History has always been intriguing to me. And more meaningful when I know my elder relatives have some connection to the history. During our last trip to northern Minnesota, we took a trip to Ely. We wanted to do some exploring and thought we should check out the iron ore mines in the area.
As we googled for places to visit and explore, we came across the Soudan Underground Mine State Park near Lake Vermilion. We went inside the visitor center and purchased a $5 ticket for the tour. Tickets can be purchased here.
The Soudan Underground Mines
The Soudan Underground Mines is the biggest and oldest mine in Minnesota. It is considered the Cadillac of mines. The depth of the mines is equivalent to two empire state buildings on top of each other. Unfortunately, the underground shafts are undergoing renovation because of a fire. But there is still an interpreter led above ground tour available, which is the one we took.
The importance of the iron ore mines to Minnesota can’t be overstated. They mined iron ore from the rocky topography and then put on rail cars to steel mills on the east coast. It is from the steel mills that farm machinery and equipment are manufactured, along with many other items that improve our lives.
Our wonderful tour guide was Karl. He made it a point to know our names, where we are from, and what we do. He has retired from working in the mines which. makes his stories compelling and credible.
After showing us the equipment and machinery used to remove ore from the mines, he shared personal stories about his family and what life was like working in the mines.
Karl was an immigrant. He and his family are from Holland. Karl immigrated to the U.S. when he was 7 years old after a family history of living in camps during the war times in Europe. He lived in troubled countries where his family experienced many hardships and discrimination. He had enough and wanted to give his family a better life. They set off to a better place of freedom. The United States of America.
They, along with many other immigrants from Germany, Holland, Sweden, Ireland, Poland, Italy and Norway located in northeast Minnesota. The mines needed workers and the immigrants were looking for work. So it worked for both parties.
Working in the mines was difficult. Many times danger surrounded them. And because the area was filled with immigrants from many countries, language was a barrier. According to Karl, it is his opinion the mines purposely put workers from multiple countries together in work groups. They thought it would enhance worker productivity as they wouldn’t have much time to socialize as they couldn’t speak each other’s language.
I have family members that worked in the ore mines. It makes me think about where they worked, what their jobs were and how life was like back in the 1940s and 50s. My extended family from northeast Minnesota were of German descent. It makes the Soudan Mines history more real and relevant.
Karl then told us a recent story about how his family went camping and their camping neighbors were not like him. Different nationality and different customs initially annoyed him because they were louder than he wanted them to be. Then he stopped to think about how wrong he was. Later, he approached the family and apologized. Apologies were accepted, and he learned they were from Venezuela. Karl’s camping neighbors shared a traditional Venezuelan soup with him. He said it was the best soup he has ever had.
So, what is the lesson? All of us come from different backgrounds. I recognize my family struggled as they came to this country. They all had different languages, customs, habits, food, etc. But they came here to make a better world for themselves and their families. It’s a world where we should reach out a hand and talk with others. Get to know them and do what God has commanded us to do.
Our world would be a much better place if we did just that.
If you are in northern Minnesota, consider these other stops: