Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Iron Man of Minnesota

The truth is... I am Iron Man.

And so are several thousand others today, and many more men in the past who worked the iron mines of northern Minnesota. And now there are also many iron women. We've moved from pick and shovel to a high-technology industry of 3D models, high-precision GPS and immense earth-movers, but the spirit is the same. Descendants of the 19th century-immigrant Finns, Italians, and eastern Europeans who fed the forges of American industry still wrest iron from the massive orebodies of the Mesabi Range. And, like the distant blast furnaces that blend the best parts of a combination of raw materials into steel, this unlikely mix of immigrants comprises the distinct culture of the "Rangers."

In the very small town of Chisholm, there is a very large tribute to this bedrock foundation of American steel.

The Ironman Memorial is claimed to be the 3rd largest free-standing memorial or monument in America, at over 85 feet from the base to the top of the sodium-vapor lamp adorning the miner's helmet. Only the Statue of Liberty and St. Louis' Gateway Arch are larger. The statue itself is more than three stories tall and weighs over four tons. Ironically, he's made of brass and copper--materials that aren't mined on the Range, but he stands atop 50 feet of US steel emerging from a pile of local ore. But maybe that's the point--an alloy of peoples, themselves taking a recipe of materials and making something stronger.

I like the attendant poetry of Veda Ponikvar etched into the granite inscription beneath the memorial. It reminds me of my own verse, which won't win any awards.

It's hard to miss the Iron Man. He watches history unfold fronting Iron World Road, just off US Route  169 that runs over much of the length of the Mesabi Range, about an 80-minute drive north of Duluth (via US Highway 53). At night, the monument is spotlit, and the giant miner glows like a beacon from afar.

I will always remember my young sons excitedly pointing and shouting "Giant man! Big giant man!!!" each time we drove by the memorial. I am honored to be in the company of the thousands of hard-working men and women he represents.