It’s Christmas Eve in Calumet, Michigan. A group of striking copper miners are having a party at a place called Italian Hall. In attendance were their wives and children.
The shouts ring out…"Fire!…Fire!…Fire!"
Well, as it turns out, there was no fire. In an attempt to break up the party and discourage the strikers, the so called “copper bosses” had hired thugs to shout "Fire!" and to bar the doors of the hotel. In the ensuing panic 73 people were crushed to death, 58 of them children
Woody Guthrie immortalized the event by penning the following song (also covered by Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger…)
Come with me in nineteen thirteen
To Calumet, Michigan, in the copper country.
I’ll take you to a place called ‘Italian Hall’
Where the miners are having their big Christmas ball.
I’ll take you through a door, and up a high stairs.
Singing and dancing is heard everywhere,
I will let you shake hands with the people you see
And watch the kids dance round that big Christmas tree
You ask about work and you ask about pay;
They'll tell you they make less than a dollar a day,
Working the copper claims, risking their lives,
So it’s fun to spend Christmas with children and wives.
There's talking and laughing and songs in the air,
And the spirit of Christmas is there everywhere,
Before you know it you’re friends with us all
And your dancing around and around in the hall.
Well, a little girl sits down by the Christmas tree lights
To play the piano, so you gotta to keep quiet.
To hear all this fun you would not realize
That the copper boss thug men are milling outside.
The copper boss thugs stuck their heads in the door
One of them yelled and he screamed, “There’s a fire!”
A lady, she hollered, “There’s no such a thing!
Keep on with your party, there’s no such a thing.”
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.
Then others followed, a hundred or more
But most everybody remained on the floor
The gun thugs they laughed at their murderous joke,
While the children were smothered on the stair by the door.
Such a terrible sight I never did see
We carried our children back up to their tree.
The scabs outside still laughed at their spree
And the children that died there were seventy three.
The piano played a slow funeral tune
And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon,
The parents they cried and the miners they moaned,
“See what your greed for money has done.”