Category Archives: News

Snow, And A Musical Conversation

It’s been a busy winter, and this update is long overdue.

We returned to the UP in late February, in search of snow and to complete principal photography on the Calumet story. We’dd been to Calumet in December, but everybody there told us that if we really wanted to see Calumet in the snow, we’d have to come in February. Over 300 inches had fallen already this winter, and on the first few days of our trip we were sure that we were in for it. It snowed and it blew; it was cold and everything was white. But by the time we met up with Joe Chevalier and his crew, who took us out on snow removal duty around town, the weather had turned surprisingly mild — getting up into the teens most days.

Just to remind everybody that winter is not over, Lake Superior dumped nearly 40 inches of snow on Calumet just the other day. Unfortunately, we’d returned to the east coast by then. Still, we managed to see a side of Calumet that we hadn’t seen.

We started our trip in Marquette, where it was snowing hard (but not really snowing, or at least not really hard, according to our friends in Calumet). Jack Deo invited us to work with his great collection of archival photographs at Superior View. The next day, we kicked off our post-production fundraising drive with a presentation about the film at the annual meeting of the Marquette County Labor Council. What better audience for our film than a UP labor audience? We’re indebted to Kathy Carlson for all her hard work putting the day together, and to Shana Harvala and the Labor Council for having us.

(If you’d like to find out how we can make a presentation about the film to your organization, or to make a tax-deductible contribution to the project, please contact us .)

On this trip we also spent time with attorney and author Steve Lehto, who has recently completed a book about the Italian Hall disaster entitled Death’s Door (forthcoming from Momentum Books). We visited the Italian Hall site together, then retreated to the warmth of Tom Tikkanen’s real estate office for a sit down interview, where we talked about the goings on in the Hall on Christmas Eve, 1913, the purloined film of the Italian Hall funeral, and the mournful Cornish chants sung by grieving miners in the funeral procession.

The snow at the arch was pretty deep. And everything in Calumet in February is different: the light is different, and especially beautiful at sunset; there’s a kind of late winter mood in the town, where people have been coping for months with the snow and the cold. Tim Bies and Jeannie Grathoff told us ghost stories; in the Antenna Store on Oak Street, we talked with Gerry Mantel and Pete Oikarinen about how the town’s changed, and about our sense that in Calumet there are still traces of an America that has nearly vanished. Pete’s beautiful black and white photographs of Calumet people perfectly illustrated the point.

The winter sun cast a warm light through the kitchen window shades when we sat down again with John Perona and Randy Seppala to play some music with the concertina and the bones and spoons and to talk about the tradition of Finnish, Cornish, Italian and Croatian music in the area.

Johnny even treated us to a few tunes on the mandolin, and showed us his remarkable collection of UP butterflies and moths, which he’s been capturing and mounting since the late 1930s.

We continued the musical conversation when we visited Oren Tikkanen, who told us stories about UP music and played his mandolins. Even now we can’t get Oren’s rendition of “Mary’s Mazurka” out of our heads. Mary’s Mazurka

Great News from the Great Lakes: 1913 Massacre receives IHC Grant

Recognizing the significance of the Calumet story for the entire Great Lakes region, the Illinois Humanities Council has awarded 1913 Massacre a major grant.

NYSCA grant, and a fifth shooting trip to Calumet

This update is long overdue, but we’ve been traveling and shooting and writing grants, so there hasn’t been much time for the website in the past few months. Time to catch up.

On the fundraising front, we’ve just gotten great news: 1913 Massacre has been awarded a grant from NYSCA, the New York State Council on the Arts. The grant will allow us to finish shooting the film and keep working to raise funds for post-production.

In late June and early July, we took a fifth shooting trip to Calumet, where we continued our interviews about the tearing down of Italian Hall. We met Dale Koski and Joe Johnson of the Operating Engineers at the Italian Hall arch. After the interview, we retired to Dale’s RV to look at some pictures from the day they tore down the Hall and to hear some more stories.

We picked up the conversation again with Dale and Joe a few days later at Joe’s place out near Misery Bay.

