Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Granite Industry, Part 6 E - Labor's Welfare

And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel’d universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself" (1892)

Loading paving stones aboard a schooner, Lane's Cove
Barbara Erkkila Collection, Cape Ann Museum
The  granite business industrialized in step with the burgeoning American economy, providing wealth and employment to the north villages of Cape Ann. It relied especially on cycles of first-generation immigrant laborers at low wages. Not surprisingly these newcomers drew resentments such as these placards displayed in the Lanesville Antiques and Horribles Parade of 1888: 1
        "Americans and Irishmen Must Go, we have no Use for Them."
        A "box" of Finns marked "Here we are, now for the Granite Quarries."
        "Wanted 10,000 Foreign Quarrymen, no Yankees need Apply. None but Finlanders are wanted."        

The Finns took a communal view toward their own welfare. In a column titled "Scared Away" the Boston Globe reported on men and women challenging strikebreakers brought in by the Rockport Granite Company. "The word was passed to march on the Italians' shanty at Bay View. A cheering crowd of 700, followed by the women, waving their aprons, then commenced a march across country." 2

It was a shared vision rooted in cooperative self-reliance. "On July 2, 1903 mother (Alexandra), Heino, and I left the Seppala home in Teuva Finland on a two-seated horse-drawn wagon with mother's mother driving, for the new land America....and finally by electric street car to Folly Cove where father was waiting to greet us....After mother's arrival at Folly Cove with its humming activity, she was at first overwhelmed by it all. However, after a quiet period (and a good cry) one day by herself sitting on the rocks at Folly Cove ...she suddenly said to herself 'This is it.' And she never cried again!" 3

Samuel and Alexandra Seppala and family, 1927
In his memoir Waino Ray (born Rajaniemi) recalled his Lanesville boyhood in the early twentieth century as the halcyon days. "Despite the lack of money, we were truly happy, joyful, and carefree, and the community enjoyed an active, simple, productive, and rewarding way of life. Of course there were problems, too, but most of these were able to be solved....Never did I hear Father complain although doing a 50' x 50' garden by hand would have stymied many a man with less physically demanding work than his cutting granite paving clocks nine hours a day for six days a week. With a family of six children to support on a paving cutter's wages, he simply didn't feel justified in having someone to plow for him, and we needed the garden for food." 4

Waino's fifth grade class met in Wainola Hall when the Lane School overflowed. It was also a meeting place for musical, theatrical, athletic, and unionizing activities. The community managed to gather resources, time and energy for its indigenous welfare.

Wainola Hall 5
Undergirding Waino's youthful idealisms were his recollections of the costly side of granite work. "Many men were killed, lost limbs, or died of silicosis from constantly inhaling the granite dust. There was no such thing as Workmen's Compensation for such catastrophes." His neighbor John Ahola, knocked flat by flying rock in a quarry blast, recuperated at home for a year before starting a dairy farm. Matt Hildonen lost a leg in a quarry accident and started a grocery store. Henry Saari, similarly injured, opened a pool room in the village.

Compressed air drill, Flat Ledge Quarry, 1892 6
The most widespread and insidious occupational danger to stone workers resulted from inhaling granite dust. The hazard increased markedly with the introduction of power tools in the latter nineteenth century producing unprecedented clouds of silicate particles, especially within the closed finishing sheds in winter. Debilitation of the lungs and certain death so closely resembled tuberculosis that a separate diagnosis was not generally agreed upon for silicosis until after 1915. Because it was a chronic, degenerative disease that took years or even decades to appear it presented a host of problems to medical researchers and public health workers raised in an intellectual environment dominated by the fairly recent triumphs of germ theory. Societal response was complicated by the frequency with which tubercular consumption fatally infected weakened lungs of stoneworkers. 7

That silicosis became a national crisis in the 1930s is traceable in part to its prevalence among sand casting workers in the much larger iron industry, and to the newfound political will during The Depression for Federal Government's role in social welfare. "It brought into question one of the central beliefs of the twentieth century--that technological innovation and the growth of industry would produce general improvements in the quality of people's lives. This disease was understood to be produced by the very machines and technical innovations that were at the root of America's industrial might." 7 The silicosis crisis contributed to a  long and still uncompleted evolution of responsibility for conditions in the workplace.

1. Gloucester Daily Times, July 5, 1888.
2. Boston Globe, April 28, 1899.
3. Hilma Seppala Sauter's story courtesy of her niece Sandra Jamieson; Seppala family photo from Zenas and Merry Seppala.
4. Waino T. Ray, A Young Finn on Cape Ann, 1997.
5. Reproduced from Souvenirs of Lanesville by John and Betty Anne Erkkila, 2016.
6. From the Nickerson Collection, in Roger Martin's  A Rockport Album, 1998.
7. David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, Deadly Dust, 1991.

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