Sunday, March 26, 2017

1913 Italian Hall Massacre

At the turn of the century, the most prosperous copper mines in the world were in the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Many of these were owned by the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company of Chicago (C&H), and from 1871 through 1880, the mines produced more than half of the United States’ copper.
Raw Copper

At the peak of production, the mines employed approximately 15,000 miners. Working conditions were poor, at best, and deadly, at worst. Due to the long hours, dangerous condition, and low pay, the Western Federation of Miners Union (W.F.M.) established a local in the area in the year 1908. Though because miners were under the constant threat of C&H thugs, it wasn't until 1913 that the W.F.M. had a large enough membership to effectively strike.

During the strike of 1913, many of the miners and their families lived in the Calumet/Red Jacket area. Times were tough. The striking workers didn’t receive benefits during the strike and the people’s finances suffered along with the optimism of the workers.
Dangerous, one-man mining

Many knew Christmas would be lean that year and wanted something to raise the holiday spirits of the town folks. A Christmas party, sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners, was planned. The ladies meant for the gathering to boost the morale of the striking workers, and the festivities were more than just a time of fellowship, but also an attempt to bring the people together and encourage one-another to fight the good fight.

On Christmas Eve, 1913, on the second floor of the Italian Hall in Calumet Michigan, over four-hundred striking workers and their families gathered together. Wives huddled in groups at the food and beverage table trading recipes with one another and bragging on children. Husbands gathered in small groups and spoke of the hard times of the past and the better times to come. Children ran from one side of the hall to the other, chasing each other until they could no longer catch their breath or a parent waggled a finger in their direction as a sign to slow down. The mood remained light and festive and the people bonded in camaraderie.
The Italian Hall, Calumet, MI

Until someone shouted, “fire!”.

Suddenly, horror ensued. Poorly-marked fire escapes on one side of the building and precarious, emergency-ladders located at the back of the building, which could be only be reached by climbing through the windows, left mothers and fathers frantic to get their children to safety as quickly as possible.

So, everyone—all four-hundred terrified people—panicked and ran for the narrow staircase leading outside. Little did they know the exterior doors wouldn’t open. The party goers packed tighter and tighter into the stairwell, crushing those who were first to enter.

Though highly debated, it’s been reported that the doors opened inward, but other reliable reports and supporting photos suggest that the exterior doors opened outward and were bolted from the outside by the ruffians attempting to get workers back in the mines.
Funeral march for those who perished

The true heartbreak of the false alarm is the deaths of 73 people. This number includes 59 children who tragically lost their lives on Christmas Eve, 1913.

In the first of several investigations into the disaster, the coroner’s inquest forced witnesses who did not speak English to answer their questions in English without an interpreter. After only three days, the coroner issued a ruling that stated no cause of death.

Then in early 1914, the United States’ House of Representatives arrived in Copper Country to probe the strike and the Italian Hall disaster. This time, twenty witnesses testified with the proper interpreters and under oath.

Eight of the twenty witnesses swore that the man who cried "fire" wore a “Citizens' Alliance” (a mine owner’s group) button on his coat.
Italian Hall Memorial
No one was ever prosecuted nor were any indictments made. The Italian Hall was demolished in 1984. Today, only the archway to the old hall remains.
This horrific story seems to be founded on greed and power, and those who perished should never be forgotten.


Award winning author, Michele Morris’s love for historical fiction began when she first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. She grew up riding horses and spending her free time in the woods of mid-Michigan. Married to her high school sweetheart, they are living happily-ever-after with their six children, three in-loves, and seven grandchildren in Florida, the sunshine state. Michele loves to hear from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and through the group blog, Heroes, Heroines, and History at

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Where To "Eat Out" In the Old West

I’m thrilled to say that in just a bit over a month, my next story will be released. “The Outcast’s Redemption” is one of nine stories in the upcoming Secret Admirers Romance Collection releasing on May 1. My heroine for this story works as a waitress in a small-town café as she struggles to support her ailing mother and two younger siblings.

