Here’s a recent local news story about the changing of the Michigan historical marker at the Italian Hall site in Calumet. The sign at the site no longer says that the doors of the Hall opened “inward,” as it did for years. As author Steve Lehto sees it, the story of the doors opening inward developed over time, to help people explain, and cope with, what seemed an inexplicable event.
Pete Seeger says in our film that Woody Guthrie took his version of events at the Hall from Mother Bloor’s autobiographical account of her years as a socialist organizer, We Are Many. Bloor had been working with Big Annie Clemenc and the ladies auxiliary to plan the party and she was there on Christmas Eve when the trouble started. She is careful to note in her account that “there were two doors to the box entry” of the Italian Hall, “both opening outward.” Here is the critical passsage from We Are Many.
What happened was this. In the panic a man with a child in his arms had fallen at the bottom of the stairs. There were two doors to the box entry, both opening outward. When the man fell, the child in his arms fell through one of the doors, out into the street. The deputies, who had been threatening to break up the entertainment, were standing outside of the door. They themselves had raised the cry of Fire! and knew what was happening. Someone, it was never known who, seeing the man sprawling on the threshold, quickly closed the door, and both doors were held shut from the outside, so that no one could get out.
Woody stayed pretty close to this account of the falling man and the doors held shut as he wrote his verse:
A few people rushed and it was only a few,
“It’s just the thugs and the scabs fooling you,”
A man grabbed his daughter and carried her down,
But the thugs held the door and he could not get out.
One important variation he made was to change Bloor’s passive — the doors were held shut — to the active: the thugs held the door.