Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

Western Federation of Miners

In 1913 it was dangerous to belong to a union. Companies hired private police, like the Pinkertons, to guard their factories against striking workers or violently attack and drive away strikers and their supporters. In fact, by the 1890s, the Pinkerton agency boasted 2,000 detectives and 30,000 reserves—more men than the standing army of the United States.

Keeping wages low to insure greater profits and higher dividends outweighed any concern regarding worker safety. Government regulations aimed at helping workers typically met with resistance.

The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company was the  largest copper mining company in northwest Michigan. The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) union first established a local in the area in 1908 but it wasn’t until 1913 that the WFM had a large enough membership to demand union recognition from the owners.

The WFM  asked for a  “conference with the employers to adjust wages, hours, and working conditions in the copper district of Michigan“.

The companies refused and a strike began on July 23, 1913.

Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

Italian Hall

The strike was still on in December. The Ladies Auxiliary of the WFM held a party on the second floor of Calumet’s Italian Hall. The only entrance (seen on the far left of the picture below) was via a steep staircase. There were over 400 men, women, and children celebrating.

Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

The “why” of what happened next is unclear. The “what” of happened next is clearly a tragedy.

Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre


Did someone yell “Fire”?  And if someone did, was it an anti-labor person hired by the company?  And did those same anti-labor men block that one entrance?

Whatever the truth is, and unfortunately all the above could very well be true given the type of things management of many companies had done and would do,  seventy-three men, women, and children died in the stampede to escape.

Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

There was no fire.  The coroner’s ruled the deaths accidental, but gave no causes of death.

Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

Federal investigation

On March 7, 1914, a US House of Representative subcommittee came to Michigan to investigate the strike.  Some witnesses swore that there was someone who called out “Fire” and that that person wore a Citizen Alliance (anti-union group) button.

The Italian Hall was demolished in October 1984 and only the archway remains, although Michigan erected an historical marker  in 1987.

Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre
Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

More from Woody

Woody Guthrie wrote many songs based on historic events, particularly about workers. He had read the book We Are Many by Mother Bloor, an activist and someone who was at the Italian Hall disaster working with the Women’s Auxiliary.

Guthrie recorded and released “1913 Massacre” in 1941 on Struggle, an album of labor songs.  The song never became as well known as other of Guthrie’s songs, but many have covered it, including his son , Arlo, and Bob Dylan. Dylan performed the song at Carnegie Hall in 1961. In fact, Dylan used the tune to “1913 Massacre” to his own song, “Song to Woody.”

Take a trip with me in 1913
To Calumet, Michigan, in the copper country
I will take you to a place called Italian Hall
Where the miners are having their big Christmas ball

I will take you in 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 around the 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 you're 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 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 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

And 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 stairs 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."
Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

2011 movie

In 2011, directors Ken Ross and Louis V. Galdieri released a documentary film entitled “1913 Massacre.” 

Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism


Ku Klux Klan

December 24, 1865: a group of Confederate veterans convened to form a secret society that they christen the “Ku Klux Klan.” The KKK rapidly grew from a secret social fraternity to a paramilitary force bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive Reconstruction Era-activities in the South, especially policies that elevated the rights of the local African American population. The building still stands and the original historical marker, which has since been bolted to the wall backwards, reads:  “Ku Klux Klan organized in this law office of Judge Thomas M. Jones December 24, 1865. Names of original organizers: Calvin E. Jones, John B. Kennedy, Frank O. McCord, John C. Lester, Richard R. Reed, James R. Crowe.” (BH, see February 2, 1866; Terrorism, see April 20, 1871)

Tallahassee protest

December 24, 1956: Blacks defied a city law in Tallahassee, Florida, and occupy front bus seats. (see Dec 26)

David Lewis Rice

December 24, 1985: David Lewis Rice murdered civil rights attorney Charles Goldmark as well as Goldmark’s wife and 2 children in Seattle. Rice suspected the family of being Jewish and Communist and claimed his dedication to the Christian Identity movement drove him to the crime. (NYT article)(Rice & Terrorism, see June 10, 1986)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

Technological Milestone

December 24, 1906: Canadian physicist Reginald A. Fessenden became the first person to broadcast a music program over radio, from Brant Rock, Mass. (see February 26, 1908)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism


December 24, 1908: New York City Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr., revoked the licenses of all motion picture theaters in the city on this day, because he felt movies corrupted the morals of the community. The commercial film industry was new at the time but growing rapidly. The new medium provoked a national debate over whether it corrupted the morals of the audience. (NYT article) (see April 7, 1911)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

