Big Annie focus of new Copperotwn exhibit

CALUMET TOWNSHIP – There have been many stories told in the last hundred years about the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike, but Joanne Thomas thinks the story of Anna “Big Annie” Klobuchar Clemenc needs to be more thoroughly told.

Thomas created and set up an exhibit in the Coppertown USA Mining Museum on Red Jacket Road about Clemenc’s activism supporting striking miners and her membership in the Western Federation of Miners Women’s Auxiliary.

Born in 1888 in Calumet of Slovenian-immigrant parents, Big Annie, who was described as 6 feet, 2 inches tall, was active in finding ways to financially support the miners, and took part in many marches supporting the strikers. She was jailed at various times because of her efforts to support the strikers. She helped organize a Dec. 24, 1913, Christmas party for strikers’ children at the Italian Hall building in Calumet, during which 73 people, mostly children, died in a stampede down the stairs from the second floor ballroom where the party took place. The tragedy affected her for the rest of her life. She died in 1956 in Chicago, where she moved soon after the end of the strike.

Thomas said she was influenced to create the Big Annie exhibit after visiting the park at the Italian Hall site on Seventh Street in Calumet with a friend. There was a display card on a pole there, commemorating her induction in 1996 into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in Lansing, but it wasn’t in the best of condition.

“We thought it looked faded and should be replaced,” she said.

About one year later, Thomas said she went back to the Italian Hall site and the card about Big Annie and the pole on which it was mounted were gone.

After asking around Calumet, she was unable to determine what happened to the card.

“What happened to the plaque?” she asked. “I wanted to know.”

Thomas said she contacted the Women’s Historical Center in Lansing, which operates the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, to see about getting the card replaced, but was directed to contact the Keweenaw National Historical Park, which manages the site. She talked to Jo Urion, KNHP historian, who said she was unaware the card was missing.

“She said, ‘I’m going to ask around,'” Thomas said. “Nobody knew where it went,” she said.

Although the card about Clemenc’s induction into the Women’s Hall of Fame hasn’t been replaced at the Italian Hall site, Thomas said a 9-foot-long sign featuring the strike, and Big Annie’s part in it, is planned.

“That was a good development,” she said.

As a result of her efforts to find out about the missing information card about Big Annie at the Italian Hall site, Thomas said she became interested in doing something larger about her.

“I thought we needed a separate exhibit for Annie,” she said.

Her exhibit consists of panels mounted with photographs and text, and Thomas said she used Clemenc’s own words taken from contemporary publications, particularly the Miners’ Bulletin, which was created by strikers to counter the existing local newspapers at the time, which were considered by the strikers to be predominantly pro-mine owners and critical of the strikers.

She used photographs from the Michigan Technological University archives, the KNHP archives and from descendants of Clemenc. The exhibit includes a life-size cutout drawing of Clemenc holding a large flag pole with a 6-feet-high, 10-feet-long 48-star American flag, which she carried in many marches.

Thomas said the panels for the exhibit were created by Red Jacket Media in Calumet, then in mid May, she started putting the exhibit together.

“I had less than three weeks to get this printed and mounted,” she said.

The exhibit opened June 1.

Stuart Baird, manager of the Coppertown USA Mining Museum, said the plan is to have the exhibit up at least until the end of the year.

“Then we’ll decide if we modify it after that,” he said.

Thomas said the exhibit was created with the help of a $5,000 Heritage Grant from the KNHP Advisory Commission.

The Big Annie exhibit represents a part of Calumet history which needed to be told, Thomas said.

“I’m filling a void of history in Calumet with her story and legacy,” she said.