The highlight of our very busy trip was probably the time we spent filming and recording traditional music with Oren Tikkanen and his friends. Oren introduced us to the very accomplished bones and spoons player Johnny Perona, his apprentice Randy Seppala, fiddle player Helmer Toyras, lumberjack harmonica player Les Ross, Sr., and members of the Finn Hall Band, who were in town from Minneapolis for the Finnish American Music Festival.

Here’s a sample, with Les Ross on harmonica and Johnny Perona on bones. Les Ross and John Perona

Back in New York, we spent a memorable afternoon talking with radio personality and musician Oscar Brand about Woody Guthrie and his music, and we got a lesson in the history of the song “Union Maid.”

A few days later, we made our way out to Chicago to talk with Studs Terkel about Woody and the WPA. After an amazing interview, we had to ask for a snapshot with Studs.

Studs started the monkey business by jerking his thumb at us and saying, These are the guys. We responded by pointing back at him: This is the guy.

Not too long after we returned from Chicago, we met up with Minneapolis-based singer / songwriter Charlie Maguire in Croton, New York. Charlie sang some songs, including The Ballad of Augie March, about a survivor of the Italian Hall disaster, and he told us a great story about sneaking into the Italian Hall by climbing a snowdrift and hoisting himself in through an upstairs window. There were Christmas decorations on the stage and around the ballroom, as if a Christmas party had been interrupted long ago and no one had returned.

The rest of the summer is going to be spent on grants and fundraising. But be sure to check back in the fall, as we take the production toward the completion of the shooting phase, and into post-production… And if you’d like to make a contribution toward our post-production fund, please contact us.

In Memory of Tom Katona

We mourn the passing of Tom Katona, union organizer and activist, avid amateur historian, descendant of an Italian Hall survivor, and guardian angel of our endeavor. Tom was only 49 years old when he died suddenly and unexpectedly of a stroke in May. We never met Tom in person — he lived and worked in Cornell, Michigan — but our conversations and correspondence with him inspired us and kept us going when it counted most —when it was hard to keep going. We have decided to dedicate 1913 Massacre to him. Rest In Peace, Tom.

An Afternoon with Odetta

We recently spent a wonderful afternoon talking with a living folk legend: Odetta. Our interview ranged from her memories of Woody, to his children’s music, to her music, to Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Will Gere, and the Greenwich Village & Topanga Canyon folk scenes. Many thanks to Odetta’s manager Doug Yeager for making it happen with so much ease and grace and to Judith Helfand for the great setup.

Puffin Foundation Support & a visit with Dan Zanes

We’ve just gotten word that 1913 Massacre has been awarded a grant from The Puffin Foundation. The Puffin Foundation is dedicated to “continuing the dialogue between art and the lives of ordinary people.” The Foundation’s generous support will help us explore and document, online and in our film, the music of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, circa 1913. (And if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the UP, make sure to check out a new site for books on that subject: Superior Reading ).

The film is a musical journey — taking us to Calumet, and to some unexpected places in the American imagination.

Just before the holidays, we traveled to Anthracite coal country in Pennsylvania to interview playwright and musician Tom Flannery , who has written a play called God and the Ghost of Woody Guthrie and a sequel to Woody’s song: 

1. “1913 Massacre     
 We spent a great afternoon, filled with conversation and music. Be sure to give Tom’s Songs For Woody Guthrie site a visit.

The most recent stop on our musical journey was Brooklyn, where we interviewed musician Dan Zanes.
Dan shared some great stories, talked with us about connecting music with community and family life, and sang all kinds of songs from his songbag: sea tunes, children’s tunes, Woody songs, old songs about the Erie Canal. Dan has the ability to infuse even the simplest song with raw emotion — joy, sadness, laughter, pain —and turn traditional tunes into musical evocations of a rich, living past. We owe many thanks to Dan for all his energy — and for the incredible music!

