Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pasty Fest: the main attraction

After the parade, we walked a block to our hotel and rested a few minutes before heading two blocks to the parkgrounds, the center of the festival.

I took my place in line for the free pasties while Steve, Cooper and Katie walked around, played in the bounce house and played games of chance. Cooper tossed a ball in a goldfish bowl, which earned him a free goldfish and bowl. The lady running the game gave him a small stuffed rabbit instead -- a goldfish wouldn't have lasted long with us and our travels.

Steve bought Katie this "pink pony" (it's actually a unicorn, but she didn't know that word at the time).

I stood in line in front of a nice, talkative amateur historian of Copper Country. He lives in North Carolina now but has family property in the area and comes back every year for Pasty Fest. He was interested in my family's story and then told me some fascinating details about the copper rush.

Apparently there were eight or nine different ethnic groups living in the Keweenaw Peninsula during the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were language and cultural clashes, but the worst tension was between the mining company and the labor unions. (Some of the ethnic groups were inclined toward socialism, which made union growth much easier.) He said that the English were almost always bosses because business was conducted in English and the owners spoke English -- not Russian or Italian or the other languages. If you didn't speak English, you had lower-level jobs that you typically couldn't grow out of. (That changed later.)

In 1913-14, there was a 9-month-long strike. The company wanted to switch from two-man drills to one-man drills. Well, a one-man drill was more dangerous -- you didn't have your buddy to warn you of danger or to help. And it also meant fewer jobs. (Also, there had once been three-man drills, so the workers had already lost friends and family members who had been working with them.)

There was a lot of strife in the area during the strike. The National Guard had to camp out in town more than once to keep a check on tempers. (They actually set up camp on the Pasty Fest grounds.)

And then there was an awful incident on Christmas Eve 1913 at the Italian Hall. Someone on the second floor yelled "fire," and people in panic fled downstairs. At least 74 people died in the crush to get downstairs -- half of them children. The tragedy was never investigated well, most people agree. It's suspected that someone who was pro-company deliberately and deceptively yelled fire. There's even a Woody Guthrie song about it.

Back to the pasties. They were great! Though, they weren't as good as the Thomas family variety, which uses cube steak instead of ground beef and sliced veggies instead of diced. Ketchup and chow-chow were offered on the side. I grew up eating ketchup (or catsup, as Grandpa would say), so that's what I chose.

We feasted and then watched Cooper participate in old-fashioned games -- three-legged race, rutabaga toss, passing an onion from person to person using only your chin and neck (I don't know the name of that one).

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