Somehow, I never fell in love with cooking the way my mother did. She managed to provide our family with nutritious and tasty meals, no matter whether she was in her stay-at-home mom stage, her working night shift as an R.N. stage, or her keeping down a full-time day job in a busy financial office stage. She was—and still is—an excellent cook. But the love of preparing food never took hold in me, so eating out is a common occurrence for my family.

As I wrote “The Outcast’s Redemption,” I began to think about how different life was in terms of where one could grab a meal “out” in the Old West. Obviously, there wasn’t a Chili’s or P. F. Chang’s on every corner. So where could our beloved cowboys take their ladies for a dinner out? Were there places a weary traveler could get a quick bite without having to hunt for, skin, and cook his own meal? Yes, there were—and here are a few of them.

The Local Saloon

Western Saloon
While we most often think of the Old West saloons as being purveyors of alcoholic beverages, they also provided weary travelers (male-only travelers, that is) with the chance to get a meal. In fact, it was often a “free” meal. But there was a catch. The free food was free on the honor system—order, consume, and pay for two drinks, and then you could eat all the foods you wanted. Offerings ranged from cold cuts, breads, pretzels, smoked herrings, dill pickles, potato chips, salted peanuts, and a host of other salty fare. There was a method to the madness of the salted meats, cheeses, and finger foods. Salty food makes one thirsty, and selling alcoholic beverages was their big money maker. So saloon owners knew that by providing the all-you-can-eat meats and snacks so laden with salt, they were ultimately assuring themselves hours of beer, whiskey, and other beverage sales.

The Boarding House

Dinner at a Miner's Boarding House in Canada

A boarding house provided rooms for rent, as well as meals for those renting the rooms. Often, these businesses were run by women—single ladies or widows—who needed a way to make ends meet. They would open their homes to travelers, renting out a bedroom with the promise of at least one meal, if not two, a day. Most often, they provided breakfast, and those offering two meals would offer breakfast and dinner. The meals were often served around a large dining table with a family-type atmosphere, everyone passing plates and bowls of food, rather than being served food that’s been plated for the diners.


The Balkan Restaurant (and bar) in Utah

Every western town had at least one restaurant, but the restaurants varied greatly from place to place. The smaller the town, the more low-key and down-to-earth the restaurant décor and fare. In the early days of a town, the restaurant might be housed in a large tent or a lean-to. As a town grew and expanded, and as the restaurant owner gained resources from selling his food, he would often build a more permanent structure to house his establishment.

Food in western restaurants depended on many variables. Most often, they relied on what was most readily available. They would provide various meats (and most often beef, since it was so readily available in the West), breads, eggs, potatoes, fruit pies, cakes, coffee, and whatever vegetables could be had in the area. Some more upscale eateries would ship oysters in from the coast to tantalize their customers’ taste buds. By the 1880’s, the big rage in dining out was French cuisine, so restaurants served meats, fish, and vegetables in various French-inspired sauces, along with fancy desserts, milk, and cheese.

The First Restaurant Chain—The Harvey House

In the later 1870’s, a man by the name of Fred Harvey had begun to realize that many western restaurants were really quite a mess. They were a necessary commodity, but most were run by men, with male wait staffs, cooks, and dishwashers. The service proved to be unpredictable and sometimes chaotic. Harvey’s partner, Tom Gable, rightly saw that adding women to the staff of these restaurants might provide the balancing effect that was needed to make them function better.

Fred Harvey

Harvey opened his first restaurant in 1878 in Florence, Kansas, situated along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad line. Taking Gable’s idea, he staffed his restaurant with women between the ages 18 and 30, each of good moral character, intelligent, attractive, and well-mannered. He promised to provide good, wholesome food in a hurry. The restaurant model took off, and his company quickly grew. Between the 1870’s and 1965, there were as many as eighty-four Harvey House restaurants and lunch counters dotting the western lands along the railroad’s paths. (If you’d like to read more thorough accountings of Fred Harvey, his contribution to how our beloved westerners ate out, and the Harvey Girls who worked in his establishments, please click here to see what our other HHH Bloggers have written on the subject).

