Friday evening TLV – on fire

Posted on January 27, 2012

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Some days I just have to follow rabbit trails. There I was, reading up on wolves and catching up on email when POW!

See that shocking fiery photo on the monitor? That is a wonderful image that photographer Melinda Green posted right here on Birmingham Weekly. It’s called Sunset over Sloss Furnace and it knocks me out.  Go take a look at it.

I’m impressed with the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.  I think it’s extraordinary that Birmingham, Alabama, would preserve the site to memorialize heavy industry and then go on to tell a good deal of truth about it.

We have a love-hate relationship with industrialization in this country.  On the one hand, our ability to become The Arsenal of Democracy (that would be Detroit) or The Engine of the New South (that would be Birmingham) was a matter of considerable pride.  On the other hand, having grown rich from it, we now prefer to celebrate the wealth and ignore the cost.  Sometimes we pretend that our wealth came from Pure Merit and had nothing to do with filthy air or backbreaking labor.  Sometimes we forget that we were ever a factory town at all.

That could be the way of it in Elk Rapids, Michigan . . . but it’s not. Everyone who lives there knows that once The Furnace was the reason for its existence. Elk Rapids was famous for its pig iron. The Furnace was featured on postcards.

Norton Pearl (born in Eastport in 1878) wrote on the back of that postcard: In the 1880s this was at one time the largest iron furnace in the world. My father has taken me up on the stack where they dumped in the ore many times, at least I always wanted to go up there every time went to ER. We could see the fire from EP when they opened the stack. I believe this was done every hour. They also dumped in lime rock if I remember correctly. The Co bought 1000s of cords of beech & maple wood for the charcoal for the furnace. The Chemical Works took the chemicals out of the wood. My father bought his drygoods, groceries, and drugs for his store at Dexter & Nobles which was later changed to “Elk Rapids Iron Co.”

Keeping in mind that Norton was possibly too credulous about the claims of northern Michigan boosters, it’s still an astonishing thing to think about. You know what that spot looks like now?

Sometimes the more things change . . . the more they change.

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