- Historic Sites
The Calumet Tragedy
When copper-country miners went on strike, the owners brought thugs from the slums of New York to northern Michigan. The struggle led to an event that killed a city.
April/May 1986 | Volume 37, Issue 3
On the surface, there was hardly a more unlikely spot for turn-of-the-century prosperity than the isolated community of Calumet. Located in the wilds of Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, on a windswept finger of hardscrabble land that juts out into the cold waters of Lake Superior, it is a place that annually receives more than fifteen feet of snow, where winter begins at the end of September and seldom lets up until April.
But what briefly made Calumet one of the Midwest’s richest boomtowns was not found on the surface. It lay a mile underground: vast deposits of rich ore made the region the nation’s chief supplier of copper.
And Calumet was a grand place, totally electrified, served by a cheap and efficient streetcar system, civilized by an acoustically perfect opera house and graced with more churches per capita than any other city in America. But that was in the first decade of the century, a golden time when more than eighty thousand people lived in the thousand-square-mile territory at the northwestern end of the Upper Peninsula known then—and now—as the copper country.
The grandeur and the copper have long since vanished. Once the commercial and social hub of the region, Calumet today is almost a ghost town. And while the glut of competition from foreign producers coupled with a gradual playing out of the copper deposits had their role in the area’s demise, Calumet’s decline was too rapid and total to be explained solely by economics.
Calumet choked on anger and hatred, ignited by one of the bitterest labor disputes the nation has ever seen, a struggle that resulted in a catastrophe which, at the time, was compared to the sinking of the Titanic . More than any other factor, it led to the death of Calumet.
The Calumet copper boom began shortly after the Civil War. There were almost a dozen companies in the region, but the leading pro- ducer was the Boston-based Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, which employed more than four thousand men, almost a third of the total work force of all the mining companies. The C&H Michigan operation was the richest metal mine on earth.
Calumet was an ethnically diverse community. In 1900 fully 90 percent of the population was of foreign descent. For fifty years Croatians, Finns, Swedes, Italians, Cornish, Hungarians, Poles, Austrians, and Germans flocked to the area to work the deep ground mines. There were eight daily foreign-language newspapers, and old-timers recall walking down the crowded streets on a Saturday night and never hearing English.
If ever there was a true “company town” in America, Calumet was it: “benevolent feudalism” is how a U.S. Labor Department official described conditions in the copper country in 1914. C&H owned all the land. It leased houses to its employees for six dollars a month and provided free Lake Superior water; it rented out the property for stores, churches, and schools. None of the land was ever sold. C&H made clear it was the company’s land and if the company needed to use it for mining, any previous use was rescinded.
Still, C&H was genuinely paternalistic. It built bathhouses, parks, a library, a hospital. The town’s ornate, three-story opera house opened in 1900 and became one of the nation’s most renowned. Calumet was on the big-time entertainment circuit, right up there with New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco. The leading performers of the day played the city, people like John Philip Sousa, Lillian Russell, Sarah Bernhardt. Telephones, still a rarity in much of the country, were commonplace in Calumet. The streets were paved. Trains and streetcars ran around the clock. When times were good to the company, the company was good to Calumet. And through the turn of the century, times had been very good for C&H. More than $150 million in dividends went to the stockholders back East.
The Calumet and Hecla Company owned the richest metal mine on earth.
But nothing lasts forever. The first thing to go was the copper. By 1900 the average mine depth was four thousand feet, compared with just half that three decades earlier. And the copper was not as pure: in 1874, the company’s best year, C&H refined almost ninety-seven pounds of metal out of every ton of ore; in 1900 the figure had dropped to just over fifty-three pounds. The company was having to dig deeper to get less.
First came the efficiency experts who followed the workers around, charting their every move, and whose appearance was quickly followed by demands for more productivity. And then came the dreaded “widow maker.”
It was the one-man drill, a heavy, cumbersome piece of equipment that the underground workers claimed was dangerous. “Even before the one-man drill, we lost maybe a man a week in those mines,” recalls eigbty-five-year-old Bill Neimi, one of the few Calumet residents old enough to remember the tumultuous days of 1913. The son of a Finnish miner, Neimi started in the C&H shafts at the age of seventeen: “It was a risky job, dark and dirty. The air was putrid and thin and you had to be alert all the time. That’s what was so good about the two-man drill. One guy was always watching out for the other. The one-man drill scared the miners. That’s what caused the strike.”
