A blast from the past

CALUMET – History doesn’t exist unless someone writes down what happened, and in the basement of one of the buildings of the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, a lot of history was in danger of being destroyed by decay.

At the regular meeting of the C-L-K Board of Education Tuesday, members of the Houghton-Keweenaw County Genealogical Society and a member of the Keweenaw National Historical park told board members of the effort to save the enrollment and other paper records of the various elementary schools which existed in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Jeremiah Mason, archivist for KNHP, said the HCGS has a project to determine what happened to the surviving family members of the victims of the Italian Hall tragedy on Dec. 24, 1913, when 72 people were trampled or smothered to death during a stampede down the steps of the building.

Mason said the members of the HCGS asked him for his help in looking for records, which could help them with their project, and it was determined school records would have victims’ family member information.

Avis West, HCGS member, said the group created an exhibit about the surviving family members, which is on display at the Carnegie Museum in Houghton, and the school records helped with the effort.

“We found some of them, not all of them,” she said.

West said the school records range from the 1890s to the 1950s. Some of the records even indicated which children died in the Italian Hall tragedy.

Mason said the depth of information from the school records was significant.

“I was really impressed when I started looking through those records,” he said.

Before the C-L-K school district was created, Mason said there were many small individual districts, which were either absorbed by C-L-K, or just ended when copper mining ended, and many of the records are related to those former districts.

The records, which include ledger books and small census cards, came from several locations and were being stored in the interconnect building between the current high school and middle school buildings.

“There are stacks and stacks of other records,” he said. “We were shocked by the volume of the records.”

Because of the age of the records and the way they were stored, Mason said many of them were being destroyed by mold and other forms of decay.

Ruth Gleckler, HCGS member, said it’s hoped the records can be saved.

“It would break your heart to see these records disintegrate,” she said.

Mason said many of the moldy records were frozen to kill most of the mold spores in an effort to stop the decay. The mold-free records and those saved from mold are in the process of being put in chronological order in various types of boxes and the boxes labeled.

It’s important the records are saved, and he appreciates the fact the school board members and administration are involved with saving them, Mason said.

“These are very valuable records,” he said. “There’s great material there.”

Darryl Pierce, C-L-K superintendent, said he appreciates the effort the members of the HCGS and KNHP are making to save the records.

“We feel it’s important (to have the records) when families are looking for information (about their relatives),” he said.

In other business, board members:

authorized a 1 percent salary increase with steps for district administration personnel and support staff for the 2013-14 school year.

authorized Pierce, high school Principal George Twardzik and Sean Jacques, assistant principal/athletic director to access funds in the Calumet High School Anthony and Phyllis Locatelli Scholarship account at Range Bank.