Remembering the heartbreak

CALUMET – Arlene Gruber attended the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Italian Hall tragedy Tuesday because she wanted to honor her grandfather, Herman Ala, who was at the Christmas Eve celebration on Dec. 24, 1913, but didn’t survive the night.

At the Christmas Eve celebration for striking copper miners’ families, 73 people, mostly children, died during a rush down the stairs from the second floor. The panic led to a pile up on the stairs, and people were crushed and suffocated. Some survivors claimed later they heard someone yell “fire.”

Gruber, who lives in Calumet, said her grandfather was able to toss his daughter out of the way of the stampede, but he was trampled and died.

She’s sad she wasn’t able to talk to her grandfather about his life, Gruber said.

“I never got to know him,” she said.

Her father, William Allen, was 16 years old at the time of the tragedy. Although he was a miner, he didn’t attend the Christmas Eve party, Gruber said.

Gruber and her sister, Diane Isola of Rambyltown, were two of about 200 people at the centennial commemoration of the tragedy at the Italian Hall park on Seventh Street in Calumet, at the site where the building stood until it was demolished in 1984.

Before the ceremony began, Sue Dana, village of Calumet Comptroller, said the people at that party 100 years ago wanted just to have a good time as a break from the acrimonious strike, which started that summer.

“Kids must have been so excited,” she said.

Those children had no idea of the horror they were about to face, Dana said.

Dave Geisler, village of Calumet president, who led the commemoration ceremony, began by saying the day 100 years ago was a day of contradictions.

“On the day the angels declared peace to all, the Village of Calumet experienced one of the worst tragedies,” he said. “The one question they may have asked is, ‘Why?'”

Next to speak was Rev. Laura Eaton of Christ Episcopal Church in Calumet, who said the ceremony was intended to honor the “little souls,” who were victims of the tragedy.

“The light lost from all the children and adults is in us,” she said. “Let us all remember we are all blessed to be here. Let us never be afraid.”

After Eaton spoke, Geisler read the names of the 73 victims of the tragedy.

As he read, those descendents of the victims who were able to attend the ceremony, came forward and took one of the 73 roses from a wreath displayed under the arch of the doorway to the second floor, which is all that remains of the building.

To close the ceremony, Geisler told those in the crowd not to take whatever personal relationships they have for granted.

“Promise tonight to be more loving, kind and generous to those you love,” he said.

Also attending the ceremony was Mike Zoul, who came from Ironwood, because his grandfather, John Fabich, was a miner working for Calumet & Hecla Mining Company at the time of the strike. His relatives lived in Calumet then.

Zoul said his grandfather wasn’t at the Christmas Eve party, but his aunt was intending to go. On the way, she stopped to get her aunt, who was sick, so the two stayed home instead, avoiding the tragedy.

After the ceremony, Gruber said she appreciated it very much.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It brings tears to your eyes.”