The centennial of the Italian Hall disaster in Calumet is next week, and PBS is airing a documentary film tomorrow night about the Copper Country mining strike that led to the horrific event.
Red Metal is a one-hour film. Author Steve Lehto served as a consultant on the project. He recently published a second edition of Death’s Door, his 2006 book about the disaster. Lehto is a great-grandson of a Keweenaw copper miner and has known of the Italian Hall since childhood.
“You can go there today and look at it and recognize it, and then you can kind of, in your mind, do that thing where you flash back to what it looked like in black and white in 1913,” he said. “One of the main things that the filmmakers of Red Metal were trying to do is to show that this (the strike) is not a local event. This actually had national ramifications and belongs on a broader stage…I brought them (the filmmakers) to all these different locations and showed them, ‘here’s where Seeberville is; here’s where Painesdale is; here’s where the Dally-Jane house is; here’s where the Seeberville house used to be’, and so on. It’s neat that you can go out and walk this history locally.”
The Italian Hall disaster took place during a Christmas Eve party for children of striking mine workers. Seventy-three people were trampled to death in a stampede after someone falsely shouted, “Fire!”. Most of the victims were children.
Red Metal gives extensive attention to the disaster during its coverage of the strike as a whole. The film is airing on PBS stations across the country at 8 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow night.