Hall disaster: Museum seeks grant for exhibit

CALUMET – Although the 1913 Italian Hall disaster is well known in the Copper Country, there is no permanent exhibit commemorating the event.

That could change this summer.

John Sullivan, treasurer of the Copper Country Firefighters History Museum, located on Sixth Street in the fire hall built in 1898 in Calumet, said the the museum plans to apply for a Heritage Grant from the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission to construct a permanent exhibit on the second floor of the building.

“The board approved (the application) in October,” Sullivan said.

He suggested the idea for the exhibit to the CCFHM, said Sullivan, who was raised in Calumet on Seventh Street, three houses away from the Italian Hall site.

On Dec. 24, 1913, there was a Christmas party for the families of striking copper miners on the second floor of the Italian Hall on Seventh Street. At some point during the evening, it’s alleged someone yelled “fire,” causing a stampede down the steps to the street. About 70 people, mostly children, were trampled to death or suffocated as a bottleneck prevented people from getting out.

Sullivan said firefighters from the station responded to a fire alarm, but although they were only a couple blocks away from the Italian Hall, by the time they arrived people were jammed together on the stairway.

The exhibit will be in a room on the second floor of the fire hall, and Sullivan said the room will need some repair work, such as patching cracks in the drywall, replacing the flooring, replacing the baseboard, and repairing the window frames.

The CCFHM board has several doors salvaged from the second floor of the Italian Hall, which Sullivan said will be used in the exhibit. Coppertown Mining Museum has the street-level doors, which played a significant role in the tragedy. They might also become part of the new exhibit. The village of Calumet has a chandelier from the building, and it’s hoped that can be part of the exhibit. Michigan Technological University has some historic photographs of the building. The plan is to get copies of those for the exhibit. Other items from or related to the Italian Hall might also be found.

It’s expected the Heritage Grant request will be $4,000 to $5,000, Sullivan said.

“We have to match it one-to-one,” he said.

If the grant is received, Sullivan said the plan is to have the exhibit opened by summer.

The application must be submitted by April 1, Sullivan said. The museum should know by May if the request was approved, and thinks it will be approved.

“We’re optimistic we’ll get the grant,” he said.