Bill Gorrell, a radio producer from Illinois and host of the Illinois Labor Hour on community radio station WEFT, interviewed us about our project on February 1st. You can listen to mp3 recordings of 

2. the first part of the interview here     
3. the second part here      
and explore other independent and underground radio at Radio4All.

Our fundraising and awareness campaign continues. Find out how you can get involved. And if you’d like to invite us to screen some of our work and talk with your organization,contact us.

Back from Calumet, Woody Guthrie Artist Grant

We traveled again this month to Calumet, where we shot the Arlo Guthrie concerts on September 23rd and 24th at the historic Calumet Theatre. Before Friday’s show, we also took a walk to the site of Italian Hall, where we talked on camera with Arlo about Calumet, about music, and about ghosts, among other things. We interviewed some other great folks too, and visited with some friends of the film.

On our return to New York City, we received word from the The Woody Guthrie Foundation that we have been awarded the 2004 Woody Guthrie Artist Grant for our work on 1913 Massacre. The grant will help us continue to shoot the musical story of our film and continue our fundraising activities; and the recognition of our work by the Foundation inspires us to keep on keeping on.

Support from the Jerome Foundation

We’ve just learned that 1913 Massacre has received a generous grant from The Jerome Foundation. Created by artist and philanthropist Jerome Hill (1905-1972), the Foundation makes grants to support and encourage the “vigorous and distinctive voices” of “emerging artists” whose works “challenge our thinking and add meaning to our lives.” We are honored, excited, and energized by the Foundation’s support.

The massacre makes news… again

We’ve returned from a two-week trip to Calumet, where we shot forty hours of new material, including beautiful imagery of Calumet and Laurium from the back of a pickup truck, fourth of July at Lake Linden, a visit to the Quincy Mine and the old site of Electric Park, and many interviews with the people of the area, whose stories move and inspire us to keep working.

We also screened our trailer for two small local focus groups and a local audience of about 150 at the historic Calumet Theatre. (The theatre served as a makeshift morgue after the disaster at Italian Hall.)

The screening at the Calumet Theatre made the front page of the Daily Mining Gazette, Houghton County’s local paper. You can read the text of Jane Nordberg’s Gazette article and other press coverage here.

WLUC TV 6, the local NBC affiliate, also ran a story on the Calumet Theatre screening. Here’s a quicktime of the news clip.

WLUC interview with Ken and Louis

Being on the other side of the camera is both humbling and salutary for filmmakers. At best it’s a lesson in the hazards of handing over your own story to others for the telling. We were most surprised that the WLUC reporter referred throughout her news story to the “massacre” at Italian Hall in 1913. The word is Woody’s, and it’s still a source of controversy and disagreement, not just among historians but also and especially among people in the Calumet area.

The WLUC news producer later told us that they caught a lot of flack for it.

No surprise. Most of the conversation at our trailer screenings centered on this word: people observed that “massacre” implies “intent.” So it does. Mother Bloor knew that when she used the word; Woody didn’t borrow the word carelessly. Woody wasn’t afraid of stirring up a little trouble.

Some audience members objected to our use of Woody’s song title for our film, suggesting that we were doing more than quoting Woody or pointing to the song that inspired our film: some said our working title unfairly endorses the union side of the story. Others thought it was downright offensive, a “black mark” on the town.

You will still find some people in Calumet and the surrounding area who will tell you that “strike breakers” were responsible for the panic in the Hall, but most locals tend not to subscribe to the version of events presented in Woody’s song – that company thugs yelled fire then held the doors of Italian Hall shut. The most frequently repeated local explanation for the deaths at Italian Hall on Christmas Eve, 1913 is that “the doors opened inward”: the people coming down the stairs pressed and piled against the door and could not escape. (Unfortunately, the building was torn down in the 80s; the fatal stairway no longer stands.)

For many historians, what happened, why it happened and how it happened are still open questions. Our storytelling project in the film tries to leave the question open while recognizing the power and resonance of Woody’s song and the many different stories its melody conjures.

We plan to be back at the Calumet Theatre to shoot the Arlo Guthrie concert on September 24th.