On Victor Power and my big project

The story of powerful early 20th Century Hibbing mayor Victor Power is, on one hand, mostly forgotten and, on the other, never more relevant. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

In this post I will explain why I’m going to be blogging less in the foreseeable future. Still blogging and writing, just less that you’ll see … for now. Stay tuned as I explain.

In my job as a college public speaking instructor I teach principles of persuasion. I cite the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and his modes of persuasion — logos (an appeal to logic), pathos (an appeal to emotion), and ethos (an appeal to character or credibility).

For millennia, people have used these persuasive tools to make important arguments toward ends both noble and wicked. I teach students how to use them responsibly, but also to understand how they are used *on* them every day, often subconsciously.

In this I am reminded of another term Aristotle coined: Mythos. He used the word in analyzing the story structure of Athenian drama. In short, mythos is a story. The word has since been used by others to describe an appeal to the fictional or supernatural. The word seems apt considering my reviews of this year’s season of the FX program “Fargo,” a series of episodes themed around whether we can ever separate the truth from the “story” of human existence.

Mythos, then, becomes a fourth mode of persuasion — a smothering one. The way it is, always was. The outcome is set, as are our actions. So says the author.

These last several years on the Iron Range have percolated with a certain mythos. People have come to believe ideas about our mining and labor history that are more simplistic than reality. Further, dark elements of the past have been smoothed over, or made into the punchline of a joke. (“Ha ha, whiskey! Ha ha, fights!”) Though I am not a historian by trade, I have spent the last 20 years studying Range history and writing about it. Something seems off.

For example, the story of Hibbing High School.

Anyone who’s seen Hibbing High School knows why it’s worth mentioning. Built in 1922 of the finest materials, this building was the most expensive public school in the country at the time of its construction. Ornate fixtures and artwork adorn the marble walls. The auditorium alone represents an achievement in architecture and artistic expression. To see the high school after driving Hibbing’s “Beltline” along the Highway 169 industrial park is an exercise in flipped expectations. How is it possible!

The mines, we say. The mines built it.

And they did.

But missing in that story is an important detail. *Why* did the mines build such a pearl cast before the working classes of this isolated mining village? They didn’t do it out of love. They were making a deal, a profitable one at that.

The Oliver Mining Company built the school because a recent strike had scared the company. Because they were asking an entire town to move. Because an uprising would disrupt the future of the world’s largest corporation. But specifically, the mine built the school because Victor Power cut the deal.

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 leader on the Range to seriously buck the mining companies.

An Irish Catholic lawyer with cherubic features, Victor Power became known as the “Little Giant,” the most powerful small town mayor in the United States. He and his brother Walter were the first Iron Range leaders to defy the mining company on civic improvements, taxation, and damages owed to the victims of mining disasters. And from Victor’s striving ambition to exceed the achievements of his immigrant father, a judge and respected political leader in Michigan, came events that would shape the lives of thousands who lived and still live on the Iron Range.

Today, “Vic Power Park” lies out on the eastern edge of Hibbing. That’s where you’ll find the soccer fields. But you won’t find any inscription explaining who Vic Power was, or how his meteoric rise and tragic fall match that of a Shakespearian character.

You’ll also see that Vic Power is listed among the famous Hibbing residents enshrined with “honorary” street signs along Howard Street. But chances are there are more pictures taken of Bob Dylan, Kevin McHale or even Gary Puckett’s sign than old Vic. For a man who dreamed of granite inscriptions bearing his name, Power found his greatest works bulldozed into an endless hole on the north side of town. His exploits and his portrait are prominent in the Hibbing Historical Society Museum, but tell me — if I didn’t tell you, would you know where to find them?

Victor Power shaped Hibbing and the Iron Range, which in turn shaped America. He navigated a world of immigrants, agitators, company spies, mobsters and bootleggers and more than a few ladies of the night. He dreamed big and died young, leaving no children and a cold trail to his deepest secrets.

For the past few months I’ve been researching Victor Power. Today I can announce that I’m working on a book about the man and the people around him. The total scope of the book is developing, but it’s my goal that this becomes something people want to read for much more than local history.

You might recall that I wrote a book in 2008, published the following year, entitled “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.” That book includes a section on Victor Power and a number of elements of Iron Range history. For a debut book by a self-important 20-something, I felt the book was well received. What I’m doing now will be much better researched and written, though I still aim for it to be penned in the conversational, sometimes humorous voice I strove for in “Overburden.” I’ll also be shopping for a larger publisher, as my friend and publisher Lindsy O’Brien has since closed up her small imprint.

As a result, I will be blogging less. You’ve probably already noticed that happening this summer. You’ll see that I continue to write my weekly newspaper column, which will be shared here every Sunday morning. And I will post time to time, especially for breaking news and when I feel I have something useful to opine or report upon. I’ll still think of things to write, but will not force myself to write something every weekday the way I did before.

But I feel I should be square with you, reader. There’s only so much a person can write the same thing, read the same comments, and watch the same news play out again and again. I’m often distressed by the state of our region and our country. But saying that alone means nothing. I’m going to use what skill I have to try to create something lasting. Thus, I pursue this book and the continuation of my Great Northern Radio Show and Dig Deep podcast.

Creation is the cure for destruction.

So henceforth I shall be working on the Story of Victor Power, ideally separating the truth from the myth. But it’s also the Story of Hibbing, the Iron Range, and any place where powerful forces collide with human destiny. There the truth lies bound in bales of myth. Wish me luck.

Finally, I am looking for any and all stories about Victor Power or *anyone* in Hibbing during the 1900s, 1910s and ’20s. If you have something you’d like to share, no matter how small, please contact me. And if publishing a book like this seems like something your company would like to do, golly, I’d sure take the call.

Comments

  1. Good luck on your new venture, Aaron. I enjoyed “Overburden” and look forward to learning more about Victor Power and the Iron Range when your next book is published.
    (Once a Ranger, always a Ranger.)

  2. Pat Schoenfelder says:

    The project sounds very good. I hope you find a publisher. If that fails, you may want to consider e-publishing. I don’t know exactly how it works in terms of initiating a project, but many people seem to do it, and once on systems like Amazon or others it is permanently available — no out of print, no out of stock, and visitors to your site can click through to buy on the spot, rather than having to hunt down the book. I have spoken with a couple of authors who were once published by mainstream companies who have switched to e-publishing and found that they actually make more money, even though the prices are much lower, due to decreased overhead. Of course none of the e-publishers pay any advances, but they do pay a much larger share of the sales price to the authors.

    Good luck.

  3. It was quite a while ago that I read Overburden so I don’t remember much specifically about Victor Power, but now I am curious again. I did get to visit the auditorium which reminded me of the Philadelphia Town Hall in some ways. A bit of overindulgence for a high school was my initial thought.
    Best of luck with the new book.

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