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Origins: 1913 Massacre - Historical Background? (51* d) Lyr Add: THE 1913 MASSACRE (Woody Guthrie) 14 Jan 00

(Woody Guthrie)

Take a trip with me in nineteen thirteen
To Calumet, Michigan, in the copper country.
I'll take you to a place called Italian Hall
And the miners are having their big Christmas ball.

I'll take you in a door, and up a high stairs.
Singing and dancing is heard everywhere.
I'll let you shake hands with the people you see
And watch the kids dance round the big Christmas tree.

You ask about work and you ask about pay.
They'll tell you they make less than a dollar a day,
Working the copper claims, risking their lives,
So it's fun to spend Christmas with children and wives.

There's talking and laughing and songs in the air,
And the spirit of Christmas is there everywhere.
Before you know it, you're friends with us all
And you're dancing around and around in the hall.

Well, a little girl sits down by the Christmas tree lights
To play the piano, so you gotta keep quiet.
To hear all this fun you would not realize
That the copper-boss thug-men 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 few people rushed, and it was only a few.
"It's just the thugs and the scabs fooling you."
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,
While 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.

The piano played a slow funeral tune
And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon.
The parents they cried and the miners they moaned,
"See what your greed for money has done."

Note: In Calumet, Michigan, in 1913 hired copper company thugs broke up a striker's Christmas party by shouting "fire", and then barring the door. In the panic hat ensued, 73 children were smothered to death. (According to Woody) There seems to be no doubt that the tragedy occurred, but the question of responsibility is undecided.
@union @work @death @Xmas

Traditional Ballad Index entry:

1913 Massacre

DESCRIPTION: In Calumet, Michigan, striking copper miners and their children are having a Christmas celebration; strike-breakers outside bar the doors then raise a false fire alarm. In the ensuing stampede, seventy-three children are crushed or suffocated
AUTHOR: Woody Guthrie
EARLIEST DATE: 1945 (recording by author)
KEYWORDS: lie strike death labor-movement mining disaster children
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Greenway-AFP, pp. 157-158, "1913 Massacre"
Silber-FSWB, p. 306, "The 1913 Massacre" (1 text)
DT, MASS1913*

Woody Guthrie, "1913 Massacre" (Asch 360, 1945; on Struggle1, Struggle2)
cf. "One Morning in May (To Hear the Nightingale Sing)" (tune)
NOTES [93 words]: In the late 19th/early 20th century, the rapid expansion of the electrical industry created great demand for copper, for which the chief source was the mines in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Bitter strikes resulted as the miners, under the leadership of the Western Federation of Miners, demanded decent pay and safer working conditions.
Guthrie's description of the events of 1913 is dead-on accurate, according to the residents of Calumet; Italian Hall, where the disaster occurred, was still standing in the early 1980s, but has since been torn down. - PJS
File: FSWB306A

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