There were other factors. Word had spread to the Upper Peninsula that miners in the Montana copper fields got $4.00 for an eight-and-a-half-hour workday. In Calumet, the workdays were ten and eleven hours, the pay $2.50. This rankled, but the ethnic and social differences among the miners made them resent each other almost as much as they resented the company. “Houghton County … is not a community of self-governing American citizens,” concluded Sen. James E. Martin, a New Jersey Democrat who was on a congressional committee that investigated the Calumet labor unrest. “It is one chiefly of aliens brought thither to serve the monopoly, and ruled from Boston in defiance of law and in despite of democratic institutions.”
The copper country was ripe for organizing, and the force that was able to break through the ethnic differences to unite the miners against the mine operators was the Denver-based Western Federation of Miners. It came to Calumet fresh from success in the West, where it had won the high wages and shortened workday for the copper miners in Montana, Idaho, and Colorado. Organized in 1893, the federation had a violent reputation.
In the first decade of the new century, the federation was the backbone of the Wobblies—the Industrial Workers of the World. Although the two split in 1908, largely because WFM leaders had become disenchanted with the IWWs revolutionary ideas, the mineowners still saw the federation as a Socialist-controlled movement.
That reputation was strengthened by two other highly publicized labor disputes of the era. Both strikes involved textile workers and both were led by the IWW. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912, unskilled, largely uneducated immigrant textile workers stunned the labor world by staging a strike against the big mills.
No sooner did the Lawrence strike end—in near-total victory for the workers—than another group of immigrant textile workers organized a walkout against the mills of Paterson, New Jersey. Again the IWW was at the forefront, but this time the strike ended in bloody failure.
Nevertheless, the immigrant miners in the wilds of upper Michigan were inspired by the accounts of the Eastern strikes. And although the Western Federation of Miners and the IWW had parted company, that former affiliation, coupled with the union’s tough image, appealed to the increasingly independent copper miners of Calumet. In February 1913 there were five federation locals and nine thousand card-carrying members in the copper country, and more were joining every day. By the summer, with the institution of the one-man drill, the new union was ready to move. The miners asked for a meeting with the mine-owners, sending along requests for a pay raise to $3.50 a day, a shorter workday, and a return to the two-man drill. But the owners, refusing to recognize the union, would not even agree to a meeting.
On July 23,1913, the miners struck.
“The grass will grow on your streets before I’ll ever give in,” swore James MacNaughton, the $85,000-a-year general manager of C&H. On another occasion, he reportedly vowed that he would teach the miners to eat potato parings.
The strike began on a dark and dreary day. It was midsummer, but a stiff, cold breeze blew off Lake Superior. There were scattered showers. The mood of the miners was as sullen as the weather. There were scores of minor fights and lots of shoving as hundreds of angry men hurled first insults and then stones at the supervisory personnel who crossed their lines to enter the mines.
Much of this initial anger was also the result of the long-simmering ethnic divisions. The supervisors and mine bosses were mostly Cornish, and they looked down at the more recent immigrants, the Finns, Swedes, Austrians, and Italians who did the drilling and hauling. On their part, the newer immigrants thought the Cornish workers were “company stoolies,” and they deeply resented the better treatment given them by the mineowners. That first day, there were three documented injuries. In each case the victim was a Cornish shift boss who was hit by flying rocks. The open defiance shocked the mine bosses. They saw the strike as much more than a labor dispute: it was a rebellion.
Dozens of telegrams began arriving in the state capital, mostly from members of the pro-company Copper Country Commercial Club. It was an obviouslyorchestrated campaign, but in an age when distance made accurate and complete communication difficult, it was also effective. In one telegram, J. W. Black, a leading Calumet businessman, said that the region was in the hands of a mob of five hundred men and pleaded for state help. The telegram from Houghton County’s sheriff, James Cruse, was even more urgent: “Situation here has become desperate … ,” he wired the day after the strike began. “Immediate action on your part is the only thing that will prevent greater destruction of property and loss of life.”
The National Guard arrived first, and then came the hired guns from New York.
At that point the damage consisted of a couple of flooded mine shafts and some broken windows, and the only injuries were bruised ribs and some cuts and abrasions. But Woodbridge Ferris, Michigan’s governor, believed the worst, and he reacted immediately with the most powerful tool at his disposal. He mobilized the entire twenty-five-hundred-man Michigan National Guard and ordered it to the copper country. The militia set up tents everywhere, in front of the mines, on Calumet street corners, in parks, and on church lawns.
