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Song Of Calumet

March 2023
1min read

I first heard of the “event that killed a city” (“The Calumet Tragedy,” April/May) many years ago in a song entitled “1913 Massacre” and written by Woody Guthrie, composer of “This Land Is Your Land” and many other songs. Here are the lyrics:

Take a trip with me in 1913, To Calumet, Michigan, in the copper country. I’ll take you to the place called Italian Hall And the miners are having their big Christmas ball.… A little girl sits down by the Christmas tree lights to play the piano, so you gotta be quiet. To hear all this fun you would not realize That the copper boss thugs 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 a-thing!” …A man grabbed his daughter and he 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 And 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.…

Guthrie, born in 1912, didn’t get all the facts straight (the inquest disproved that deputies held the doors of the Italian Hall shut, and the number of children killed was sixty-three), but his song is certainly an effective condemnation of the forces that may have caused this tragic event.

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