Category Archives: News

Michigan’s Economy, Then and Now

Having finished a rough cut of Act 1, we are embarking on our most ambitious fundraising plan to date, so that we can raise enough to edit the whole film in the next 12 months or so. In the meantime, the Calumet story continues to resonate, in ways we never expected or imagined when we began this project. For example, in response to an op-ed by Michigan economist David L. Littman in the April 7th edition of the Wall Street Journal, I wrote the following letter, which appeared on April 14th.

If the type here is too small to read, you may download a pdf copy of the letter here.

Another Christmas…

Editing and fundraising. With a cut of Act One well underway, we continue to raise funds, search for new grants, and promote the film at every opportunity. Many thanks to John Beck and colleagues for inviting us to talk about and show some of the evolving film at Michigan State University. Our December 1st presentation was part of an ongoing series called Our Daily Work / Our Daily Lives, a cooperative project at the Michigan State University Museum that focuses on the cultural traditions of workers, workplaces as contexts for the expression of workers culture, and the diversity of historical and artistic presentations of workers’ lives. John’s hospitality and the lively conversation that followed the presentation made braving the snow and wind and the delayed flights seem easy. (If you’d like to invite us to talk about the film to your classroom, school, group, or organization, please contact us.)

300 hours later…

Now that we’ve completed principal photography and started editing the 300 odd hours of material we’ve gathered, it’s all about fundraising and fundraising and more fundraising. We shot the film on a shoestring budget; but now it’s time to tell the story, and we’re doing everything we can to raise the money we need to edit and complete a great film.

So we were overjoyed when we got word last week that the Woody Guthrie Foundation has awarded 1913 Massacre a grant in support of our post-production work. The Foundation has been an enthusiastic supporter of our project from day one, in every imaginable way. We’re grateful to the board for seeing and understanding the promise of our film.

And we also owe a debt of gratitude to the labor organizations who continue to support our work because they want the story of 1913 and the story of UP labor told.

If you or your organization would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to our film, now you can simply click on the DONATE button below and you’ll be taken to the contribution page for our fiscal sponsor, the Center for Independent Documentary.

Make sure you specify that your donation is earmarked for the 1913 Massacre Film Project. You can do so by toggling the “Purpose of Your Donation” button and scrolling through the choices to 1913 Massacre . Thanks for your support!

Thanks to the Puffin Foundation

This month, a word of thanks to the Puffin Foundation for its continued support of 1913 Massacre, and to the labor organizations that have made contributions to our post-production fundraising efforts.

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.