The Guard was to help maintain order and protect property, not to take sides. Governor Ferris made it clear: The soldiers were not to act as a police force. For that, Sheriff Cruse brought in some other outsiders. Although the sheriff had deputized a part-time force of one hundred and fifty local citizens, he relied primarily on the talents of a New York detective agency. The Waddell-Mahon Company, which specialized in supplying strikebreakers in labor disputes, had actually been hired two weeks before the strike began.
Sheriff Cruse, sensing the coming trouble, received secret authorization from his county board of commissioners—James MacNaughton among them—to import fifty-two agents from the firm. The Waddell men, recruited from the tenements of New York, were dubbed “secret service” operatives by the sheriff; they were given carte blanche authority and openly carried guns.
Their presence in Calumet immediately hardened the strikers. The union described the Waddell agents as “strong arm men, thugs and murderers.” They were easy to spot, said the federation’s strike newspaper: “They are tall, muscular men of the prize fighter variety.” Walter Palmer, sent to investigate the situation for the U.S. Labor Department, was more to the point. “These Waddell men I have seen are about the toughest looking lot 1 ever saw,” he reported. Governor Ferris, who didn’t learn of their involvement until the strike was well under way, wasn’t happy with the strike-breaking firm either. “I don’t like the presence of the Waddell men in the strike region,” he wrote the sheriff on August 13. “In my judgement, there is the prospect of serious trouble because of the importation of strike breakers or hired police.” But Sheriff Cruse kept them there.
The Waddell men stopped miners at random and beat them. They invaded homes without warrants in the middle of the night, terrorizing entire families. Every day dozens of strikers were hauled off to jail, charged with intimidation, trespassing, and assault. In all, more than five hundred people were arrested, almost all of them striking miners.
On August 15 two deputies and four Waddell agents visited a boardinghouse in Painesdale, just outside Calumet. They were there ostensibly to arrest a pair of strikers who, in defiance of a deputy’s order, had earlier walked across mine property on their way home. The men, as later investigation revealed, had not trespassed with any criminal intent; they were simply taking their customary shortcut home.
In front of the ramshackle wooden building, the Waddell men encountered the two strikers. A struggle ensued and the strikers fled inside. The Waddell men and the deputies surrounded the house and began firing indiscriminately through the door and windows. When the shooting died down, two men had been killed, another wounded, and a baby in her mother’s arms had been grazed. The strikers called the killings murder, and the local prosecutor, Anthony Lucas, agreed. Warrants were issued for the six law officers, but Sheriff Cruse allowed the men to escape to an adjoining county. Four of the six were eventually tried and found guilty of manslaughter, but that did not happen until the next year, and then only after the sheriff used more obstruction and defiance to keep them from coming to justice.
The violence continued. In September a deputy and a striker died under questionable circumstances. Indiscriminate beatings and shootings were commonplace, almost daily occurrences. “The deputy sheriffs and the Waddell men acted with great brutality towards the strikers,” the U.S. Labor Department investigation later concluded, “and in many cases beat even women with clubs and night sticks.” On December 7 there was another boardinghouse massacre. Three strikebreakers, all Cornish, were killed in their beds when unknown persons armed with high-powered rifles fired some forty rounds into what the strikers called the “English Scab Boarding House.” The federation was the most obvious suspect, but Prosecutor Lucas believed the murders were committed by Waddell thugs in an effort to turn public opinion against the union. The killings never were solved.
Although the federation sent in its top officers to coordinate the strike, the figure that came to symbolize the miners’ resistance wasn’t even a miner. She was Annie Clemenec, the twenty-five-year-old wife of a miner. Every day of the strike, she took to the streets of Calumet, leading massive protest marches, or “parades” as they called them. At times the leading figures of the labor movement joined her. John Lewis, representing the American Federation of Labor’s mining unit, walked with her, bringing expressions of solidarity from the coal workers, and so did “Mother” Jones. Clarence Darrow was the attorney for the federation and, on at least two occasions, marched at her side. She was known as “Big Annie” or, sometimes, “Tall Annie.” At six feet two inches she towered over most of the strikers who followed her. She carried a massive American flag on a ten-foot staff. “I get used to it,” she said. “I carried it 10 miles one morning; the men wouldn’t let me carry it any further. I love to carry it.”
“I’m going to keep at it,” said Annie Clemence, “until this strike is won.”
The powerful of Calumet accused her in the local newspapers of inciting the miners to riot. She was arrested at least three times, charged with intimidation and disturbing the peace; she even went to jail for ten days. But she would not quit.
