Let’s return to the scene of our Saturday afternoon drive. You want to linger in Calumet a while longer, don’t you?
Time to peek in our historical books and get on board the tour bus. (Not that there are real tour buses in Calumet. Under 1,000 folks live here. It’s a crumbling old town, a town of a different era. Big red buildings deteriorate as heavy snows and endless winters continually blanket the Keweenaw Peninsula from November-April.)
I love Calumet. This copper mining town, settled in 1864, was once called Red Jacket, after a Native American chief of the Seneca tribe. Go figure. The Anishinabe (Ojibway) live around here. Maybe the Seneca chief came to work in the copper mines?
Another itty-bitty town called Laurium sits within shouting distance. OK, if you can shout a long way, maybe with the aid of a microphone. Back in the 1890’s the folks of Laurium called their neighboring town “Calumet.” Who knows? Maybe they didn’t like the name Red Jacket.
And we all know what Calumet means, right? It is a native American peace pipe, a pipe smoked to kindle deep connection, kinship, spirituality, ceremony and sacred blessing.
The stone of these pipes is often made of red pipestone, often from the pipestone quarries of the Dakotas.
It is interesting that there are so many red buildings in Calumet, which look especially fine when the sun decides to come out after many days of hiding. These red buildings were often made of local Jacobsville sandstone.
When we first moved here people said in a reverential tone, “Did you know that Calumet was once considered as the capital of Michigan?”
Although we later heard this was a generational myth (please let me know if you have proof to the contrary) Calumet and its nearby sister-cities at the turn of the century featured 30,000 residents, eighty bars, fifty churches and uncounted brothels.
It was an up-and-coming metropolis.
Thanks to the copper mines which sprouted throughout the entire Keweenaw Peninsula.
Rich copper veins beneath the earth called entrepreneurs north into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the miners dug to extract the precious metal. Immigrants from places like Finland and Sweden arrived to help mine the booty to create, among other things, pipes and pennies.
The Upper Peninsula’s infamous “pasties” came from these immigrants who often brought a meat-and-vegetable filled pie to work for lunch in the mines. Everyone know what’s in a pasty? A mixture of meat, potatoes, onions, rutabaga, and carrots wrapped in a crust made of flour and–I am sorry to add–lard. Modern day cooks use Crisco. (We quit eating pasties in recent times. Sorry, even though they taste yummy–too much fat!)
By 1913, the growing population of the Calumet area began to wane. A Copper Country Strike of 1913-14 arrived and then–disaster struck.
On Christmas Eve, 1913, striking miners and their families met for a Christmas Eve party in Italian Hall. Someone cried “FIRE!” (it was never determined who issued the call although some folks suggest that it was the copper bosses, but that might be another generational myth) and a stampede ensued. There was no fire. Seventy three victims, most of them children, were crushed or suffocated in the stampede.
It was Calumet’s darkest hour.
Woody Guthrie wrote a song commemorating this tragic event:
Copper prices dropped during World War I. Then followed the Great Depression. Calumet never returned to its former glory.
Down the street–I don’t have any current photos–is the Calumet Theater. In its heyday it featured such big stars as Douglas Fairbanks, Sarah Bernhardt, and John Phillip Sousa. Today, local actors put on musicals like “The King and I” and it’s a treat to sit inside the turn-of-the-century building with its ornate curtains and woodwork and imagine…
Thank you for heading north to the Copper Country– to Calumet– with us today.
For bonus points, do you remember what Calumet means? Do you remember the initial name of this town? Do you remember the name of the town within shouting distance?
Do you remember what we had to eat at Carmalitas restaurant? (Ha ha, gotcha! I didn’t tell you. I had chicken faijitas and Barry had a Guacamole salad.)
Journalistically and historically yours, Kathy
P.S. Down where we live–the L’Anse/Baraga area–is not traditionally known as “The Copper Country”. Copper Country is generally referred to as the area north of Houghton, extending out onto the little finger of the Keweenaw Bay.
P.S.S. Gosh, I am never going to finish adding postscripts! Here is a cool link to some photographs of Calumet at night. Dan Larson, a professional photographer, who lives across the bay from us took these. WOW! http://danlarson.zenfolio.com/p892344570/h5FCE5F2#h5fce5f2