tells the story in the same dramatic and powerful manner. It joins the ranks of great progressive movies based on famous songs, that include Strange Fruit, about the song about lynchings written by Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holliday, Alice’s Restaurant based on Arlo’s famous song, and Bill Moyer’s Amazing Grace, a probing study of the history of the classic hymn.

Newtown, Calumet and Dark Anniversaries

Sometimes during the Question & Answer periods after screenings of 1913 Massacre, people ask why the tragedy held the town of Calumet in its grip for so long. Why did the memory of the Italian Hall disaster last? Why did it take so long for the town to come to terms with what happened on Christmas Eve, 1913? Why couldn’t the town just let go? Why does it still matter, 100 years on?

I was reminded of these questions as I read about the one year anniversary of the Newtown shooting. PBS Newshour has an excellent story about how families in Newtown are coping, and how some of them have worked together over the past year to create The Sandy Hook Promise — to “parent together” and to create “a powerful message of inclusion and love.” Newshour’s Hari Sreenivasan interviews one of these parents, Nicole Hockney, about what he calls the “dark anniversary” of Newtown:

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, as you approach this dark anniversary, what’s — what’s going through your mind?

NICOLE HOCKLEY: The one-year mark, the six-year mark, it doesn’t change anything. It’s a passage of time, but at a time and place where time doesn’t really have much meaning for me, because it’s just one more day that Dylan’s not in my arms. And that’s not going to change.

Hockley’s hit on something important here that shouldn’t be overlooked. We expect time to heal all wounds. But why should a year, or six years, or twenty years be enough? Why should 100 years? How much time is enough to make up for one mother’s loss of a child, or twenty children, in the case of Newtown — or fifty-nine children, as in Calumet? Our fast-paced media moves on from stories like these in a matter of days; but parents and towns and communities don’t. “Time,” as Hockley says, “doesn’t really have much meaning” for them. It can take years, decades, even longer for this kind of grief to unwind and for people to recover from this kind of trauma.

The Heikkinen boys, three of whom died at the Italian Hall on Christmas Eve. Alice Marzolino tells their story in the film.

The Heikkinen boys, three of whom died at the Italian Hall on Christmas Eve. Alice Marzolino tells their story in the film.

As Arlo Guthrie says in our film: “these events are like stones in a pond that have waves and ripples that go way into the future.”

Mother Bloor, the socialist organizer who wrote the book where Arlo’s father Woody first read about the Italian Hall disaster, described the events she witnessed in Calumet in a chapter she entitled “Massacre of the Innocents.” She borrows the phrase from the start of the Christmas story told in the Gospel According to Matthew, where Herod orders a slaughter after learning from the Magi that the King of the Jews has been born in Bethlehem: they have seen his star in the east. The title is meant to confer biblical significance — world historical importance — on the events of Christmas Eve, 1913.

Foreign Agitators!

ouragitatorA hundred years ago yesterday, on December 10th, 1913, the operators of the Calumet and Hecla Mine and members of the Citizens Alliance announced that all representatives of organized labor from outside the state had just “twenty four hours to leave. If they fail to do so they will be sent out of the district in a manner most convenient and effective.”

This wasn’t an idle threat. 

Just days before, on December 7th, three men had been shot and killed at a boarding house in Painesdale. A thirteen-year-old girl was wounded in the melee. Kenneth Nicholson, who was four years old at the time and would later write an account of the shooting, called the Painesdale murders an “act of terrorism, brought on by an ongoing strike at that time.” It only “succeeded,” he went on to say, “in losing for the strikers whatever public support they might have had.”

Most of the blame for the violence of the strike and all the trouble in Calumet did not, however, fall on the striking miners, but on the outsiders who had stirred them up. A headline in the Mining Gazette on December 8th demanded that “foreign agitators” be “driven from the district at once.” The specter of “foreign” agitation – “fiery speakers” and “oily-tongued orators” who “goaded” the miners to strike — loomed large over the range. At a Citizens Alliance meeting, A. E. Petermann put it this way:

Six months ago people of the copper country of Michigan would have been proud to say in the outside world, I am from the copper country of Michigan. We had a happy community. There were no murders, no disorder, no lawlessness. See what has happened in four months? It has been brought about by whom? By men who have been hired to come here and spread their poisonous slime.

