Two books highlight Michigan’s copper mining culture
By Eric Freedman
LANSING – From the miners who dug copper ore from the frigid depths of the Upper Peninsula to the communities that lived and withered on the ebb and flow of the mining tide, two new books are shedding light on Michigan’s past.
In illuminating 150 years of connections between mining companies and communities on the Keweenaw Peninsula, Larry Lankton tracks the birth, boom and bust of the industry that once dominated the nation’s copper production.
When the last mines closed in the 1960s, thousands of workers were left jobless, tax revenue dried up, businesses shut down and families moved away, wrote Lankton, a Michigan Technological University history professor whose examination of the U.P. mining industry began with a 1978 National Park Service project at the Quincy Mine in Hancock. The mine site is now a popular tourist attraction.
“No economic activity on the Keweenaw stepped in to take the core role once played by the mining industry,” he said in “Hollowed Ground: Copper Mining and Community Building on Lake Superior, 1840s-1990s” (Wayne State University Press, $34.95).
Even so, the book points to some lingering advantages of the now-defunct copper operations, including historic preservation and tourism. “Perhaps only the natural environment benefited from the economic decline,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Gary Kaunonen, a graduate student at MTU, takes a different approach to mining in the U.P.
He focuses on the immigrants from Finland who, with others from elsewhere in Europe, worked in the mines, and the strife between labor and management.
“Challenge Accepted: A Finnish Immigrant Response to Industrial America in Michigan’s Copper Country” (Michigan State University Press, $39.95) culminates with a bitter 1913-14 strike that the mine owners won.
Almost a century later, the strike is most remembered for tragedy, not for the underlying conflict over unionization and the Finnish workers’ socialist philosophy. That tragedy killed almost 80 people at a crowded Christmas Eve party for multiethnic strikers and their families at Italian Hall in Calumet.
The victims were trampled to death when someone believed to be a management provocateur who falsely yelled “fire” at the party.
“The Italian Hall Disaster,” Kaunonen writes, “brought incredible misery to thousands of people.
“Because of the number of `Finns’ involved with striking factions, persons of Finnish ethnicity were especially affected by the sorrowful events.”