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Italian Hall Disaster 1913

On the 24th December 1913 a Christmas Party was being held for the children of striking miners to boost morale amongst the miner’s families. The miners were striking for better working conditions and improved safety. The Michigan Copper Strike has started earlier that year in July 2013. The party took place on the 1st floor of the Italian hall. Eyewitness accounts say the hall was crammed full, with approx. 500 children and 175 parents. In the early evening a male from the Citizen’s Alliance a shouted fire falsely in hopes that it would disrupt the party. The cry of fire caused a stampede towards the main steps. Initially inward opening doors were thought to be the main cause of the disaster but this was later cast into disrepute, as result of the cry 73 died of those 59 were children and 13 were women. Although no real cause of death were stated other than death from crush it is likely that compressive asphyxia from crushing was the main cause of death.

 “Simply put. A man wearing a Citizen’s Alliance pin ran in, cried “Fire” and ran out. His actions killed 73 people” (Lehto, 2006)

No one was every arrested or prosecuted for the actions which led to the disaster. Interestingly the transcripts from the coroner’s inquest were lost for a number of years and one page (page 78) never turned up.

As in the event of most fires, people will not go out the nearest exit but will always try to go back the way they came in. Numerous eye witness reports from the coroner’s inquest state that the hall was crammed full, estimates range from 300-700 people predominately woman and children all spread out across the 1st floor but predominately in the main hall.


Plan of building

Front Doors

The main entrance is a staircase of 1.8m (5’9) and is approximately 12m from top to door. Based on this width of the staircase and the door leading to it, in the event of an emergency this would only allow safe egress for 360 due to the width of the door to the staircase and then the staircase would reduce capacity to 320 without taking any other factors into consideration. Even then this route as one of the two egress routes would be discounted in calculations due to being the biggest and removed from the equation in a “worst case scenario”. Photos also show that the bottom set of doors opened outwards which meant that the myth about the inward facing door is dispelled.

Prevention & could this happen today?

The demographic of the audience probably contributed to the high numbers of death with nearly 3 children to every one adult in the crowds. Two simple ways which could have prevented this from happening in 1913 would’ve been to control the amount of people entering the hall and for the audience to have a higher percentage of adults.

In 2018 105 years on, we have many ways that could prevent this from happening. Using data built up from numerous crowd related disasters we have occupancy level calculations. Rough maths shows that this venue should only have held 100 people due to only having two exits. With the largest one the main stairs being discounted in a worst case scenario

Modern day fire alarms have left us in a culture where in the event of fire people look for someone to lead/take initiative. Up to a third of the evacuation time can be wasted due to indecision and poor information, with many people thinking that the alarm is another drill. This window gives time for fires to be identified and then decide whether to evacuate Moreover in modern day stadia and arenas alarms even call point will cause a silent alarm to appear in the control room as to not cause panic alarm among a sizeable amount of people.

We live in a world where fire exits however obscure the door may seem will need to have clear signage which lights up and lead to safety.

Risk assessments are done before events which highlight Hazard (An event which is likely to cause harm) and the risks (The likelihood that these hazards will be realised). The Risk Assessment for this event would’ve show that the demographic would’ve lead to an increased risk due to higher probability of dynamic situations due to the age of the crowd.


Coroner, M., 2007. Italian Hall: The Offical Transcript of the Coroner's Inquest, Michigan: Momentum Books L.L.C..


Jonathan Sime, e. a., 1988. 45/1992: Human Behaviour in Fires, London: Department for Communities and Local Government.

Lehto, S., 2006. Death's Door. 1st ed. Michigan: Momentun Books L.L.C..

Robb, D., 2013. America’s Worst Unsolved Crime: The 1913 Italian Hall Disaster. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 6 April 2018].

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