Day that won’t be forgotten

To the editor:

It is 100 years since the Italian Hall Tragedy on Christmas Eve of 1913. Someone falsely hollered FIRE at the second floor Christmas party. Everyone panicked and rushed down the stairway, 73 died 58 were children.

On November 13, 1989, we invited, Secretary of Interior, Manuel Lujan to dedicate a park constructed at the site of the Italian Hall. I wrote a brief history leading up to the disaster for the program. I was surprised almost all the pictures I found in the MTU archives of the funeral were at the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church I attended. Forty-nine of the victims were Finnish. Pictures of dozens of little caskets lined up in the front of the altar of the church I attended was a chilling experience. I had never made the connection before.

The program started at the Calumet Theatre, speakers were Lujan; Dale Koski, from the AFL-CIO union; State Representative Rick Sofio; Tom Baldini, representing the governor; Congressman Bob Davis; Dave Anthony representing U.S. Senator Carl Levin. Stan Dyl narrated a slide show of historic pictures including the dead bodies spread out in the theater, which served as a morgue in 1913. Local musician Oren Tikkanen played the music from Woody Guthrie’s 1941 song “The Italian Hall Massacre.”

As the eerie music filled the theater, Reverend Robert Langseth of the Faith Lutheran church, read the names of those killed and as he did, those representing those killed stepped onto the stage. Sue Cone and I handed them white flowers to hold. When all seventy-three were on the stage, two survivors, Ethelyn Karinen and Kate Loukas, recalled their memories of that horrific day.

Kate had been a Christmas angel in their play that night. There was not a dry eye in the packed theater. Then those portraying the victims led the crowd one block away to Italian Hall Memorial Park, all that remains of the building is the archway that was over that fateful door that would not open. The 73 people portraying the victims walked through the archway. Then Reverend Rodney Johnson, of the Laurium Apostolic Lutheran Church, led us in prayer. Secretary Lujan unveiled the dedication plaque and then we all sang “Silent Night.”

Those 73 senseless deaths 100 years ago are one of the reasons the Keweenaw National Historical Park was created. It was a day I will never forget.

Bob Pieti

Sun City, Ariz.