"1913 Massacre" is a topical ballad written by Woody Guthrie, and recorded and released in 1941 for Moses Asch's Folkways label. The song originally appeared on Struggle, an album of labor songs, it was eventually re-released in 1999 on Buffalo Skinners: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 4. The song is about the deaths of striking copper miners and their families in Calumet, Michigan, on Christmas Eve, 1913, commonly known as the Italian Hall disaster.
Throughout the 1940s, Guthrie recorded hundreds of discs for Moses Asch, the founder of Folkways Records. One of the songs that was recorded out of those hundreds was the “1913 Massacre”. Woody started writing this song around 1941. According to Pete Seeger he had the idea of the song after reading about the Italian Hall disaster in Mother Bloor's autobiography, We Are Many (1940). Guthrie's own notes indicate that he got the idea for the song "from the life of Mother Bloor", who was an eyewitness to the events at Italian Hall on Christmas Eve, 1913. A socialist and a labor organizer from the East Coast, Bloor was in Calumet working on the miners' behalf with the Ladies Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners. She was greatly assisted in this work by Annie Clemenc, also known as Big Annie of Calumet – the "lady" in Woody's song who hollers "'there's no such a thing! / Keep on with your party, there's no such a thing.'" Bloor tells the story of the Calumet strike and the Italian Hall disaster in the first half of a chapter called "Massacre of the Innocents." She devotes the second half of the chapter to events in Ludlow, Colorado in 1914, the subject of another Woody Guthrie song — "Ludlow Massacre."
Woody's song echoes the language of Bloor's account in many places. The historian Arthur W. Thurner has found similar accounts in English and Finnish-language newspapers from the period; these accounts, he says, probably originated with Annie Clemenc.
There are conflicting stories about what actually happened that Christmas Eve and of who yelled fire in Italian Hall. These conflicts will probably never be resolved: they are themselves evidence of what Thurner calls a "war between capital and labor" in the Copper Country in 1913. This war manifested itself, even in 1913–1914, in a struggle over the story of what really transpired that Christmas Eve in Italian Hall.
The debate over what the event means (or should mean) is ongoing. Woody's song counts as one of the more powerful —and certainly one of the best known – interpretations of the tragedy.
Woody's version of the song is available on Struggle and on Hard Travelin', and while "1913 Massacre" never became a folk standard, the song has been recorded and performed many times since Woody first typed it out. (He liked to work at the typewriter.) Among those who have done the song are Woody's son Arlo Guthrie, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Scottish folksinger Alex Campbell, and Bob Dylan.
Dylan performed "1913 Massacre" at Carnegie Hall in 1961. He had been working with Woody during the late winter of that year. Apparently Woody had made him aware of the song's connection (via Bloor's book) to "Ludlow Massacre"; Dylan identified "1913 Massacre" as "one of a group of two" songs. Later, he set his own tribute to Woody Guthrie —"Song To Woody" — to the tune of "1913 Massacre."
The song revolves around a tragedy that took place on December 24, 1913, in Calumet's Italian Hall. Over five hundred striking miners and their families had gathered at the Hall for a Christmas party that night. The hall could only be accessed by a steep stairway; along with a poorly-marked fire escape which could only be reached by climbing out of the windows, the stairway was the only available exit.
During the course of the party, somebody shouted "fire!", although there was no fire. However, people began to panic en masse, and rushed towards the stairway. While trying to all make their way down stairs, seventy-three people were trampled to death, fifty-nine of which were children.
Many artists have covered "1913 Massacre," including Bob Dylan, Cabin Sessions, Alex Campbell, Scarlett O' & Jürgen Ehle, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Tim Grimm, Arlo Guthrie, Uncle Dave Huber, Enoch Kent, Alastair Moock, Lee Murdock, Joel Rafael, David Rovics, Jules Shear, and Sammy Walker.
Bob Dylan wrote "Song to Woody" as a tribute to Woody Guthrie and while the song did not use the "1913 Massacre" lyrics, it did borrow the tune to Guthrie's "1913 Massacre." Hampton writes that Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody" was written as a way for Dylan to express "his debt to this great balladeer."