HIBBING, MN -- A blacksmith-turned lawyer-turned mayor who decided to go up against giant companies like U.S. Steel more than 100 years ago has a story you might not believe.
He's not necessarily a household name, yet the work he did shaped much of what the Iron Range is today.
The year is 1910. The main character is Victor Power.
"He's a first-generation Irish-American lawyer. He starts as a blacksmith working in the mines, actually at a mine near Chisholm, and he put down his hammer and left the blacksmith to go be a lawyer.”
More than a century later Vic’s story caught the attention of two creators: Iron Range Author Aaron Brown and New York-based filmmaker Karl Jacob. Unbeknownst to them, they had been researching Vic's story at the same time, more than 1,000 miles apart.
“It almost seems like, as we’ve been digging, that he’s been erased,” said Brown.
Jacob replied, “Which makes this story even more compelling.”
Those conversations led to the creation of a podcast called "Power in the Wilderness."
"It's like a buddy cop movie. Karl is the hip, cool not quite by the rags detective. And I'm the guy from accounting who has been sent down to keep him in line," said Brown.
As the duo explores Hibbing’s history, their curiosity in Vic’s story is rooted in their own upbringing.
“Growing up in Minnesota, growing up in Hibbing specifically, there were these relics of this bygone era that I never understood," said Jacob. He was referring to buildings such as the Hibbing High School and the Androy Hotel.
"I've been writing about the Iron Range and the history of the Range for a long time and the name Victor Power was kind of tucked away in my mind from a long time ago because he was a significant figure in Hibbing history," said Brown. "Not many people know much about him but he did a lot of impressive things for a small town back in the early days of the Iron Range."
To find the answers, the two looked through old newspapers, spoke to historians, and so much more; all discussed in the podcast. What they found was a part of history they hadn’t heard before.
“The most shocking thing was the fact that this story actually existed,” said Jacob.
The Iron Range was built around the mining industry which put much of the control in the hands of companies, like U.S. Steel. That is, until Vic Power.
“He was a man of tragic flaws. He was kind of bigger than life, very ambitious. He lived a little fast and he actually died quite young," said Brown.
While his life was short, it was impactful. As mayor, Vic took on a corporation no one else would.
“He was willing to tax the mines at what he thought was a fair rate, which of course the mines disagreed with and it led to an enormous political battle between the mines and the village. The money he was bringing in through tax revenue built Hibbing. He paved the streets, he built the sewers, lights, parks. You know, it was really the envy of northern Minnesota,” said Brown.
According to the podcast hosts, Power took on the cases other lawyers wouldn’t, and helped those who needed it most.
“It’s a story that elevates this idea that really has roots in the American dream. That someone who is passionate about something, that is doing it from the heart for the good of many people. And for some reason, it was decided collectively that this story needed to be buried," said Jacob.
As they dig up Hibbing’s past virtually from more than 1,000 miles apart they’ve taken on their own roles in the story that become clear to the listener.
“Karl and I come at this and we have this shared experience of growing up on the Range about the same time, but he left and I stayed. That has given us this two camera view of the story that I think informs each of us and checks some of that.”
As the story plays out the podcast hosts emphasize the importance of learning from the past as we look to the future.
“I feel like there is definitely something people can get out of it today that they can apply to their lives today as a result of learning what the Iron Range was like over 100 years ago,” said Jacob.
You can listen to the full Power in the Wilderness podcast series beginning May 1. If you can't wait until then the first two episodes are available here.