The mystery and masks of the Iron Range

You think you know a place, or people, and you really don’t. History is layers upon layers of truth that is only knowable through a quasi-scientific estimation. And you know who I think represents that best? Our fellow northern Minnesotan, Bob Dylan. He theorizes in most recent interviews that the closest you get to the truth is art. Which is work, of course. His work in particular, but maybe the closest we get is in doing something we know how to do as long and as well as we can. 

Dylan didn’t say a whisper to the Star Tribune for their recent big profile of the hometown folk rock bard, and the story – like countless others before – dances around elements of truth to make some guesses about who Dylan is and why he does what he does. It goes on. Not bad, I suppose.

I happened to be reading that story when I saw this MinnPost account of the 1924 Milford Mine disaster on the Cuyuna Iron Range near Crosby. Hear the words of the last miner scrambling up the ladder as the mine filled with water. Hear the four-hour drone of the emergency whistle as its dead operator was draped across the lever under the dark muck below ground. And, of course, know the families left behind, telling their stories and keeping the reality of this event as alive as possible, for as long as they can.

Some people want to build a recreational trail out to Milford, so folks can see the mouth of the mine.

Or how about this, a short documentary about the Finns and their role in the 1907 Iron Range labor strike by my colleague Britt Aamodt for Northern Community Radio. I am now regularly explaining the reason this place is called the Iron Range to young people in my college classes. Some folks these days think unions are for big guys yelling at political gatherings. If you challenge that assumption, a guy like me produces a graph showing that union households built the middle class. I’ll show you a graph.

But these folks — men and women — who founded the labor movement and first cut the rocky ground of the township where I went to school, which I would visit last week to talk about Twitter — these folks know the truth. And they are all gone.

Who is Bob Dylan? What is the Iron Range? The more we want to know, the less we can find. Do something. Just do something.


  1. Gerry Mantel says

    You want mysteries? Check this out:
    1) Ann Mantel: “John Wesley Harding? What? What’s that … sounds kinda countryish.”
    2) Nancy Anne: “Bob Who?”
    3) June Baut: “Self Portrait … what? Bob Who? What?”
    4) Jill Luann: “Why don’t you get past that Dylan s***t, Lemp, and listen to something else.”

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