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.

19 thoughts on “Newtown, Calumet and Dark Anniversaries

  1. Ray Muzzin

    My Grandmother was at the hall when this happened,
    her name was Areila Goodroe she was 13 years old then. She had gotten her Christmas gift and was on her way home when the Caicos occurred.

    1. Louis Galdieri Post author

      Ray- Thanks for sharing your story. If only we had a full list of all the people who were there that day, we’d have a better appreciation of how many lives the event touched, directly and (this is important ,too) indirectly.

  2. George Isola

    At least four relatives of the Isola family attended the Christmas party. 33 year old Ina (Mrs, Henry) Isola and her 5 year old daughter Tilma both died in the stampede. Henry Isola was my father (George’s) great uncle.

    60 year old Herman Ala (my mother (Diane’s) maternal grandfather) and his youngest daughter Irene were also in attendance. Herman pushed Irene to the top of the pile to try to save her. Irene was pronounced dead but someone saw her move her finger in the morgue and she was revived. She lived into her 80’s. Herman was crushed to death.

  3. Elizabeth Muzzin

    My mother, Aurelia Goodreau, her brother (Frank), and 3 of her sisters (Bernadette, Olympe, Mable) were at the hall that Christmas Eve. They were all by the fire escape when the rampage started. They were able to escape via the fire escape. My mother was 13 at the time. The book “Death’s Door” is about this event (1913 massacre).

    1. Louis Galdieri Post author

      Thanks for setting your son (and all of us) straight! Again, I wish someone had sat down and recorded these stories of the Italian Hall before that generation passed away.

      By the way, another account worth reading is Arthur Thurner’s discussion of the Italian Hall disaster in Rebels on the Range. It’s a good piece of historical writing.

      1. Paul Peoples

        Arthur Thurner’s book, Rebels on the Range, is packed with a lot of info. It also has some glaring errors. Like, he got the name of Woody Guthrie’s song wrong. In his Notes, on page 275, he wrote “The Woody Guthrie song “Italian Hall Massacre”, obviously drew on some details originating in the affidavits from Tyomies.”
        Woody’s song is titled “1913 Massacre”. The title of your film is also taken from the title of Woody’s song. Woody wrote the song after reading about the incident in Mother Bloor’s autobiography, We Are Many.

  4. Joyce Swanger

    # of my uncles died in that hall.Eli, Edwin and Eino Heikkinen. I can’t imagine what my grandparents went thru. My father was there too , but he survived His brother Axel was pronounced dead but later found he was not . That is why there is some controversy about the death toll.

    1. Louis Galdieri Post author

      Joyce: thanks for posting this remembrance. The story Alice Marzolino tells about your uncles gets me every time I watch the film (and I’ve watched it lots, believe me!). We spent some wonderful days in Hancock with the Heikkinen clan.

    2. Paul Peoples

      73 death certificates were issued for 12/24/1913. There are stories that some parents took their dead children home from the Italian Hall and buried them, without a death certificate. So, that is also why there is a controversy about the number of dead.

  5. Jo Foster

    I really think your film should be shown on television RIGHT NOW. What better moment than the actual anniversary?
    There was another documentary about the incident, Red Metal, shown a couple of times on PBS this week. I missed it. Would it not be interesting to show both movies and initiate a discussion?
    I grew up in England, and was familiar with this song many years ago, in the 1960s. It could have been sung by Bob Dylan in his first concert there (before he was really famous!)

    1. Louis Galdieri Post author

      Not much to disagree with there. I think your comment requires a whole discussion of how films and TV programs get distributed, what gets distributed, and so on. And about the role TV plays, and could play, in initiating public discussions, marking anniversaries, remembering history, etc.

      PBS in Minneapolis (TPT) aired a broadcast-length cut of our film back in September, for Labor Day, but just for the local market. The whole film — which is longer than a broadcast hour, at 66 mins. — has yet to show on PBS nationally. Will it? Certainly not in time for the 100th anniversary.

      That said, we didn’t set out to make a TV show; we made a film. So the length as well as the approach we took emerged organically from the filmmaking process, not from programming guidelines. And though we’d love to see the film broadcast nationally on television, I believe our film really plays best in a movie theater, or at least in a public space, where the whole audience gathers together and moves together with the film. We’ve seen it happen time and again — most notably in Calumet itself, as described here: There’s something incredibly powerful about this shared experience.

      1. Paul Peoples

        I also thought it would be great to show the 2 documentaries back to back. I have seen both “1913 Massacre” and “Red Metal”.
        The 2 have 2 different perspectives. The directors of “1913 Massacre” decided to make their film just about the feelings and memories of people who live in Calumet today. A couple of people broke down in tears. That shows the depth of feelings still today. They had interviewed “experts”, but decided not to include the “experts” in the film.
        “Red Metal” does have “experts”, and discusses such things as how the Copper Country strike of 1913-1914 fits in with the emerging national labor movement.

  6. Elizabeth {Bette) Rintala Muzzin

    I am the daughter of Fred and Aurelia Rintala. we lived in Dodgeville and my mother would tell us about it because she was in here with her sisters and brother when someone hollered fire. She was by the fire escape at the time so they got out that way. Did anyone know the Rintala’s from Dodgeville.

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