So there you have it. There were many various places that a resident of the Old West could eat food not prepared by his or her own hands.

It’s Your Turn: Do you prefer eating out or do you enjoy meal planning, preparation, and the satisfaction of cooking?

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.

Declaring one’s love can be hard—even risky—especially when faced with some of life’s greatest challenges. Separated by class, time, distance, and more, some loves must remain secret until the time is right. Instead, notes of affection, acts of kindness, gifts of admiration, and lots of prayer are circulated. From New England mansions to homestead hovels, love is quietly being nourished and waiting for the right time to be revealed. But when love can finally be boldly expressed, will it be received by love in return?

Friday, March 24, 2017

How Wild Was the Old West—Really?

Recently I heard a TV commentator liken the violence of some US cities today back to the Old West.  Is that a fair comparison?  Not according to some historians. Some even go as far as to describe the Old West as a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding place.  Hard as that is to believe they may be on to something. Take a look at these facts:

The Old West Practiced Gun Control

Yep, that's right. In fact, the very first law passed in Dodge City was a gun control law.  Many towns including Tombstone had similar strict laws barring guns. Visitors were required to turn guns over to the stable owner or sheriff.  Checks or receipts were issued much like they are today when checking coats at a restaurant.  Gun owners could reclaim their weapons upon leaving town.

Not everyone followed the law, of course. Drunkenness and disorderly conduct would get you a free pass to the hoosegow, but so would toting a gun.  The gunfight of OK corral was actually sparked by an effort to enforce the "no gun" law.

Controlling crime made economical sense.  Towns wishing to attract businesses and commerce or even the railroad couldn't afford to let crime run amok. 

The Law of Wagon Trains

Some wagon trains reportedly contained more than a hundred wagons and as many as 800 people, so keeping law and order was of primary concern.  Many of these trains had their own constitutions which spelled out a judicial system. Ostracism and threats of banishment kept most travelers in line and there are few reported instances of violence on these trains.  That's pretty amazing considering the conditions and long months on the trail.

What About All That Cattle Rustling?

If we believed all those old time Western movies there wasn't a steer in the land that hadn't been rustled at least once. No question; Cattle rustling was a problem. That is until ranch owners got together and formed cattlemen associations.  These groups hired private protection agencies, which pretty much put cattle rustlers out of business.

Bank Robbers Ruled, Right?

Wrong again. According to the book Banking in the American West from the Gold Rush to Deregulation by Lynne Pierson and Larry Schweikart, only eight actual bank heists occurred in the 15 states that made up the frontier west during the forty year period between 1859-1900. (Holy Toledo! My little hometown has had more bank robberies than that just in the last decade.)  

Why so few bank robberies in the Old West?  The answer is simple; Banks were
hard to rob.  That's because they were located downtown, usually next to the sheriff's office.  It wasn't any easier to rob a bank at night. People slept above shops so the town was far from deserted. Then, too, the walls of a bank were often doubly-reinforced. Blasting through them would have brought everyone in town on the run, including the sheriff.

Some, like Butch Cassidy simply walked in the front door, but even that type of bank holdup was rare.  Robbing stagecoaches was easier. But transporting money by stage fell out of favor when trains came along.  Robbers shifting attention to trains soon had to contend with Pinkerton detectives, and that was enough to spoil anyone's fun.
What About All Those Gunslingers?

Dime novels, old newspapers and movies would have us believe that shooting from the hip and quick draw duels were the norm.  In reality, gunfights were few and far between.

Some well-known shootists (the word gunslinger didn't come into play until the 1920s) deserved their reputations but, by today's standards, most would be considered lousy shots.  Some, like Wyatt Earp, killed nowhere near as many men as they were given credit for.  A gunslinger's reputation, however exaggerated, was often as valuable as his skills. 

What fact surprised you the most about the Old West? 

