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.

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