The Western Federation’s Charles Moyer – who just days after the Italian Hall disaster would himself be subject to convenient and effective removal, shot through the arm and hustled on to a Chicago-bound train – was clearly aware public opinion in Calumet had turned against him and other outside organizers. He telegrammed his alarm to the American Federation of Labor. AFL officials brought the telegram to President Wilson’s attention, “so the constitutional right of the labor representatives may be protected.”

On the Copper Range, Judge O’Brien granted a writ of injunction, “restraining members of the Citizens Alliance from interfering with or molesting, by threats or intimidation,” members of the Western Federation of Miners. “Stop and think,” Petermann urged members of the Citizens Alliance. “You can’t afford to have any blood on your hands.”

Five months into the strike, the hope remained that if troublemakers from outside the district could just be sent packing, people would have a chance to settle down. “Wise counsel is prevailing,” wrote a local newspaper editor, as late as December 20th; “conservative citizens are playing a major part toward bringing the struggle to an end.” If people could just come together without outside interference, went this line of popular argument, the community might recover its balance, and find a way out of the mess those outside men had made. Everybody could be happy again.

 

Documentary As A Layer of Memory

Geoff Gimse saw our film last Thursday evening, at Michigan Tech. Here, Ken and I agree, he nails it, and we especially dig his last comment about the film as “another layer of…memory.”

Since the actual facts of the tragedy are impossible to discern, the film instead focuses on how the events are remembered and how that memory becomes internalized in a community. It is memory, especially familial memory, that becomes particularly important to the film. It tracks the event through the stories that were passed down from the survivors to their children and grandchildren. This familial context is then further explored through Woody Guthrie’s song, from which the film takes it title. Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s son, is interviewed at length regarding his father and the impact of the song itself. It is apparent by the end of the film that the Italian Hall Disaster, now almost 100 years past, remains a living memory that continues to have a real impact on the community today. Indeed, even the movie itself can be seen as another layer of that memory. It is a recording of voices. Voices that were previously unheard but are now remembered.

“They Try to Create Despair Among the Miners”

One of the small treasures I brought back to New York from Lake Superior is Hannu Leppanen and Daniel Schneider’s 2013 letterpress edition of Tyomies, the Finnish workingman’s newspaper published during the strike of 1913. I’ve mentioned the project here before. Daniel set up his Chandler & Price Pilot Press at the Copper Country Community Arts Center in Hancock and turned out a limited edition broadside with the original Finnish text accompanied by an English translation.

I was lucky enough to cross paths with Daniel briefly at Michigan Tech last Thursday. I gave him copy of 1913 Massacre and he gave me his Tyomies.

No sooner did I open up the package than I came across the following passage:

Apparently, the bars of the city have already embarked to advocate the interests of the mining companies. In Italian and other language bars, it has been explained to the miners that the Finns have gone to work, and in Finnish bars people have been told that the Italians have not begun the strike. However, this is all a devious lie, by which means they try to create despair among the miners, and thus break their strike. Therefore, workers, do not believe what you are told in the bars. If you want to get information about the strike, you will get the right information in the union office.

This confusion of languages and the “despair” it caused helps put Tyomies in context. The union-busting disinformation campaign took advantage of the fact that many of the striking miners in 1913 could not communicate with others outside their own ethnic group. The plan — as someone in the audience at the DeVos Art Museum last Saturday remarked — was to generate and perpetuate distrust among the different ethnic groups: Italians vs. Finns, Croatians vs. Cornish, and so on.

As Arthur Thurner explains in Rebels on the Range, the Western Federation of Miners could not even try to organize the miners of the the Keweenaw until they found a way to counter these tactics. They had met with the same difficulties in a failed bid to organize the iron miners on the Mesabi Range in 1906 and 1907. Vincent St. John, a WFM board member, pointed to the need in 1906 for “competent organizers who speak Finnish, Italian, Austrian, Slovenian and Polish.”

