(WJMN) – A Michigan author has released a historical fiction novel about the mining strike and the Italian Hall disaster in the Copper Country back in the early 1900s.
Copper Divide by Beth Kirschner (TouchPoint Press/June 2021) is set in 1913 in the midst of the copper mining strikes which caused division and violence within the Keweenaw Peninsula’s communities. It was inspired by the Italian Hall disaster when 73 people, mostly striking mineworkers and their families, were killed in a stampede when someone falsely yelled “fire” at a crowded party on Christmas Eve in Calumet. Kirschner tells the story through different character perspectives, who were inspired by real people from the time period such as labor activist Anna “Big Annie” Klobuchar Clemenc.
“The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company was the world supplier of copper. And also, this was presented in Houghton, Hancock, and Calumet as really the economic powerhouse of the state. So the U.P. at the time was really the place to be in many ways,” said Kirschner. “The story follows three protagonists during this copper strike that eventually resulted in a tragic accident. But, we have a Jewish shopkeeper’s daughter, and we have a wife of a striking miner, and we also have a scab miner brought in to break the strike and work in the mines. And the story follows all three of their intersecting lives during this period in time.”
This is Kirschner’s first published novel, and she got the idea for the story when she attended Michigan Technological University. She now works as a software engineer in Ann Arbor.
“I kind of fell in love with the place. So I just love the distinct personality of the place and the people. I took a class in college on the local history of the area and I think that was really the catalyst for the whole story. When I decided to write the novel or write a novel, I knew it had to take place in the U.P. So the copper strike of 1913 provided a really nice, dramatic situation where I could put in some interesting characters and see how they developed,” said Kirschner.
The novel took about eight years of intense research and writing before it was completed.
“I went back to Michigan Tech. They have a great historical archive there called the Michigan Tech Archives. So I started looking at the newspaper reports from back in the day, and they had diaries and maps and pictures, taking notes and learning all sorts of stuff,” said Kirschner. “And down here in Ann Arbor there’s the Bentley Historical Library which has another treasure trove of maps and interesting things which kind of just sent me off in more directions, you know? I’m like ‘Wow I didn’t know about this, and now I have to look up that.'”
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