US Labor History

December 24 Peace Love Activism

December 24, 1913: 73 people, most of them children, died in a crush of panic after someone falsely called out “Fire!” during a Christmas party for striking miners and their families at the Italian Hall in Calumet, Mich. In 1941, Woody Guthrie wrote “1913 Massacre.” (NYT article)(see Woody Guthrie 1913 Massacre) (see Dec 27)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism


December 24 Peace Love Activism

December 24, 1951: Libya independent from Italy. (see April 28, 1952)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

December 24 Music et al


December 24, 1955:  Aldous Huxley took his first dose of LSD, an experience he was to repeat often and he claimed allowed him to plumb even greater depths than mescaline. (see March 14, 1957)

The Beatles’ Christmas Show

December 24, 1963: The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, who himself had had theatrical aspirations, conceived The Beatles’ Christmas Show, a variety stage production featuring the group. It ran at the Astoria Cinema in Finsbury Park, London for 16 nights, ending on 11 January 1964. (see Beatles Christmas Show)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

The Cold War/Nuclear News

December 24, 1962: Soviet Union tested above ground nuclear bomb. 24.2 megaton.

Today the overwhelming majority of nuclear weapons in all nuclear weapon nations are less than one megaton [China comes the closest to being an exception to this rule with roughly 73% of its weapons reportedly being 300 Kt or less, and the remaining 77 of its weapons perhaps being 3.3 megatons or greater].

For comparison, note that the Hiroshima bomb was 12.5 to 15 Kt in size. The Nagasaki bomb was approximately 21 Kt. The U.S. weapons now fall principally within the 100 Kt to 375 Kt range, the average being approximately 250 Kt. And the majority of Russia weapons are 550 Kt; the average size is roughly 400 Kt. (CW, see June 20, 1963; NN, April 10, 1963)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism



December 24, 1963: Eugene Keyes burned his draft card to protest the Vietnam War. He used the flame to light a peace candle. (see David Miller) (Vietnam, see January 16, 1964; DCB, see May 12, 1964)

Brinks Hotel explosion

December 24, 1964: two Viet Cong guerrillas dressed in South Vietnamese army uniforms managed to drive a car filled with explosives into the parking area beneath the Brinks Hotel in the heart of downtown Saigon. The explosion killed two American officers and injured 58. [NYT report] (See Dec 28)

Bombing halt

December 24, 1965: President Johnson announced a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam and initiated a worldwide diplomatic effort to persuade North Vietnam to negotiate an end to the war. The Department of Defense opposed the bombing halt. (see Dec 27)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

Space Race

December 24, 1966: a Soviet research vehicle soft-landed on the moon. (see January 27, 1967)

Women’s Health

December 24, 1970: Congress passed Title X of the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act. With its passage, the federal government greatly expanded federal support for family planning services. President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law on December 26, 1970.

Nixon and other leading Republicans in the 1960s and early 1970s were strong supporters of family planning, and government support for family planning services. That changed in the late 1970s when the Religious Right, with an anti-abortion agenda, became a powerful influence in the Republican Party, helping to elect Ronald Reagan president in 1980. The opposition to abortion extended to the use of contraceptives and sex outside of marriage.(see Dec 26)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

US Labor History

Chávez & Huerta

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

December 24, 1970: The United Farm Workers Organizing Committee called a strike against six lettuce growers after Chavez was released from 20 days in jail for refusing to end the boycott against Bud Antle, Inc.


In 1972: the UFW is chartered as an independent affiliate by the AFL-CIO; it becomes the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW). (see January 1, 1972)

Soviet Union

December 24, 1979, Soviet deployment of the 40th Army in Afghanistan began under Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev. Soviet forces will remain in Afghanistan for more than 9 years.

Mikhail Gorbachev

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

December 24, 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as head of Soviet Union. (see Dec 26)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

Iran hostage crisis

December 24, 1980: Americans remembered the U.S. hostages in Iran by burning candles or shining lights for 417 seconds — one second for each day of captivity.  (see January 19, 1981)

Iran–Contra Affair

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

December 24, 1992: President George H.W. Bush granted full pardons to six former officials in Ronald Reagan’s Administration, including former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger. The independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, bitterly condemned the President’s action charging that ‘the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.’  Walsh directed his heaviest fire at Mr. Bush over the pardon of Weinberger, whose trial would have given the prosecutor a last chance to explore the role in the affair of senior Reagan officials, including Mr. Bush’s own actions as Vice President. (see January 18, 1994)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism

Iraq War II

December 24, 2003:  a roadside bomb exploded north of Baghdad, killing three U.S. soldiers in the deadliest attack on Americans to that time following Saddam Hussein’s capture. (see January 17, 2004)

December 24 Peace Love Art Activism