The largest mass murder in the history of the state of Michigan is a truly horrific and unique tale. Nearly 7,000 miners went on strike in Calumet, Michigan. Their strike demands were simple: increased wages, no more child labor, and safer conditions (including support beams in the mines to prevent cave-ins). The response was a stalwart “NO” because support beams were expensive and dead miners “cost nothing.”
The strike had been going on for six months by the time Christmas came around and the out-of-work families decided to have a massive, community Christmas party. 500 children and 200 adults ascended the long, steep staircase at the only entrance and packed in to the upstairs of the Calumet’s Italian Hall on Christmas Eve, 1913.
As the party started to wind down late at night, the children gathered at the stage to receive what would surely be their only gift that year. Just then, a man described only as wearing Citizen’s Alliance badge burst into the hall, yelled “FIRE” and escaped down the staircase out of the building.
The party erupted into panic! People thronged to the narrow staircase and fought to escape. It did not take long for the hysteria to overcome many of the party-goers as they soon discovered the door was blocked from the outside. In terror,they continued to push against the exit to escape the non-existent fire. Bodies piled up at the base of the stairs with hundreds of people pushing from the top.
In all, 73 people, including 59 children were trampled to death. The victim’s ages ranged from 2-66 years old. The culprits for the yelling fire of barricading the door were never capture, in fact, none were even accused. It is widely believed that they were allies of the mine management, but the case remains an unsolved, Christmas tragedy.
The event was made iconic in the appropriately titled Woody Guthrie song “1913 Massacre.”