The Arts on Fire!: A fieldtrip to the Keystone Iron Works

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This post is written by Esther, a member of the 2015 field crew:

Before our trip with Dr. Shackel to Scranton, I really had no idea what “iron pour” meant. I got into the car expecting an educational experience involving the history of mining industries in the region. At the other end of the drive, we piled out of the car and saw the Keystone Iron Works towering beside a merry festival. In the warm sun, many people were milling in and out of artisan vendor tents, buying refreshments, and listening to the live music.

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We proceeded to a guide in historical garb, who regaled us with a lively history of the ups and downs of the “Scranton Boys” as they schemed and dreamed their way to the top of the iron industry. Even after their production company cheaply produced nails with an 80% fail rate, they tactically renamed their business and carried on. I could see that the local people were proud of the ingenuity. This was definitely a festival that celebrated the heritage of the locale, and they felt enthusiastic.

At one point, the furnace was the largest stone structure of their kind in the nation. The iron ore from the immediate surrounding area was not high quality. However, Scranton, Grant, and Co. contributed to the success of railroad construction. They sold rails made by mixing their ore with better quality material. Eventually iron smelting developed into the steel industry.

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We were able to say a quick hello to Dr. Bode Morin, who was managing the event and explaining background information to various bystanders. We stepped up to the makeshift fence surrounding the iron heating apparatus. On the other side, there were a number of amazing works of art on the grass, very close to us. They were like bas-reliefs, sculptures designed with molds into which iron had been poured and then left to cool. More impressively, these were created by high school students.

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At 2800 degrees the molten iron was finally poured into a bucket on a pole held by two men. It looked like magma flowing out of the earth, bright and viscous. They took the bucket and carefully tilted it to pour into each mold.

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The music wafted in the background as we explored the tents, a woman singing, and then the band started up some excellent music with a jazz or swing feel.

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After a few hours of conversation and exploration, we headed back to the car. The whole atmosphere of the Arts on Fire Festival had been far from a dry reading of history. The stone furnaces and history of Scranton had been a backdrop for our own interactions with everyone there.

Esther

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About LM Project

The LMP is a collaborative endeavor which aims to recognize the events surrounding the Lattimer Massacre, an incident that changed the labor movement and impacted the world by bringing to light economic disparities and ethnic tensions in the anthracite region of PA.
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