Coming in June

A Match Made in Texas


There's a new sheriff in town,
 and she almost always gets her man!

Click to order

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Echo Canyon in Utah and a Giveaway

Susan Page Davis here. The beautiful trail through Echo Canyon was well used in the 1800s. The pioneers’ wagon trains found it the best way to get from Wyoming into Utah, and from there to California. From the Green River area, where Fort Bridger was located, in southwestern Wyoming, they would head down the canyon.

Before the wagons came, the trail was used by Buffalo and other animals, native Americans, and explorers.The Mormon trail followed it down to the desert and beyond. Later, stagecoaches, the Pony Express, gold and silver miners, and railroad and telegraph lines used it because it was already there and one of the easier paths through the mountains. It was simpler than blasting a new road for the railroads, and today Interstate 80 takes this route. Historian John Eldredge has graciously allowed me to share with you some of his photos of attractions in the canyon.

 The trail in the mid-1800s was a narrow pathway down a canyon leading from the grasslands near Fort Bridger, in Wyoming, to the drier lands of Utah. Some of the most vivid descriptions of it come from the journals of Mormon pioneers who traveled it by wagon, on foot, or pulling a handcart. Remains of the fortifications built by the Mormons in 1857-58, during the Mormon War, can still be seen.

William Clayton wrote, “There was a very singular echo in this ravine, the rattling of wagons resembled carpenters hammering at board inside the highest rocks. The report of a rifle resembled the sharp crack of thunder and echoes from rock to rock for some time. The lowing of cattle and braying of mules seemed to be answered beyond the mountains. Music, especially brass instruments, had a very pleasing effect and resembled a person standing inside the rock imitating every note. The echo, the high rocks on the north, high mountains on the south, with the narrow ravine for a road, formed a scenery at once romantic and more interesting than I have ever witnessed.”

How eerie and exciting this passage must have been to the early pioneers! I’ve driven this route on the highway, but I know we don’t get the full effect as we breeze past. You can't see all of the features, or the mysterious rock art, or even the best view of some of the formations. A lot of the pioneers hiked off the trail to see them. Many left their names on rocks or in caves.

Some of the notable sights along this trail include Cache Cave, which is at the head of Echo Canyon and can’t be seen from the highway. It has also been called Swallow Cave and Rock Cave. Again, from William Clayton’s 1847 journal:

               “About a quarter of a mile west from the camp is a cave in the rock about thirty feet long, fifteen feet wide and four to six feet high. There are many martins at the entrance and on observing closely, can be seen myriads of small bugs. It is supposed from appearances that there is some property cached in the cave.”

Chicken-cock Bluff was so named because of a rock with a strong resemblance to a rooster.

Coyote Rock is another name for the same formation. It looks like a completely different animal when viewed from the right perspective. In this view, Chicken-Cock Rock looks like a coyote sitting on a rock.

A. J. Russell photo, Sentinel Rock, also called Chimney Rock

Pioneer Richard Burton noticed this oddity about rock formations and wrote in 1860, “And the wondrous variety was yet more varied by the kaleidoscopic transformation caused by chance of position: at every different point the same object bore a different aspect.

On large squarish rock formation is called The Devil’s Post Office, and a smaller projection near its top is called The Devil’s Head.

Another is called Castle Rock, a large bluff made of red sandstone. Pioneer Howard Stansbury wrote in 1850 that it “almost perfectly resembled a rustic cottage, with a deep-arched doorway and gently sloping roof, covered with scattering cedars. The illusion was very strong, and became more and more perfect as we approached, until we almost expected to see someone issuing from the portal to gaze upon the passing [wagon] train.” It had become known as Castle Rock by 1868, when the railroad was being built.

Sentinel Rock is another popular formation, as are Winged Rock, Jack-in-the-Pulpit Rock, and The Witches. Many other majestic formations can be seen along this route.

The Pony Express lasted only 18 months, in 1860 and 1861. This colorful business was abandoned when the transcontinental telegraph lines were completed in the fall of 1861. In 1869, the Union Pacific laid railroad tracks through and connected with the Central Pacific at Promontory Point, Utah. Now people could ride the trains all the way to Oakland, California.

