Enough! Commemorating 1916 Mesabi Range Strike

"Enough! The 1916 Mesabi Range Strike" opens at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.

“Enough! The 1916 Mesabi Range Strike” opens at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.

I’m not a historian. I like to say I’m a “histrotainer.” I cherry pick interesting aspects of local history and share them with new audiences. Occasionally I happen upon some original source material, but mostly I rely on the work of actual historians.

When I was a young newspaper reporter at the Hibbing Daily Tribune, I decided that even though I had grown up on the Iron Range I knew very little about its history. I asked Iron Range historian Pam Brunfelt for an interview in 2001. What she actually gave was an afternoon crash course in everything she knew. She put copies of a number of sources in my hands. The rest, as they say, was history. (wocka wocka) Within a few years I was writing about Iron Range history myself.

My 2008 book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” combined history, memoir and interviews to create a picture of today’s Iron Range at the dawn of the 21st Century.

These last few years overflow with many centennial celebrations of arguably the most fascinating period of modern Iron Range history: the early 1900s. And this year brings one of the biggest anniversaries of all, the Mesabi Range Strike of 1916.

The 1916 Strike was, like the earlier 1907 strike, considered unsuccessful at the time. But time allows us to see that these risky protests had a major effect on working conditions in the years that followed. We still have strikes today, but to strike in 1916 meant complete economic destitution and the risk of death. More than 10,000 Iron Range miners joined in anyway.

“Enough! The 1916 Mesabi Range Strike” will open Thursday, Nov. 10, at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm with a free reception from 6-8 p.m. Brunfelt, one of the key advisors for the exhibit, will give a talk about the significance of the strike in Iron Range and American labor history.

“Enough!” will remain on display at the Discovery Center through next July 2017.

People tend to view history through a contemporary lens. Truth is, few today understand what it was like for the immigrant miners. But I encourage you to check out this exhibit. Look at the words and the rhetoric of the time. Then ask yourself, who uses these words and this rhetoric today?

I continue to be surprised at the degree to which we relive history, no matter how much we claim to learn from or pine for our past.

My Sunday column will explore this concept in more depth.

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