Hibbing, Minnesota: Back to the past

By Henrylito D. Tacio

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand? How many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned?”

Are those lines familiar to you? If you say they’re quoted from the song “Blowin’ In The Wind.” But do you know where Bob Dylan, the singer who wrote the lyrics himself, grew up?

Well, the answer my friend, is Hibbing, Minnesota. Although Robert Zimmerman (that is his original name before he changed it to Bob Dylan after poet Dylan Thomas) was born in Duluth (the third largest city in Minnesota, after Minneapolis and Saint Paul), he spent his childhood years in Hibbing.

In fact, the city recently staged Dylan Days, which featured a concert reuniting the band that played on Dylan’s critically-acclaimed masterpiece album, Blood on the Tracks (it is one of his all-time best-selling albums, with a double-platinum US certification).

Dylan Days is a tribute to Bob Dylan, but it is also a tribute to the arts and their power to make life better in a community,” said Aaron J. Brown, Dylan Days spokesperson. “All our events are accessible and designed to celebrate the possibility that a misunderstood kid from a small, Midwestern town can touch the world with words and music.”

Bob Dylan is one of the city’s claims to fame. Many people come to see the house where Dylan grew up in. In May 1991, the city’s library started the Bob Dylan Collection. “No one finds themselves in Hibbing by accident,” says one visitor. “You have to aim for the town where Bob Dylan grew up to end up here.”

But then again, Dylan is not the only famous person to come out from Hibbing. Other well-known personalities from Hibbing include Bruce Carlson, US Air Force Commander; Dick Garmaker and Kevin McHale, both professional basketball players; Marie Myung-Ok Lee, a novelist and essayist; Bethany McLean, the co-author of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; and Rudy Perpich, who became governor of Minnesota.

Ask anyone in Hibbing and they’ll tell you that the town has plenty of history without Bob Dylan. Incorporated in 1893, it became the largest of the many mining towns on the iron-ore-rich Mesabi Range—the “richest village in the world,” it was then called. Actually, the city was named in honor of Frank Hibbing, its founder. Born in Germany in 1857, he came to the United States with his parents when he was still a little boy.

My sister came to the United States in 1998 and lived in Hibbing, where her husband worked in a mining company. When she visited us in 1999, she brought some T-shirts with the words, “Hibbing, the world’s largest open pit mine.” What’s this, I inquired.

Well, my question was answered when I visited her in 2000. I found out that Hibbing has the world’s largest opencast iron-ore workings, which is open to the public. The Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine witnessed the development of strip mining technology. In its peak production years during World Wars I and II, the mine supplied as much as one-fourth of all the iron ore mined in the United States.

History records stated that the area of the Mesabi Iron Range was explored in 1893-94, shortly after the first Mesabi ore was shipped from the nearby Mountain Iron Mine in 1892. Early underground mining at Hull-Rust-Mahoning soon gave way to strip mining, a process better suited to the soft, shallow ore deposits of the Mesabi. As the mines grew, the many open pits gradually merged into one and the area came to be known as the “Man-made Grand Canyon of the North.” Mine consolidation led in 1901 to the formation of U.S. Steel, then the world’s largest corporation.

The present Hull Rust embraces more than 30 individual mines, which had been opened between 1895 and 1957. Although most of them are no longer in operation, a substantial amount of ore continues to be extracted from the pit by Hibbing Taconite Company. The vast pit yawns more than three miles long, up to two miles wide and 600 feet deep.

Hibbing is also recognized as the birthplace of the bus industry in the United States. It sprang from the business acumen of Carl Wickman and Andrew Anderson – who opened the first bus line (with one bus) between the towns of Hibbing and Alice in 1914. They figured the region’s iron miners would make good mass transit customers. They did, the bus line grew to become Greyhound (the fastest breed of dog used in dog racing).

Although Greyhound Bus is now headquartered in Dallas, Texas, the Greyhound Bus Museum is located in Hibbing. Inside the museum, you get to know the history of the bus industry from its humble beginnings using pictorial displays, hundreds of artifacts and memorabilia, audio-visual presentation and a VCR show of “The Greyhound Story – from Hibbing to Everywhere.”

A diorama of World War II illustrates how Greyhound contributed to the war effort, and museum displays include a number of vintage buses, such as a 1927 White, 1936 Super Coach, 1947 “Battle of Britain”, 1947 ACF “Brill”, 1948 Silverside, 1955 Courier 95, 1056 Scenicruiser, 1964 GMC PD-4106, 1967 “Buffalo”, 1969 “Buffalo, 1977 MC1-8 and a 1982 MC1-9.

Creating a museum to preserve their story was the dream of Gene Nicolelli, who has never been a Greyhound employee and who frankly admits, “I have no interest in buses at all.” But he was intrigued by the “fortitude, foresight, and guts” of Wickman and Anderson. “It just fascinated the living daylights out of me,” he said.

If you want to know more about Hibbing and its history, don’t miss to visit the Hibbing Historical Museum. Among those you will get a glimpse: Logging and mining tools, accompanied by pictorial displays, show how tools were used in logging and mining. A 5 foot by 8 foot model of Hibbing as it looked at the time of its incorporation in 1893. An 8 foot by 16 foot 1913 model of North Hibbing depicts the growth of the town and illustrates why Hibbing was forced to move to accommodate the mining companies discovery of rich iron ore deposits that lay beneath the town. An audio visual presentation explains the history of Hibbing and its move.

My sister and her family used to live near the Hibbing High School, another must-see. Construction of this historic school was started in 1920. The cost of the building was roughly $3,900,000. Today, it would cost over $50 million to replace. The building is made up of red brick trimmed with bedford stone and is arranged in the shape of the letter E. It was built to replace the old high school, which had to be torn down because of the encroaching mining operations.

Since the mining companies were responsible for the move, they provided about 95 percent of the cost. The school has an impressive auditorium that was designed after the old Capitol Theater, which was located in New York City. It seats 1800, has a full Broadway stage, and chandeliers of cut glass imported from the former Czechoslovakia. The elaborate pipe organ, an old Barton vaudeville organ, is one of two left in the country and was purchased and installed in 1923.

I could still hear Bob Dylan sings: “I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.” — ###

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