She was married, but her husband, Joe, a Croatian miner, never appeared in the numerous press accounts of Big Annie. Even her brother Frank Klobuchar has trouble remembering him. “He was a pretty quiet, mild-mannered guy. I can’t even put a face with his name in my memory. 1 don’t think they had been married that long when the trouble broke out.”
But Klobuchar remembers his sister very well. Their parents were Austrian immigrants, the father a C&H miner. Annie was the oldest of five children and she was always tall. And stubborn, too, as Calumet soon came to realize. “Annie was something else,” says her brother, who, at eighty, lives on a small farm in Chelsea, Michigan. “She believed in her cause. She wouldn’t back off, no matter how much pressure they put on her. She said the men were fighting for dignity and self-respect.”
Sometimes as many as two thousand people marched behind her. Once, finding herself confronted by a group of National Guardsmen and deputies armed with swords, guns, and clubs, she walked head on into the troops. A soldier on horseback unsheathed his saber and knocked the flag from her hands. When a marcher went to help her pick up the banner, a cavalryman pushed him to the ground, and another soldier slashed at the flag with his sword, ripping the silk fabric. The hooves of the horses stamped it into the mud. Annie fell to the ground and hugged the flag tightly to her chest as deputies and soldiers tried to wrest it from her.
“Kill me,” she shouted. “Run your bayonets and sabres through this flag and kill me, but I won’t move. If this flag will not protect me, then I will die with it.” Other marchers jumped between her and the soldiers, and she escaped unharmed. But over and over, as the bitter strike stretched into autumn, Annie confronted the cavalry and Sheriff Cruse’s hirelings.
In late fall, during one of her arrests for trespassing and intimidation, a soldier asked her why she didn’t stay at home. “I won’t stay at home,” she replied. “My work is here, and nobody can stop me. I’m going to keep at it until this strike is won.”
It was mid-December now. The five months of striking had taken their toll on the miners. Strike benefits, always promised by the federation, never seemed to materialize; and the C&H had started to serve notices on the miners who rented houses on company land. Merchants began refusing credit, even for groceries. It would be a grim Christmas for everyone, but especially for the children. To lift their spirits, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners organized a party. The women spent weeks sewing scarves and mittens for the children; they made up little bags of candy and rehearsed a Mother Goose play.
The Christmas party was held in the Italian Hall, a large, two-story wooden building a block away from the fire station. Its lower floor housed an Atlantic and Pacific grocery store and a saloon, but upstairs, at the top of an eight-foot-wide stairway, was a ballroom, complete with a balcony, a stage, and a small kitchen.
People began arriving shortly after noon on December 24. By two o’clock more than five hundred had crowded into the hall, most pressed around the stage where Big Annie and several other ladies were helping Santa Claus distribute sacks of candy to the children.
Someone yelled, “Fire!”
But there was no fire.
Of the seventy witnesses who testified at the official inquest, eighteen said they heard someone shout. “Fire!” Of those, nine said they actually saw the man who sounded the alarm. And six of the nine testified that he was wearing a white button believed to be the insignia of the pro-company Citizens Alliance.
Mary Coscalla from Wolverine was one of the most reliable witnesses. She had come to the party with her twelve-year-old daughter and her brother-in-law’s three children. Mrs. Coscalla’s husband wasn’t a union member and she was not a particularly enthusiastic supporter of the strike, but her daughter wanted to go to the party that day. So, using a union card borrowed from her brother-in-law, she made her way into the packed hall. She was visiting with neighbors, standing in front of the stage and facing the door that led into the ballroom from the stairway.
“The way it started,” she told the inquest jury, “a man came to the door and he hollered fire and everyone started to rush.” She described him as a “dark man with dark mustache. A broad fellow dressed up neat.” He wore a cap, and the high collar on his dark overcoat was turned up. He also was wearing a button. “It was a white button but I can’t swear what button it was. He was not near enough to read it.”
The man hollered, “Fire,” Mrs. Coscalla said, and then, “Rush,” spreading open his arms in a gesture to run. She wasn’t sure what happened to him in the confusion that followed.
There was instant panic. The crowd surged toward the stairwell.
Mrs. Coscalla grabbed her daughter to keep her from being swept up in the rush for the exit. She was unable to stop a neighbor woman. “I told her not to go and she went and she died in there.”
