By golly it happened again!! Sometimes finding historical information at the Iron Range Historical Society (IRHS) in McKinley is the result of researching the right place where organization and keen knowledge of our historical items produce really interesting if not fantastic outcomes. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out that way.
And so it was this past winter when Michele Lammi, our office manager, received a communication from a fellow from out-of-state. This fellow had an object that he was trying match up to a photo. His object was a metal candle holder for a mining hardhat. The reason he tracked down the IRHS was that on the candleholder was inscribed, “Elba Mining Co.”
Now that greatly piqued our interest as the Elba Mine was located just outside of McKinley many years ago. He was hoping that we had a photo of a miner from the Elba Mine who was wearing a mining hardhat with a similar candleholder as the one he had. As Michele related this information to Roberta Palen and me, we all nodded that we needed to give it a go.
The IRHS certainly has many photos of miners and a few of them are from the late 1800s to early 1900s when candles were attached to mining hardhats. Actually, finding a photo specific to Elba Mine was probably not going to happen so we were intent on any local mining photo with candles on the hardhat.
Many mining photos in the IRHS collection have been digitalized over the past several years. We started there but eventually had to go into the photo albums themselves. We seemed to have the same recollection that we had seen this type of image somewhere over the years.
And so we searched, and searched, and searched some more. Maybe that’s why they call it “re-search.” Michele did find a group photo of miners with candles in an old edition of the Biwabik Times. But the photo was blurred from age and there was no identification of the photo’s owner. We needed to take a break, eat lunch, and get a bit of other work done.
It just so happened that while I was munching on my apple, I was paging through the Chisholm photobook that I had earlier entered photos into. Like many other history patrons, perusing photo books satisfies my curiosity of history of all sorts. Some call it “going down a rabbit hole.”
Well, this “rabbit hole” turned out to be a treasure chest. There in front of my eyes was a black and white photo of a group of early miners wearing—you guessed it—mining hardhats with candles attached to the holders on their heads. Call it good luck, dumb luck, or serendipity—it worked and we accom plished our task.
History did come alive in that moment. Bittersweet as it were. Yes, a moment in the lives of these miners was documented. More importantly, those 57 men worked day-in and day-out in the bowels of the earth where that tiny bit of candlelight stood between them and utter darkness. The possibility of injury or death was always imminent. It was an honor to have a piece their history in my hands.
There are many stories to be had at the Iron Range Historical Society—one of them may be yours. Come on in with your questions or to share your history. Keep a look-out for the summer schedule of Saturdays at the Society. This fall we will be having our 50th year celebration at our annual meeting and you are all invited!
Our collections include Photos, Documents, Maps, Directories, Personal Histories, Towns, Counties, Townships, Mining, Lumbering, Family Histories, Businesses, IRHS Books, Local Newspapers, Genealogy, Schools and Community Events, plus much more.
IRHS is not a museum and so we do not collect objects. The mission of the Iron Range Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history of Minnesota’s iron ranges for the benefit of future generations.
Please visit or contact us. The Iron Range Historical Society is located at 5454 Grand Avenue in McKinley, MN 55741. Call 218-749-3150 or email email@example.com. Follow IRHS on Facebook and Instagram
Janet Eichholz is an IRHS board member.
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