Almost everybody who knows anything about Hibbing is aware of the incredible story about ‘The Town That Moved’. It is fact that the expanding Oliver Mining operations realized that the village of Hibbing (a thriving mining hub of nearly 20,000 residents) was situated atop some of the richest hematite ore ever recorded. The shareholders/fee-owners of the Oliver decided that the ore was more valuable than the village and the demand for steel was growing by leaps and bounds. Oh, I must add that the mining companies owned the mineral rights to all property and had the legal right to claim the land . . .something akin to eminent domain. The moving of structures began in the early 1920’s and continued into the 1960’s. Buildings of incredible size were moved south to a newly laid out grid of infrastructure and streets and homeowners had the right to purchase and move their houses to the new location–many did.
When I arrived in HIbbing in 1966 as a teacher at Hibbing High School (a magnificent structure unrivaled in its day) I took an interest in the rich history of the city. Hibbing had a prospering downtown, a large hospital, classic memorial arena, an airport . . . just about everything. (Much of the new construction was done by the mining companies–the High School included).
Not long after my arrival here I wandered around the old townsite and some of the foundation ruins of the past. The feeling was haunting. I could imagine life in that city and the scope and power of the Oliver. I was so enthralled by the history that when I retired from ISD 701 I took up writing and set my first novel. It was historical fiction backed with countless hours of research. I still get that feeling whenever I’m in ‘North Hibbing’. The mining still goes on–and is expanding–only a stone’s throw away. Of course, it’s a different form mining than that of the olden days when back-breaking labor was critical to production.
The other day while browsing Facebook I saw a picture that captured my attention and my emotions in equal measure. The photo was taken by Kirsten Kepler and I asked for and received her permission to use the photo on my website. The Garfield Street corner took me back to my first novel. Thanks Kirsten, sharing your photo made my day.
Now, twelve novels later, I’m contemplating going back to where it all started. To Bless or to Blame has been my most widely read novel and the one that has made the strongest impression on my readers. It took a simple photo to stir my heart. I just finished reading a novel titled ‘The Shoemaker’s Wife’ by Adriana Trigiani. The story swept me away. The immigrants leaving behind the land they loved to find success in America was the spirit of my first novel but Adriana’s story had an even richer texture than my own.
Lastly, I will never be a ‘Ranger’ in the truest sense as I was born in Duluth. But this place has shaped me as a person and blessed me in ways beyond description.