A Christmas party that would live on forever

There was so little time to mourn, so much to say

It was estimated by the Calumet Evening News that 20,000 spectators lined the village streets of Red Jacket that Sunday. A train from Negaunee and Ishpeming had brought some 500 miners from the iron range to join the funeral procession.

Fourteen hearses bore the bodies of thirty-five adults, while thirty-nine small, white caskets of the children were carried in relays by strikers, four men per casket. Fifty Cornish and English singers, positioned by the miners bearing the children, sang hymns. More than 5,000 people participated in the two-mile long procession from the village to the cemetery; the end of the procession was still in Red Jacket as the vanguard reached the graves.

Twenty-five of the children were laid in three mass graves in the Catholic section of the cemetery; twenty-eight were laid in the adjoining Protestant section; the remaining were interred in single graves.

Death did not end the involvement, whether voluntary or otherwise, of the victims in the union or the strike. Speaking at the graveside service, Western Federation of Miners attorney E.A. McNally spoke, saying that the burial of the children should be enough to bring Quincy Shaw of C&H to the table to arbitrate with strikers.

The next day, Judge Fisher began his coroner’s inquest at the Red Jacket Town Hall. The inquest would consume three days and call seventy witnesses to testify before a five-member jury, the goals of which were to ascertain the cause or causes of the panic at the Italian Hall; whether the person who hollered ‘fire’ was a member of the Citizen’s Alliance, and whether deputies and Waddell-Mahon guards had barred rescue workers from entering the building. Other rumors included guards and deputies clubbing people as they exited the building. Forty-six of the witnesses were in the hall as the panic began. Other witnesses were men who had been in Vairo’s Saloon when the panic began, rescue workers, firemen, and other people involved in the rescue efforts.

Theresa Sizer, one of the witnesses called, had been one of the organizers of the Christmas party. She described the man who yelled ‘fire’ as being a man of medium height, with a dark mustache and his suit was “more of a dark color.” When asked if the man had a Citizen’s Alliance button, she replied, “I did not see any. I do not know if he had any because I did not notice.” To calm people during the panic, rather than run, Sizer played a piano near the stage. Not having vacated the hall, she could not say if anyone outside had barred the entrance.

“Big” Annie Clemenc, another party organizer, and a leader of many a strikers’ parade likewise replied “No, Sir,” when asked if she had seen anyone in the hall wearing a Citizen’s Alliance Button.

Something that came up more than once during the inquest was the topic of children fainting during the party. Ten-year-old John Krajaich, a witness, was asked Anthony Lucas, special prosecutor for Houghton County, “Anybody faint?”

“There was one little girl before the cry of fire,” the boy replied. “She fainted.”

Albert Lantto was in the hall when the panic began. He made it to the bottom of the stairs in the panic and testified before the jury that the doors leading from the hall were open. So, too, did John Sullivan. “Both doors were wide open,” replied when asked. He also testified that from his vantage point outside the building, he did see a number of firemen at the scene, and they were keeping people back from the doors.

The testimony of Angelo Curto corroborated that of Sullivan’s. No one was blocking the stairway or the doors, he said. “Some of the deputies, McDougall, was there, keeping the spectators back.

Mrs. Hilda Forster was one of the few people to testify that she saw a Citizen’s Alliance button on the man’s left coat lapel. She said he had come upstairs from outside and hollered “Fire, Fire, Fire!” She also testified that she had seen deputies with stars on outside with clubs in their hands. She was then asked if she had told her story to anyone before the inquest, she replied she had spoken with W.F.M. attorney McNally, and union organizer Morr Oppman at the Italian Hall shortly before she testified.

In short, of seventy witnesses who testified over the three days, twenty-eight people were asked about the man who cried ‘fire’ wearing a Citizen’s Alliance button. Fourteen did not see a button, three claimed to have seen it, seven saw some kind of button, and the others could not read the button. None of the witnesses reported the doors being closed, while twenty-four reported they were open. Two witnesses claimed deputies were blocking the door.

Throughout the testimony, one theory emerged that seems plausible as to a possible cause of the panic, one which Arthur Thurner also touched on in his “Rebels on the Range: The Michigan Copper Strike of 1913-1914:

There was some evidence of a creosote fire in the chimney of the hall, which was filled with Finns, Italians, Slovenians, and Croatians. Some attention was paid to children fainting during the inquest, which revealed that when one girl fainted, her mother yelled for water. The Croatian word for fire is “Watra.” It is just possible the panic could have begun with a misunderstanding.

A Christmas party that would live on forever

The tragedy at the Italian Hall on Christmas Eve, 1913, left residents of the Copper Country and other mining districts across the country in shock. Residents along the Lake Superior copper range would receive another shock the same night the tragedy occurred, however.

