Sparrows Point steel mill history projects pushed
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 15:09

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by John G. Bailey

Steel manufacturing at Sparrows Point is no more. But concerted efforts are underway to ensure that the industry and the generations of steelworkers who labored at The Point are not forgotten.
    Retired CCBC labor studies program director Bill Barry has been instrumental in initiating and organizing Sparrows Point history projects.
    As part of an ongoing oral history initiative, Barry has been videotaping the recollections of retired Sparrows Point steelworkers since 2003.
    “I heard so many great stories from [former steelworkers] during classes I taught at the Point that I thought the history needed to be saved,” Barry said. “I have videotaped about 55 [former steelworkers] — maybe 120 hours of tape or so.” Some of the interviews can be viewed online by visiting www.sparrowspointsteelworkers.com. and clicking on “Interviews.”
    To house the material and related artifacts, Barry also wants to establish a labor history museum.
    For help with these projects and to  coordinate efforts, Barry invited a group of like-minded people to gather and share ideas. They formed the Sparrows Point History Group at their first meeting on Nov. 23.
    “I don’t want to be the hub of the wheel [in efforts to record and memorialize Sparrows Point history],” Barry said in explaining the genesis of the Sparrows Point History Group to The Eagle. “I can’t do this all by myself.”
    The group of 18 got to know one another and discussed several ideas at the meeting. In attendance was Eric Kruszew-ski, a freelance multi-media photographer who lives in Baltimore.
    “Everyone there was so passionate about the group’s mission,” Kruszew-ski recalled. “Especially  former steelworkers, who were estactic.”
    Kruszewski’s family lived in Essex and Dundalk, and some of his relatives worked at Bethlehem Steel. He is interested in documenting the impact of the end of steel manufacturing at Sparrows Point on the lives of former steelworkers for a project he calls “Life After Steel.”
    In January 2013, he began visiting the area looking for personal stories. He interviewed and filmed Bobby Curran, who worked at Bethlehem Steel for 39 years. The film can be viewed by visiting www.erickruszewski.com and clicking on “Life After Steel.”
    While Barry’s interviews focus on history, Kruszewski’s work documents the current lives of former steelworkers. Kruszewski invites former steelworkers interested in being interviewed to contact him at eric@erickruszewski.com.
    Other initiatives disussed at the November meeting included two Facebook sites that are  available as a medium for collecting memories: “I Grew Up in Sparrows Point” and “I Worked at Sparrows Point.”
    Barry promoted the placement of an historical marker that will commemorate steelworkers. “It’s real important that history like this be seen in public,” he explained in the interview. The desired location for the marker would be Sparrows Point Road, near the former steel complex.
    He agreed to submit a proposal for the marker to Nancy Kurtz, the National Register Coordinator for the Maryland Historical Trust.
    Kurtz was key in Barry’s successful campaign to erect the historical marker on
S. Howard Street that commemorates the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, which was unveiled in a ceremony on March 23.
    The proposed historical marker for steelworkers  also will need approval from the Maryland Highway Administration.
    One problem discussed at the meeting was restricted access to the former steel manufacturing complex. Access is necessary for historical documentation efforts. However, roads at the site have been closed to the public by the current owners. Attempts by Barry and others to enter or photograph the area have been stopped by security guards, according to Barry.
    A group of Towson University students and their faculty mentors visited the site this summer with audio/video equipment to record information for the Anthropology by the Wire,
a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the school’s anthropology department.
    After a six-week hands-on training course on research methods and audio/video techniques, groups of students in the program are placed with community groups and individuals involved in documenting local issues in the Baltimore area. The students at Sparrows Point were collaborating with Barry to research and document the lives of former steelworkers.
    “Yes, we were turned away at the steel plant,” Towson Univeristy teacher Matthew Durington told The Eagle. “We were not trying to enter the plant, but were just on the side of a public road taking pictures and were told by security guards that we were on private property and needed to leave.”      
    The status of the proposed labor history museum was reviewed at the meeting. The next step in the plans for the museum requires establishing a nonprofit organization for the effort, which Barry is pursuing.
    A second meeting of the  Sparrows Point History Group is being planned for January. 
    Del. Joseph “Sonny” Minnick is another man on a mission to keep Sparrows Point history alive. Though not a member of the Sparrows Point History Group, he has been the principal advocate for a monument at the site dedicated to steelworkers. [See his column, “Sonny Side Up” in the Dec. 12 Eagle.]
    “It’s a dream of mine,” the delegate said of the monument. “Twenty years from now, some kid is going to ask his father, ‘Where did they make steel at?’ It was [Sparrows Point] steel that built the ships and planes that helped two war efforts.”
    No design for the monument has yet been proposed. Minnick plans to form a committee that includes former steelworkers and county and state officials to facilitate the design process and determine a site for the monument.
    “I would prefer North Point Boulevard [for the location of the monument], near the plant, but that will be decided by Baltimore County,” said Minnick.
    As for funding, Minnick submitted a bond bill during the 2013 General Assembly session. “The chairman of the committee liked the idea, but there was no money in the budget for something like this,” he said.
    During the 2014 session, Minnick’s final legislative session before retiring, he plans to resubmit the funding bill for the monument.