100 years later, the Power of stories

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Lately I’ve been imagining the cadence of Victor Power’s overshoes across the sidewalks of North Hibbing in 1915, the boom of his voice across the street to the people he knew. I’ve been picturing the smooth motion of his oratory gestures, the quick, sly smile that set him apart from other politicians. We can’t hear these sounds or see those sights today, but we can recreate them in our minds as we learn about the history of the Mesabi Iron Range.

If you don’t know who Victor Power was, you wouldn’t be alone. Even in the town he helped build twice — before and after moving it — Power’s name is often little more than the title of our soccer fields. Nevertheless, Victor Power became one of the first major political figures on the Iron Range to stand up to the Oliver Mining Company on behalf of his citizens.

At a time when miners made scant wages and cities were filled with mud, Power paved the streets, lit the lights and ensured that people who lived here could aspire to more than just menial labor.

A campaign ad for Hibbing Village President Victor L. Power, clipped and pasted into Power’s journal archived at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.

But who was this guy, really? What motivated this son of a wealthy, successful lawyer to take work as a blacksmith’s assistant in Hibbing, later to stand up for the immigrant laborers arriving by the trainload? How did he remain in office against the constant opposition of the most powerful corporation in the world? And what ultimately laid him low? After all, Victor Power died young, just 46, at a farmhouse several miles outside town.

This year I’ve begun research for a new book about Victor Power and the world that surrounded him. It’s about the man, to be sure, but also his family, his friends, and the significant figures of his time. It’s also about the workers, the immigrants, the bootleggers and scofflaws who made the *real* Iron Range of our grandparents’ memories.

Power was Victor’s name, but it was how he used power, with a small “p,” that made him worth remembering.

I can’t deny, I have ulterior motives in writing this. If you have any stories told to you by your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents that connect with the story of Victor Power and early Hibbing, I’d sure appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached at my personal e-mail: aaronjbrown@yahoo.com or by calling 218-262-7213.

Naturally, I’d love direct anecdotes about Power, Hibbing politics, bootleggers, mining tales and the like. Personal journals for anyone who lived in Hibbing from 1900 to 1926 would be wonderful. But I’m also interested in the little details about the past that reflect how people lived. What they wore. What they ate. How they saw their town. What they talked about around the dinner table. Even if your ancestor didn’t pal around with Vic Power, they walked the streets of Hibbing with purpose. What was it?

This might be a great chance to have your family’s history included in a larger story that celebrates the rich and sometimes wild history of the early Mesabi Iron Range.

I’m already learning that far too often people fail to transmit their stories to the next generation. People of Power’s generation often didn’t reminisce about the old days, because of how hard they were.

For all the nostalgia we have for the past, we often miss the parts that matter. For the good times might have transmitted prosperity to future generations, but the bad times transmitted character. And when we look back at what it means to be an Iron Ranger, really, character (and characters) matter far more than anything else.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

 

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