AUK’s Chain Gang: Woody Guthrie “1913 Massacre”

PICRYL Public Domain

Last week Dave Jarman brought us Bob Dylan’s version of the much covered ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ which as he pointed out,  was first published by Dick Burnett in 1913. So it is to that year that I have turned for this week’s link. Woody Guthrie’s ‘1913 Massacre’ was first recorded in 1941 for Folkways Records and refers to events that occured in Calumet, Michigan on Christmas Eve 1913 and became known as the Italian Hall Disaster.

On the evening in question over 500 striking miners gathered at the Italian Hall for a Christmas celebration with their families. The Hall itself was on the second floor and accessible only by a set of steep steps. With the Hall packed a shout of “fire” went up which caused a rush for the exit and a crush in which people fell down the steep steps. 73 people were trampled to death, 59 of them children.

There has subsequently been much speculation as to how the crush started and who shouted “fire”. Guthrie’s account blames it squarely at the door of company thugs bent on getting back at the striking miners. The song is one of Guthrie’s most forthright and powerful. It has been covered by others down the years, including Bob Dylan who performed it in 1961, which gives us another link to last week’s Chain.


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About Clint West 262 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,

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