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Lessons from mining tragedy remembrance

For workers that reported for duty at the Barnes-Hecker Mine on Nov. 3, 1926, the day wasn’t terribly unlike other days at the deep-shaft facility, located several miles west of Ishpeming. Nor was the ethnic makeup of the crew – principally Scandinavians, with a handful of Englishmen and Canadians – that descended far below the surface to hack and drill raw ore out of a maze of shafts and tunnels in the employ of the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co.

All that changed at about 11:20 that Wednesday morning when a rumbling deep underground was followed by a electrical power failure. Histories of the times cite terrible crashing noises punctuated by a roar of rushing water. Fifty-one men trapped far below were gone, as the mine filled with water from a nearby swamp.

The 90th anniversary of the Barnes-Hecker disaster is a few weeks away. A wide variety of events are planned locally readers should be aware of. On Tuesday, the Barnes-Hecker Remembrance commemoration will present “Miners Died and Widows Cried; Death in the Iron Ore Mines” by Jim Paquette, chairman of the Marquette Regional History Center Board.

On Wednesday, on behalf of the descendants of the Barnes-Hecker tragedy, the Barnes-Hecker Remembrance planning group will be presenting at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, with proclamations from local, state and congressional offices. Refreshments will be served after the program. Also WNMU-Public TV13 will air a documentary about the Barnes-Hecker disaster on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. The award-winning documentary “Barnes-Hecker: Memories of a Misfortune” will air at 10 p.m. Oct. 31 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 1.

This tragedy, like tragedies often do, has faded from our collective memory as the people it immediately touched have passed away. Yet, it remains a relevant and compelling component of who and what we are here in Superiorland.

Mining Journal (Marquette)

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