"The Witches"

To enter the giveaway of my novel, Echo Canyon, set in this location in 1860, leave a comment with your contact information. Iris Perkins is told she will be married soon to a man she despises. A chance visit by two brothers and a beautiful woman from the other side of Echo Canyon gives her hope.

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy published novels. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and two Will Rogers Medallions, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. A Maine native, she lived for a while in Oregon and now lives in Kentucky. Visit her website at: , where you can sign up for her occasional newsletter and read a short story on her romance page.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Pink Castle of St. Petersburg

By Marilyn Turk

We recently took a Spring Break vacation to St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. As we crossed over the bridge to the beach, I was captivated by pink towers rising before us. The closer we got to the building the more enthralled I became. It was not our final destination, but being the history buff that I am, I knew this was no new building, and I had to find out its story. 

In 1924, Thomas Rowe was living in Virginia and suffering from health problems such as asthma. His doctor told him that if he wanted to live to old age, he should move to a more southern climate.

Rowe took the doctor’s advice and moved to the St. Petersburg area. A real estate developer, he purchased 80 acres on St. Petersburg Beach for $100,000, and in 1926, began construction of his dream hotel, “the pink castle.” Architect Henry Dupont was hired to design the hotel and Carlton Beard was the contractor.

Named for the chivalrous Don Ce-Sar in Vincent Wallace’s light opera Maritana, the hotel is a blend of Mediterranean and Moorish influence. Arched openings, red clay tile roofs, balconies and tower-like upper stories are representative of the two styles. The original design called for a $450,000 six-story hotel with 110 rooms and baths, but was expanded to ten stories, 220 rooms and baths, raising the cost to $1.25 million – 300 % over budget when it opened on January 16, 1928.

The luxury hotel attracted the rich and famous of the Jazz Age, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Clarence Darrow, Lou Gehrig, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and even gangster Al Capone. When the Great Depression hit the nation, the hotel suffered as did the rest of the economy, but Rowe struck a deal with Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert to house his team during spring training for three years, a move that kept the hotel in business during the difficult financial times.

In 1940, Rowe collapsed in the lobby from a heart attack. He refused to leave the hotel and was treated around the clock in a room on the first floor, where he died. A year later, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, "telegrams poured in with cancellations for the coming season and within weeks, 50 percent of reservations were cancelled,” according to the book the Don Ce-Sar Story, published in 1974 by local historian June Hurley Young.

Lowe’s widow saw no choice but to sell the massive hotel, and in 1942 sold it to the U.S. Army for $450,000. The Pink Palace became a hospital for recovering servicemen for twenty years until the government abandoned the building, leaving it to fall into disrepair.

The once-beautiful hotel saw years of deterioration until it was scheduled to be torn down. However, another hotelier named William Bowman Jr., stepped in at the last minute to save it in 1971. By 1972 he had the hotel reopened and ready for guests once again.

Since then, the hotel has had several updates: another outdoor pool was added; chandeliers were replaced in the main lobby, contemporary furniture was added and new shops were opened. Prudential Insurance took over ownership of the hotel 12 years ago, and Loews Hotels has managed the property, restoring the grandeur of the old hotel.
The jet-setters who have stayed at the hotel since it was brought back from the dead include a who's who: Lauren Bacall, Carol Burnett, Tim Burton, Bryan Cranston, the Bush family, and many other famous stars and musicians.
Before we left the area, I spent a few minutes roaming the hotel, taking pictures that don't do it justice, and imagining what is was like to be one of the guests during the Roaring 20's. 

Award-winning author Marilyn Turk lives in and writes about the coast – past and present. A multi-published author, she writes a lighthouse blog at Her latest release, Rebel Light, Book 1 in the Coastal Lights Legacy series, is now available along with A Gilded Curse, and Lighthouse Devotions on Marilyn is also a contributor to Daily Guideposts Devotional.