Cities that are haunted…seem to straddle past and present as though two versions of the same city are overlaid on top of each other. —Colin Dickey, Ghostland
This weekend we watched an outstanding documentary on iTunes: Bisbee ’17. This film looks at The Bisbee Deportation, an event that occurred on July 12, 1917. when 2,000 armed citizens rounded up 1,200 striking miners.
In the summer of 1917, the copper mines of Bisbee, Arizona were providing essential ore for munitions destined for our troops overseas fighting in World War One. The companies were making record profits. The miners, many of whom were immigrants and foreign-born citizens, were tired of the unsafe working conditions and the discrimination they faced in the camps.
The International Workers of the World (I.W.W.) took notice and came to Bisbee to organize the workers and cripple the war effort. The mining companies took the position that their workers were doing something un-american at a time when we needed men and material to fight. The workers felt that the companies were exploiting them for the sake of enormous profit under the cover of “it’s good for the country.”
When the IWW called a strike, the townspeople had to decide which side they were on. Did they support the company line, or their friends, neighbors, and relatives who wanted better working conditions?
On Thursday, July 12, 1917 Sheriff Harry Wheeler gathered a posse of 2,000 men and they rounded up the strikers at gun-point, loaded them onto railroad cattle cars, and shipped them to the desert in New Mexico. They were left there to die after being told that they would be shot on sight if they EVER returned to Bisbee. Neighbors arrested and detained neighbors, and in one case one man arrested his own brother and loaded him onto a cattle car. It was not a good time to have a foreign-sounding name, or a skin color other than white.
On July 12, 2017 the townspeople of Bisbee recreated The Deportation. When the citizens decided to face their past and look at this event, a number of old feelings began to come back. In the case of the two brothers, two great-grandsons filled in for their Great-grandad and Great-uncle. The Kosmic Kicker? One is a current sheriff and the other a retired sheriff in the county.
Beyond the injustices that are taking place these days is the effect that the Past had on the people who volunteered to recreate it. Does Art imitate Life, or is it the other way around? I could see the conflicting thoughts and emotions in many of the people in this documentary. It’s in the periods of time where they are being filmed and not aware of the camera that their inner reality is on display for all to see.
The tagline for the movie is “The Past is Present” and that’s a spot-on way to describe the last 100 years in Bisbee, AZ. I will pull a “Joe Namath” and guarantee that if you choose to watch this film, you will have more than enough to think about in the coming year.
Unabashed Plug: Bisbee ’17 is available to view now on iTunes for the low price of 99-cents, or you can watch it on PBS, July 15th, on their POV series.
Related Link: Bisbee ’17 website