HOUGHTON - The copper strike of 1913-14 was a difficult time which affected much of the population of the Copper Country. A new exhibit about that period is intended to at least partially explain those effects.
Thursday, the "Tumult & Tragedy: Michigan's 1913-14 Copper Strike," traveling exhibit was unveiled at Michigan Technological University's J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library. Members of the Narrative Committee spoke about its genesis with about 70 people in attendance.
Erik Nordberg, Tech archivist and exhibit project manager, said the work to create the traveling exhibit, which consists of 12 panels, each about 7 feet tall by 3 feet wide, took about a year to put together.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Attendees at the premiere of the traveling exhibit “Tumult & Tragedy: Michigan’s 1913-14 Copper Strike” view the 12 panels in the Michigan Technological University J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library Thursday. The exhibit will travel around the Copper Country until June 1.
It was decided such an important event as the copper strike needed to be put into perspective, especially at this time, Nordberg said.
"We're coming into the centennial of one of the more significant events in this area," he said.
Lives were lost during the strike, a fact which the committee members kept in mind, Nordberg said.
"It's clearly not something we can celebrate," he said.
Nordberg said the exhibit was created to be movable so it can be seen by as many people as possible in the Copper Country.
The exhibit cost $28,000 to create, and Nordberg said half of that cost came from the Michigan Humanities Council, which receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The rest was provided by Michigan Tech and individual donors.
Deciding what the exhibit should consist of involved a nine-member Narrative Committee who came together for a day in June, Nordberg said, and they discussed a vast amount of information about the strike.
"The question is how do you reduce that down to 12 panels," he said.
Much of the work to reduce the information went to Gary Kaunonen, a Ph.D. candidate at Tech and former archivist at Finlandia University, who said many people were needed to put the exhibit together.
"It was really a collaborative effort," he said.
As an example of the amount of information needed to be sifted through, Kaunonen said a Congressional analysis of the strike was quite significant.
"That analysis was over a thousand pages long," he said.
The 12 panels attempt to explain context, community, conflict and consequences of the strike, Kaunonen said.
"It was kind of a daunting task," he said of creating the panels.
The panels are what Kaunonen called public history, which can be a tricky thing to explain because the need to consider all sides involved.
"You have to think of public history as a contested space," he said.
The panels give the perspective of both the strikers and their families and the mine owners and managers, Kaunonen said.
Although not every perspective of the strike may be explained on the panels, Kaunonen said the attempt was made to make it as well-rounded as possible.
The panels, which consist of both written material created by Kaunonen and photographs and reproductions of such things as contemporary newspapers and other printed material, were created by Mike Stockwell of Cranking Graphics in Pelkie, who said in creating the panels, he focused on the ambience he wanted to create.
"I can picture the time being smoky and dirty," he said. "That's kind of what I wanted to capture."
On one of the panels, there is an image created from a photograph of a striker holding a picket sign. Behind him is a silhouette of the soldiers who were sent by the governor of Michigan during the strike, and in front of him are silhouettes of men in bowler hats intended to represent mine owners and managers.
One of the panels shows a photograph of the Italian Hall in Calumet taken on Dec. 25, 1913, the day after more than 70 people died as the result of a stampede down the stairs from the second floor of the building during a Christmas Eve party.
Stockwell said he was impressed with the soldiers sent to keep order during the strike.
"When you look at the photographs, they were really young guys," he said. "I could see them being a little unsure of themselves."
He felt it was important to show the mine managers as being caught up in the strike, also, Stockwell said.
Nordberg said the exhibit will be at the Tech library until Nov. 30. It then travels to six Copper Country locations until June 1. Information about the dates and locations can be found at 1913strike.mtu.edu.
Taking in the exhibit were Becky and Art Koski of Lake Linden, who said they both had relatives who were copper miners in the area.
Becky Koski said her grandfather was in the strike, but she knows little of his experiences.
"My mom didn't talk about it much," she said.
Because of that lack of personal knowledge, Becky Koski said she appreciates the panel exhibit.
"It tells a lot," she said. "It gives a lot of information."
Art Koski said his grandfather came to work in the Baltic mine after leaving his farm in Finland, but he didn't talk about the strike, either.
"He worked in the mine until he could get enough money to buy a farm," he said.