Dec. 24--No Christmas tree was ever again allowed in Mary Krainatz's Upper Peninsula home.
The sight of a decorated fir tree, resplendent with colorful ornaments, yuletide cheers and the gaiety of children, reminded her of a Christmas Eve she longed to forget.
Seventy-three people, the majority of them children younger than 10, died in a stampede after someone supposedly yelled "fire" during a holiday get-together for striking miners in Calumet on Dec. 24, 1913. Krainatz's 11-year-old daughter, also named, Mary, was among those killed when people rushed for the staircase down to the first floor.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, a time of remembrance in a small Copper Country community where no survivors remain to share their firsthand accounts.
A ceremony, including a reading of the names of the deceased, will be held at 3:30 p.m. at the site of where the Italian Hall once stood at Seventh and Elm. Now, a park is punctuated by the sandstone block archway that once served as the building's entrance. A white, silk lily for each victim pays silent testament in Calumet's Village Hall.
The pre-holiday horror was immortalized in the Woody Guthrie song "1913 Massacre," a 2001 opera, a book by Birmingham lawyer Steve Lehto and the documentary "Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913" that debuted on PBS earlier this month.
Mary Krainatz's other daughter, 7-year-old Katy, survived but like her mother was haunted by what she'd witnessed, according to Krainatz's grandson Joe Krainatz. He had heard the tale from his aunt Katy, who even recounted it again on her deathbed.
The two young sisters were "side by side," Katy had recalled. Mary ran for the door and Katy said a man held her back and said, "Don't run. Don't run."
"It was horrible, people screaming and crying, a pile of bodies at the bottom of the steps," the 62-year-old retired construction worker from Calumet recalled. "For a little child to be at a Christmas party and have that happen, every time she thought of it, she cried."
What exactly prompted the panicked rush on the second floor remains unclear, according to Alison Hoagland, professor emeritus of history at Michigan Technological University. Some people who made it out alive recalled hearing someone shout about a fire, though others claim no such thing happened. Allegations that the mining company Calumet and Hecla or a group opposed to union organizing was behind it have never been proven.
While the cause isn't clear, the deadly denouement is. Between 500-700 people were celebrating after a difficult year -- a strike since late July raged, as miners fought for an eight-hour workday, pay increases, and the right to unionize, Hoagland said. Santa Claus sat on the stage talking with excited children when the mad dash began.
Few remembered the fire escape and instead raced to the 5-feet-8-inch-wide stairwell. At least one person tripped and the pile-up began. The whole thing was over in minutes.
"The coroner ruled suffocation was the cause of death. This is so sad. The children died at much greater rate," said the professor and author of "Mine Towns: Buildings for Workers in Michigan's Copper Country." "Their bones and ribs were crushed. They were fragile, so they crushed more easily. People described coming up and seeing a mass of humanity crushed in the stairway, so tightly packed, they couldn't pull people out. One guy described it as the tortured face of death. They couldn't even scream anymore. It was so grisly."
One of children who made her way to the fire escape was 7-year-old Mary Butina, who survived with her two sisters.
"My mother, nothing ever bothered her. She would tell us about this. She was just a little girl. It was scary," said Jim Butina, 72, a retired teacher who lives in Shelby Township. "She felt the mining company was behind it. It was a scare tactic."