The Italian Hall Disaster in Calumet, Michigan, on Christmas Eve, 1913
Striking Miner’s Children Die in Stampede when someone yells “Fire.”
A shipment of coffins arrives in Calumet for the 59 children and 14 adults that died in the panic.
As many of you know, I do a lot of events throughout the year. I’m often asked about the Italian Hall Disaster in Calumet, Michigan, where someone yelled “Fire” and dozens of children were trampled in a panicked stampede for the door, and if there is something in my books about it. The answer is no, but a fellow Michigan author, Steve Lehto, has written extensively about it in a book called “Death’s Door.” This book, in my opinion, is the definitive history of the event.
Recently Steve Lehto gave a talk on the Italian Hall Disaster (also known as the Italian Hall Massacre) at Lake Superior State University. LSSU has posted that talk online. It is worth a watch. I attended and found the talk engaging and informative. Steve is an excellent speaker. He takes you through a lot of information quickly, but it is a gripping tale that will satisfy any curiosity on the subject. Follow the link below for Steve’s enlightening talk on the subject.
Writers Series – Steve Lehto – Death’s Door: The Italian Hall Disaster – LakerCast (lssu.edu)
Tons of copper ingots ready to be shipped are waiting on the Portage Canal Waterfront. The swing bridge can be seen in the background. The canal was a vital shipping lane for the Keweenaw copper.
The Collapse of the Portage Canal Swing Bridge, April 1905
The Portage Canal swing bridge which ran between Houghton and Hancock, Michigan was an amazing bit of engineering. Originally built in 1875, it was constructed of wood and featured a giant gear which swiveled the bridge to run parallel to the canal. It would then swing back into place after a ship had passed so the railroad could run through. The bridge was the only connection there was between the Keweenaw Peninsula and the rest of the Upper Peninsula that didn’t require a boat. Its importance can’t be understated.
In 1895 the bridge was rebuilt out of steel. The wood was replaced and the center swivel gear was now a massive piece of metal that was a marvel in itself. Hundreds of ships would pass through this waterway loaded with Keweenaw copper on its way to factories and smelters on the lower Great Lakes.
This picture shows the wreckage of the Houghton Hancock swing bridge. The giant center gear can be seen in this picture. The damage was catastrophic.
On April 15, 1905, a ship named the Northern Wave steamed up the Portage Canal. As they approached the bridge, watchmen signaled the ship. The Captain of the Northern Wave followed the signals (according to him) and collided with the swing bridge. He claimed the signals were wrong. The impact caused the bridge to come down in a mass of steel and wood. By a miracle, no one was killed, but two watchmen had to jump into the canal.
The Portage Canal was effectively blocked. Copper shipping had to be rerouted. The railroad could only reach the shore of the canal, so a large effort was made to cleanup the debris and rebuild the swing bridge. It was rebuilt in a year.
The rebuilt swing bridge was replaced by the lift bridge, the one we see today, in 1959.
One of the collapsed sections of the Portage Canal Swing Bridge showing the twisted metal.
For more information check out the link:
Portage Lake Lift Bridge – Wikipedia