Copper miners strike inspires more exhibits

CALUMET TOWNSHIP – Employees of the Keweenaw National Historical Park are preparing for the recognition of the 1913-14 copper miners’ strike in the Keweenaw, and some of the park’s Heritage Site partners, who are creating exhibits to be viewed at the same time, met Thursday at park headquarters to talk of their progress.

The discussions were moderated by Kathleen Harter, KNHP chief of interpretation and education, who said Thursday was the fifth meeting since an October workshop for the Heritage Site owners and operators. There will be more monthly meetings until May, and the exhibits are intended to be ready for public viewing in June.

There are currently 19 Heritage Sites, which provide historical resources and a plethora of interpretation opportunities, which some of the park’s other partners can’t do.

Harter said of the 19 Heritage Sites, most will commemorate the strike in some way.

“Probably two thirds are focused on the 100th anniversary of the strike,” she said.

At the Thursday meeting, there were representatives of the Calumet Theatre in Calumet, the Carnegie Museum in Houghton, Coppertown USA Mining Museum in Calumet Township, the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne’s and the Keweenaw County Historical Society. Also in attendance were KNHP employees, Harter, Chief of Museum Services Brian Hoduski, Archivist Jeremiah Mason and Interpretive Specialist Valerie Newsman.

Harter said one of the reasons for the meetings with the Heritage Sites was to avoid repetition in the exhibits as much as possible.

“Everybody’s coming with different ideas,” she said.

Joanne Thomas, with Coppertown USA Mining Museum, said that organization is putting together an exhibit focusing on strike activist Annie Klobuchar Clemenc, also known as Big Annie.

Thomas said it’s time consuming to find photographs with Clemenc for the exhibit. She’s also developing a process for creating the exhibit, which will reduce as much as possible the number of problems, or “surprises” regarding the exhibit.

“It’s new territory for me,” she said.

Elise Nelson, director of the Carnegie Museum, said museum employees are putting together an exhibit on historic preservation. It will include photographs and film of the demolition of the Italian Hall in Calumet, and the original Houghton High School building.

At the Italian Hall on Dec. 24, 1913, a stampede down the stairs from the second-floor ballroom during a striking miners’ Christmas Eve party led to the deaths of more than 70 people, most of them children. It was demolished in the 1980s, but the Italian Hall Park is on the building site and includes plaques commemorating the tragedy.

Nelson said putting the exhibit together has become quite a bit of work for her.

“The part I need to do has become more involved,” she said.

Jean Ellis of the Keweenaw Heritage Center, said the organization is putting together an exhibit about the role women played in Calumet in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including during the miners’ strike.

“We’re making progress,” she said. “We have an organizational plan.”

Ellis showed panels from the exhibit, which had information gathered from the 1910 census of the Calumet area and other sources.

Although women were very involved in daily activities, Ellis said they tended to be marginalized. For instance, often when a birth was mentioned in a newspaper, only the father’s name was listed, not the mother. Often a women’s name wasn’t listed on her gravestone, either.

Women played a very integral part in the miners’ strike, also, and Ellis said the KHC exhibit will emphasize that.

“Half the population was ignored,” she said.

Even women who were born in the United States may not have been considered a citizen, Ellis said.

“A woman’s citizenship depended on her husband,” she said.

If the husband wasn’t a citizen, Ellis said the wife wasn’t a citizen, either.

Kristine Antcliff of the Calumet Theatre, said their exhibit will be called Movie Memories of the 1930s.

Antcliff said interviews were conducted of residents who attended movies and other events at the theatre during that decade.

“We had so many people tell us what it was like at the theatre at that time,” she said. “I’m very excited about this.”

Harter asked the Heritage Site members how long they each expected their exhibits to be on display, and answers ranged from one year, to two summers, to indefinitely to forever. All expected their exhibits to be ready by June.