One such organizer among the Italians of the Keweenaw was Teofilo Petriella, a veteran of the Mesabi range strike. In 1907, the Mesaba Ore denounced him as an “alien Dago anarchist.” His biographers in I Figli Della Campagna: Ensayos sobre la emigracion de los campanos en Argentina merely say that he was “stubborn” and that his political ideas often prevented him from getting work. (That echoes Petriella’s own self-description, which is preserved in the 1907 Proceedings of the WFM.)

Petriella and his wife Anita came to the United States in 1900, after he had had been fired for his politics from his job as a schoolteacher in Circello, a village in the Italian Campania, in the province of Benevento. He first got involved with IWW, then, in Minnesota, with the WFM. In 1913, we find him in Calumet, in the pay of the Socialist Party. His was probably a familiar face at the Italian Hall.

Teofilo Petriella, circa 1907, dressed for the Minnesota winter.

Teofilo Petriella, circa 1907, dressed for the Minnesota winter.

Check Out This Performance of ‘1913 Massacre’

After seeing our film, composer Rob Garcia was so taken with Woody’s song that he developed this original setting of “1913 Massacre.”

Here’s Rob Garcia’s Soap Box performing the song at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture last month.

http://youtu.be/cAq6uSFxsGg&w=420&h=315

The Soap Box ensemble features:

Jean Rohe – vocals
Michel Gentile – flute
Todd Neufeld – guitar
Chris Tordini – bass
Rob Garcia – drums

Everyone Was In It

papa

One of the enduring and iconic images of the 1913 strike is this photograph, of a boy carrying a sign that reads, “Papa Is Striking For Us.” Both the sign and the photograph were probably created by WFM organizers, who were pretty savvy when it came to media relations. (So, for instance, we learned that the WFM shot film of the Italian Hall funeral, which they used to stir public outrage; we looked for a long time but never managed to turn up a single frame of it.)

That’s not to say children did not feel genuine pride or admiration for their striking fathers. The children even followed their parents’ example. On the morning of October 6th, according to a local newspaper, nearly 500 pupils stayed home from school, on strike. “About 9 o’clock they formed a parade, marching about Ahmeek, yelling and employing tactics similar to those of their parents in a federation demonstration.”

And the children were already embroiled in the trouble: about a week after the children’s strike parade in Ahmeek, a group of children in Centennial Heights “attacked the home of a non-union man” and broke several windows.

That marching boy with the hand-painted sign may have helped the WFM win sympathy for the striking miners, but it’s just as important to realize that he was actually in the fight — striking for papa just as papa was striking for him. Children all around the Keweenaw were in it. Entire families were in it, whether they supported the strike or belonged to the Citizens Alliance or wanted nothing to do with either side. Everyone was in it.

“Unfinished Business”

Mike Ragogna interviews Nora Guthrie today on Huffington Post about her father and his music.

MR: Were there certain topics brought up in his material, such as the plight of the Mexican worker in “Deportees,” that resonated with you more than others?

NG: Woody wrote over 3000 songs for every aspect of life, a song to sing at each moment of the day, for every mood, for every step of life’s journey. So it’s impossible to single out any, as so many resonate at different moments in time…I grew up to understand what “Pretty Boy Floyd” was all about, and really began to appreciate his ability to tell a story that exists for all time, like “1913 Massacre.” Funny you should mention “Deportee.” On Labor Day, there was a dedication ceremony in Fresno, California, at the mass grave where the migrants who lost their lives were buried with no names. A young musician, Tim Hernandez, spent the last two years researching the story and actually found their names! So the dedication ceremony will finally list all their names. I’m so moved when moments like this happen. Woody wrote the song more than sixty years ago, but it was unfinished business. “All they will call you will be deportees” was his lament. Now, that is no longer the case. The same thing happened recently when two young filmmakers researched the story behind “1913 Massacre,” and made a documentary about the incident, also including all the names of the children and families that died. That film is currently being shown on some public television stations and film festival, and hopefully many people will want to learn more about what took place when the copper miners of Calumet, Michigan, decided to strike in 1913, and the consequences they suffered for their cause. “Pastures of Plenty” is just about the most singular piece of poetic writing ever in a lyric. A total work of art. Springsteen once said, “Nobody can write songs like that anymore.”