Another witness was John Burcar, the thirteen-year-old son of a striker from the nearby village of Kearsage. The boy had a headache and was making his way from the stage to a side window for a breath of fresh air. He almost bumped into the man in the long overcoat.
“What attracted your attention to him?” asked the coroner, William Fisher.
“The Citizens Alliance pin he had on,” replied the young witness.
“What did he say?”
“He hollered, ‘Fire.’ ”
Mrs. Theresa Kaisor was standing at the edge of the stage, helping Big Annie Clemenec distribute gifts, when the false alarm was shouted. Mrs. Kaisor said she jumped down and ran up to the man, shaking him by the shoulders.
“What are you saying? There is no fire.”
“Go out. There is a fire,” the man replied.
Unable to turn back the crowd, Mrs. Kaiser inched her way back toward the stage, twisting through the press of people. As she pulled herself up on the stage, she heard screams and sobs and shouts from the stairway. She sat down at the piano and began to play, hoping to calm the crowd.
At the bottom of the stairs, rescuers found bodies piled five feet high.
John Auno, a miner from Tamarack, was standing at the top of the landing, visiting with several other striking union members, when he heard a man’s voice shout, “Fire!” from inside the hall. He turned to look and was immediately caught up in the rush. “They all started to come out,” he said. “Some of them went rolling down and some were running down over them. I fell myself.” Auno was pushed all the way down to the bottom of the stairs and knocked unconscious.
Also on the stairway was John Antilla, another striker, who tried to stop the stampede. “But it was impossible. The way the women and children and a good many of the men were screaming it was almost impossible to make your voice heard. It was just a moving mass down the stairs.”
At the bottom of the stairway the first rescuers found bodies piled four and five feet high, wedged together so tightly that it was impossible to untangle them from the street entrance. Instead, the firemen and rescue workers had to use ladders to get to the second floor and then begin removing victims from the top downward.
“The only way you could breathe in that hallway was to push yourself off the wall with all your might and then quickly suck in a breath of air before the force of the other bodies pushed your face back against the wall,” recalled Walter Lahti in a 1980 interview shortly before his death. Lahti was thirteen when he was caught in the stairwell crush. “I made it because I had strong lungs. I was a good swimmer. And 1 was about three-quarters of the way up the stairs. If I had been any closer to the door, I would have died with the others.”
In a nursing home in nearby Houghton, seventy-eight-year-old Julia Harris still remembers that Christmas Eve, although she was just six years old.
“It started out to be such a lovely party,” she says. “All of a sudden somebody yelled, ‘Fire!’ and the panic set in. My Mama tied me to her with her shawl to keep me from being swept all the way down the stairs. It was terrible. You could hear the screams and the moans. There was this one man, a father, trapped underneath a bunch of people. And all you could see was his arm sticking out, holding his little baby. The father died like that, holding the infant up. But he saved the baby’s life.”
In minutes seventy-four people died in the stairwell, all but eleven of them children.
Immediately the strikers made bitter accusations. Big Annie Clémence, still in the hall trying to calm the survivors, insisted to the Calumet News reporter on the scene that it was a man wearing the Citizens Alliance button who caused the fatal rush, although, at the inquest two days later, she testified she did not personally see the man. Charles Moyer, president of the federation, called the disaster mass murder, and he laid the blame squarely on the mineowners.
On Christmas Day, a stunned Calumet began making plans to bury the dead. As sympathy telegrams and reporters began arriving from around the world, the Citizens Alliance, eager to offset its tarnished image, got together a collection to aid the families of the victims and raised twenty-five thousand dollars. Some of the members took it to the federation president. Moyer refused the offering outright, calling it blood money. “We will bury our own dead,” he said.
That night, some twenty-five men, most of them openly wearing Alliance buttons, stormed Moyer’s room in the Scott Hotel in nearby Hancock. They beat him, shot him in the back with a small-caliber handgun, and then dragged him, bleeding profusely, more than a mile through the streets to the railway station. Although some of them were waving a hangman’s noose, Moyer was thrown onto a Chicago-bound train and told never to return to the copper country. His bullet wound turned out to be minor, and the next day, following surgery, he told the nation’s press from his hospital bed in Chicago what had happened to him.
Meanwhile, people in Calumet told one another in a half-dozen languages that the real reason the Alliance had tried to kill Moyer was because he had learned what happened Christmas Eve. Moyer, the rumor had it, found out that deputies held the doors of the Italian Hall shut and even clubbed people as they tried to leave.
