There isn’t much in Iron Range newspapers these days that can rightly be called “refreshing,” but something in this Sunday’s Hibbing Daily Tribune surely fit the bill.
Too bad it was a story originally published 100 years ago.
Jack Lynch, my former colleague and neighbor from my Hibbing Tribune days, always does a good job finding significant (dare I say it, topical) stories for inclusion on the history page.
This week was no exception, as he found a pair of 100-year-old stories about local leadership and attitudes toward local legislators that are significantly different than you find today.
Victor Power, “The Little Giant of the North,” was Hibbing’s village president during its exponential growth explosion in the 1910s and ’20s. He was also the first serious leader on the Range to buck the mining companies, taxing them at a proportional rate to their profits.
At one time, Hibbing was raising and spending more money on roads, schools, public works and amenities than the state of Delaware. It was a lot of money for a small town, but Power knew it wouldn’t last forever and wanted to wring every penny out of the mines that he felt the people were owed. In just 20 years, Hibbing went from a muddy, ramshackle mining camp to a modern city with architecture and amenities.
The mines fought him. In the 1915 session, they sought a provision that would have capped a city’s total tax revenue at $25 per resident. This was a direct swipe at Hibbing and other Range towns, the only cities that would have been affected. The mines lobbied the legislature and so did Power. The Range delegation of the time, half of which were actively employed by the Oliver Mining Company, mostly sided with the mines.
Nevertheless, to quote the headline: “Power victorious.”
What truly struck me was the spontaneous display that occurred upon Power’s return from St. Paul. Read this and try to imagine any modern comparison:
A line of march was formed at the depot, headed by the band, which marched up Third avenue to Pine street, thence to the armory, where a large crowd had gathered to greet Mr. Power, and when he arrived a cheer went out that would have done credit to an Indian tribe. It was a fitting demonstration to a man who has worked unceasingly to defeat a measure that was being fostered by the mining concerns in this vicinity, and which boded no good for the citizens in general. It was Hibbing’s lone fight against the most powerful interests in the state, Duluth and some portions of the Mesaba range included, but it was Mr. Power’s undaunted fighting spirit that won the battle. That Mr. Power’s endeavors were thoroughly appreciated by the people of Hibbing was clearly shown by Thursday night’s demonstration.
The parade was one of the prettiest things of its kind ever held in this city. All the street lights were turned off, and everyone in the line of march was provided with vericolored lights, and those, in connection with the automobile headlights, presented a sight that will never be forgotten.
In my life I’ve seen organized campaign rallies on the Range, but nothing like what was described here. Some moments in history, even local history, simply have no equivalent.
This is the rich history people imagine when they seek the continuation of the Iron Range status quo. The problem with that thinking is that it hasn’t been like this in a long, long time. We need to find new courage and new purpose to create moments like this one for new times. It’s not just about standing up to the mines. It’s about standing up for ourselves.