Calumet, MI Italian Hall Disaster Theater Panic, Dec 1913
SEVENTY-FOUR CRUSHED TO DEATH IN PANIC DUE TO FALSE FIRE ALARM
Men, Woman and Children of Calumet Mine District Meet Terrible Fate at Xmas Celebration Turned Into Tragedy.
Communicate Message of Informant in Dozen Different Languages; Lives Snuffed Out in Twinkling.
Bodies of Victims Being Prepared for Big Funeral; Coroner Starts Investigation.
Calumet, Mich., Dec. 24 - Four score persons, mostly children, were killed tonight at a Christmas celebration held by copper mine strikers in Italian hall, because of a needless panic caused by a fake alarm of fire. While several hundred miners and their wives looked on and scores of children pressed eagerly towards the stage to receive Christmas presents, a man stuck his head in at the door of the hall and yelled "Fire." The cry was taken up at once by those in the hall. Everyone sprang up and started for the doors. The weaker persons were thrown to the floor and those behind tried to climb the human barrier. In a few minutes the panic was stopped by the fact that the stairway and the other avenues of egress were blocked so effectually that those inside could not get out and those without could not get in to aid the maimed and remove the dead.
The alarm was spread outside the hall by a few persons who had been near the door and escaped unhurt. A crowd soon assembled and the work of clearing the hall was begun.
Seventy Four Corpses Found.
The only regular exist[sic] was a narrow stairway at the back of the hall. When this had been cleaned of the bodies that filled it to the top a quick accounting had been made, it was found that 74 corpses had been piled up behind the hall building. It was thought that probably a dozen more had been carried away by friends.
The dead included 37 girls, 19 boys, 13 women and 5 men. The excited relatives stood about the building., some dazed by the sudden change from holiday festivities to tragedy others calling hysterically for a missing child and a few even threatening violence to the rescuers for keeping them back from the long row of bodies.
There was not much work for the doctors who hurried to the scene as soon as the alarm was spread, for those who were not killed in the first rush were help upright, and safe by the very force of the enrush towards the exit. Only three injured persons were taken to hospitals and a few went home with the assistance of friends.
Waited Anxiously for Tree.
For many days the children of the copper mine strikers had waited anxiously for the free Christmas tree exercises that had been arranged by the woman's auxilliary[sic] of the western federation of miners. The entertainment was set for the early evening and the hall which is on the second floor was soon filled to the limit. The children recited Christmas selections and sang Christmas songs and had finished their part of the program and the man selected to play the part of Santa Claus, had appeared in his gala dress to distribute the presents that were piled around the large, brilliantly lighted tree. The aisles were filled with the boys and girls when, the large man with a heavy beard like the one usually pictured as belonging to St. Nicholas, put his head in at the door of the main hallway and yelled "fire!" MRS. CAESAR of Larlum, who was near the door, realized the danger instantly. She seized the man by the shoulders and tried to counteract the alarm, but her efforts were useless. The man tore loose from her grasp and dashed away. The fatal word had reached the ears of many in the hall and it was repeated throughout the room.
"Fire" was shouted in several languages as fond parents rose and rushed forward to reach their children. The lives were crushed out in almost a twinkling. Then the physical impossibility of further movement brought the panicky persons to their senses. It was realized too late that there was no fire. Most of those in the hall could not get out of the jam that they had caused.
Bodies Blocked Hallway
Policemen and firemen hurried to the building only to find the hallway blocked by the bodies. Several officers climbed the fire escapes and entered the hall by the windows. IN a short time the injured and those who had fainted had been pulled from the tangle of human being and placed in the front of the hall. Other men began to pull the bodies of the dead and helpless from the stairway and lay them in a row beside the building. This disposition of the crumpled bodies was inadvisable because of the hysteria it caused among the spectators and the corpses were carried into the hall as soon as it was emptied of the frightened persons. All the chairs were lined with bodies and other corpses had to be placed in the kitchen of the hall beneath the stage.
Inside of an hour nearly every one in Calumet was as near the scene as it was possible to get. The police formed a cordon about the place and kept back the crowd. After much effort and persuasion, a lane was opened through the crowd and the the bodies of the children were carried through ranks of moaning and wailing people to "Red Jacket Village hall," which was turned into a morgue. It was many hours before all the bodies were identified.
In the confusion several bodies of children were wrongly identified by mothers and taken away only to be returned later by the parents who happily had found their own offspring safe. In other cases parents ran about for some time uncertain whether their children were dead or alive. Many mothers fainted while fathers curses all those who interfered with their mad search for lost girls or boys.