That rumor was baseless and quickly disproved by the inquest, where scores of witnesses testified that deputies had worked to exhaustion trying to get people out and to untangle the bodies on the stairwell. But the hatred and mistrust was so deep that the rumor is believed by many to this day.
Officially the inquest jury never did place blame. “The stampede was caused by some person or persons, unknown to the jury at this time, raising the alarm of fire within the hall,” read their formal verdict on January 2, 1914.
While the inquest jury did not mention the Citizens Alliance, it all but exonerated it from any responsibility, noting in the verdict that only persons producing a union card or being vouched for by a union member were allowed into the party. That latter finding simply is not borne out in the testimony; the union cards were checked carefully at the start of the party, but latecomers reported that the crowd was so great and there was so much confusion that they went right in without showing any identification. Even patrons from the saloon below the hall testified that they walked up the stairs to look at the party without being challenged.
But all that was moot by then. The grief that enveloped the copper country numbed even the sense of outrage. The funerals for the victims were held in five different churches, in the native tongue of each nationality. The services lasted six hours. Afterward more than fifty thousand mourners took part in a five-mile-long procession to the cemetery, where many of the victims were buried in a mass grave.
After that there didn’t seem much left to strike for. When they buried the seventy-four victims of the Italian Hall disaster, Calumet started to die. The will of the miners was as broken as their spirits, and so was the union. On Sunday, April 13, the strike officially ended when the miners voted 3,104 to 1,636 to return to work. The next morning, hundreds of them turned in their union cards at the mine entrances.
After the funerals, miners started leaving Calumet by the trainload.
Almost overnight the union pulled up stakes and left town, heading to new organizing fields in Ohio and Pennsylvania. In 1916 the Western Federation, plagued by dwindling membership and eager to distance itself from the tragic violence of Calumet, changed its name to the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. But never again did it become a significant labor force, and in 1967 it was absorbed by the United Steelworkers.
For many of the strikers left behind in Calumet when the strike fizzled out in the spring of 1914, returning to the mines would have been an act of personal treason.
Trainloads began leaving the copper country, heading for the industrialized cities of Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago. By mid-1914, when Henry Ford introduced the five-dollar-a-day wage, as many as 850 people were leaving Calumet each week. Big Annie Clemenec was among them. Her marriage broke up during the strike, and she fell in love with a fiery newspaper editor who had been dispatched to Calumet from Chicago to cover the copper war for a Slovanianlanguage paper. The editor-reporter, Fran Shavs, did more than file dispatches from the front lines. He became so strong a supporter of the miners that he held rallies, and it was while leading such protests that he became enamored of the tall, determined woman whose outspoken defiance had made her the strike’s most visible symbol.
In the spring of 1914 Annie left Calumet to join Shavs in Chicago, where they married. That summer, she gave birth to a daughter, Darwina, who had been conceived during the hectic days of the strike. “She never was the same after the tragedy of the strike and the Italian Hall,” says Annie’s brother, Frank Klobuchar. “She never forgave.” Klobuchar left Calumet himself in 1919 and went to live with his sister and her new husband for a year. “She didn’t like to talk about the strike and the Italian Hall disaster,” he said. “It was a real sore spot with her. But she always thought it was the Citizens Alliance that was responsible. She said, ‘I was there. I know what happened.’ You know how soldiers are about the war? How they saw such horrible things that they just won’t talk about it? Well, that’s how Annie was. She didn’t want to talk about it.”
In Chicago during the twenties and thirties, Annie worked eighteen-hour days, holding down two jobs at different hat-making companies. She died there in the summer of 1956 at the age of sixty-eight.
For the one-industry town of Calumet, there was a brief spurt of false prosperity as World War I increased the demand for copper, but an oversupply in the world market soon ended it. In 1921 Calumet and Hecla shut down most of its Michigan operations for almost a year. When the mines reopened, they operated at only 50 percent of capacity. Copper prices kept dropping through the Depression years, and World War II didn’t help: fixed prices kept wages and profits low. In 1968, after years of decline, the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company closed its last mine in the copper country.
In 1980 a proclamation from the governor of Michigan declared June 17 Annie Clemence Day, and a Resolution of Tribute was issued by the state legislature. A portrait of Big Annie, holding her flag, was hung in the state capitol, and she was inducted as the first member of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
Last year in Calumet the Italian Hall building was demolished. Lake View Cemetery, where most of the seventy-four Christmas Eve victims were buried, now contains more than twenty-nine thousand graves. And nine hundred people presently live in Calumet.