It was captured in brilliant and harrowing fashion by Woody Guthris in his classic “1913 Massacre” (see below), but few may know the story of the actual tragedy, which took place on Christmas Eve of that year, at a party for striking miners and their families in Calumet, Michigan. Seventy-three died, including fifty-nine children.

I don’t often link to Wikipedia but there’s a quite full rundown here. It’s been the subject of several academic studies and much debate in recent years, so I suggest you read the full account. Mother Bloor was reportedly present, but some even dispute that.

The basic outline: Someone shouted “Fire!” at the crowded party in the Italian Hall. There was a rather inaccessible fire escape and the only real exit was down a narrow, steep, flight of stairs, and dozens of kids got trampled to death. In Woody’s version, and many others, the “Fire!” shouter was sent by the copper mine bosses to create just such an event. Woody added the twist (not claimed by others) that “thugs” held the doors to the street shut from outside.

But despite official inquiries it’s stlll not known for certain (1) who shouted fire or (2) if the doors opened inward or outward. One academic even claims there was a small fire. Another says he has IDed the “Fire!’ shouter. In any case, a historic, tragic, event in labor history.

There's a new documentary about the incident, and at their site one of the creators links it to current anti-labor moves in Michigan (and also Newtown).

Here’s Woody (his melody borrowed by Dylan for “Song to Woody” on his first album):

Greg Mitchell is the author of more than a dozen books on politics, history, nuclear issues, capital punishment and media. His latest, on the Obama-Romney battle, is Tricks, Lies, and Videotape.