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Around the turn of the century, the Finnish people were having trouble with their eastern neighbors, Russia. Russia was more powerful than Finland and they wanted to take compete control over the Finns. As a result, many of the Finnish people left to countries such as Australia, USA, and Canada. Finland was part of the Russian Empire and did not gain independence until 1917.
My great-grandfather, Fredrik Juopperi, was one of many Finns to leave his country. He was born on September 26, 1882 in Kemi, Finland. His parents were Henry and Maria (Lahti) Juopperi and he had 14 brothers and sisters. At the age of 20, he came to America (1902) with his sister Helena. At this time, the ryssäläiset were trying to "russify" Finland. They drafted Finnish men into their army. As soon as Fred had the opportunity, he left illegally, leaving the rest of his family behind because he did not want to fight in the war.
Leaving Finland, Fred emigrated to Canada and from there, to Calumet, Michigan after hearing that the mines were looking for workers. He worked for Calumet and Hecla Mining Co. and lived in Red Jacket (Calumet). The family also ran a public sauna for additional income. His sister Helena came with him to Calumet and married a Finnish miner named Ken Kahkonen.
Fred married Hilda Jaakkola on June 23, 1906. Their children were: Edward, Wayne, George, Walter, Roy, Aileen, Marge, Lillian, Edna and Ruth. He was naturalized in Houghton County in 1913. Fred was a hard working miner, putting in 12-hour days to keep his family fed. The family also had cows, chickens and a garden to help make ends meet. Neither Fred nor Hilda spoke English; therefore, all the children spoke only Finnish until they went to school.
In 1913, the miners went on strike. On Christmas Eve, a party was held for the miners and their families at the Italian Hall in Calumet. Fred was there with his daughter Aileen, but she became tired so they left early. During the party, somebody yelled "Fire", causing a panic among the people. People raced for the exit down the stairs to the street. The exit door opened inward and with the huge jam of people, the door could not be opened. Bodies piled up on the stairs and frantic people stepped on these bodies, suffocating them to death. Fred was lucky he left when he did; otherwise, he might have died before his time and I would not be here. All in all, 73 people had died, the majority being children and Finns. Nobody knows who yelled "Fire", but they speculate it was someone hired but the mine captains. This catastrophic event became known as the Italian Hall disaster. The strike eventually ended and the miners went back to work.
Tragically, Fred's life was cut short by a mining accident. The year was 1928, a Monday, an ordinary work day in the mines. Down in the mine shaft, Fred thought he saw light coming from the shaft ceiling, but he was not sure. He called to his partner, "Do you see that light up there?" As his partner said no, a boulder fell from the ceiling, striking Fred in the head, killing him instantly. The weird thing about this accident was that morning before work, his dog would not let him leave. It kept biting, barking, and pulling on his pant legs. The dog had never acted this strangely before and Hilda insisted that he not go work because it was a bad omen. Fred did not believe this and that day he died. With her husband gone, Hilda had a tough time raising ten children during the Great Depression.
All the boys were forced to get jobs. My Grandpa Walter, for example, quit school after the eighth grade and worked on a neighbor's farm. Hilda took every paycheck of his, leaving him a nickel at most. She had no choice but to do this because they didn't have any money other than a small government check. She later remarried Mr. Ojala, a widower. Hilda died of pneumonia in her fifties.
Fred was quiet about his life in Finland. If he would have talked to his family, more would have known about his life. He never went back to Finland or even kept in contact with his family back home. He had never regretted coming over to America.
© Dennis Juopperi, 2001
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