As news of the event spread, relief committees were set up to solicit funds to aid the families of the victims almost as soon as the tragedy happened. In spite of the dire economic circumstances throughout the copper district, money came in quickly, even from outside the district. Calumet and Hecla officials Rudophe Agassiz and Quincy Shaw, from Boston, donated several thousand dollars to the relief committee. In just a couple days, some $25,000 was raised. Distributing the money, however, would prove far more difficult than raising it had been.

As soon as he learned of the panic at his room at the Scott Hotel in Hancock, Moyer immediately traveled to Calumet where he took immediate action. He publicly demanded an

Immediate federal investigation into the cause of the disaster, because, he said, he had heard accounts from several people that a man wearing a Citizen’s Alliance button had run upstairs into the hall and yelled fire. He announced that “the Western Federation of Miners will bury its own dead. No outside aid will be accepted from any of these citizens who a short time ago denounced these people as undesirable citizens.”

As the women members of the relief committee went from house to house, they were repeatedly sent away. Articles in the Daily Mining Gazette and the Calumet Evening News told accounts of women attempting to offer money, food, and other assistance, being rejected from home after home. In most homes, it was learned they were instructed to take money only from union members. Many who were approached said that while they needed the food and the money desperately, they feared accepting it for fear of reprisal from the WFM should anyone learn of it. As the women continued with their mission, they heard with increasing frequency reports that the panic at the Italian Hall had been started by a man wearing a Citizen’s Alliance button. “Tyomies,” the Finnish radical Socialist newspaper published in Hancock, printed stories that further spread that allegation. Stories of that nature were rampant in the days after the tragedy.

Evidence soon began to emerge that Moyer and other union leaders had issued those instructions. He denied the accusations, but Moyer’s announcement on Christmas Eve was only part of the evidence.

A series of stories ran in the January 1, 1914 weekly edition of the Miners Magazine, a publication of the Western Federation of Miners, in which the same account Moyer had given on Christmas Eve night.

“Several persons who stood near the entrance when this man appeared, state that he had his cap pulled down over his eyes and that, pinned to the lapel of his coat was a ‘Citizen’s Alliance button,'” one of the article, written by a J.E. Ballenger, stated. The article concluded with the statement, “The candles on the Christmas tree had not yet been lighted.” This statement was proof enough that Ballenger, reporting as an eye-witness, was not in the hall during the panic; none of the three Christmas trees in the hall had been adorned with candles. The article had been written as if to suggest it was created the night of the tragedy.

Moyer had sent telegrams to the President of the United States, the secretary of labor, the governor of Michigan, and several others, demanding a federal investigation. The Daily Mining Gazette published articles stating Moyer was using the Italian Hall tragedy to benefit his strike. If that was Moyer’s intent, it worked and worked and worked well. Financial contributions began pouring into the strike fund from labor unions and other mining districts.

Moyer had lied publicly, and those who had been at the hall on Christmas Eve knew it. The strikers knew it. And the Citizen’s Alliance knew it. As witness testimony would point out later, from the planning stages of the Christmas Eve party until the panic began, nobody would be admitted who could not prove they were not a union member, or a close relative of a union member. Identifications were checked at the door before admittance was granted. No Citizen’s Alliance member could have gained entrance to the hall during the party.

The Citizen’s Alliance had, in the past passed veiled comments that it would take matters into its own hands should the Houghton County justice system continue to fail. On December 26, it did just that when several members went to Moyer’s Scott Hotel room. There they beat him severely, while one of the party struck him on the back of the head with a rifle, causing it go off. The bullet struck Moyer just under the shoulder blade, traveled downward between the spine and the ribs, and lodged in his back, just above the waist. He and his companion, Charles Tanner, were then dragged from the hotel, hauled across the Portage Lake Bridge and placed on a train with the promise that should Moyer ever return, he would be killed. In several statements to the press, both Moyer and Tanner stated that one of the men who met them at the train at the Copper Range depot in Houghton was none other than James MacNaughton of C&H. Moyer had said he easily recognized MacNaughton; the two had been in conferences almost daily since the strike began.

A couple of press reporters then checked on Moyer’s story and found it was false. MacNaughton had an iron-clad alibi. He was visiting friends and then was present at the Miskowabic Club in Calumet at the time Moyer was dragged to the train. From the beginning of the strike, those involved in it knew that Moyer and MacNaughton had not once met face to face. MacNaughton had sworn he would never recognize the union. To meet with Moyer would have been equivalent to MacNaughton recognizing Moyer.