Turhan Clause, an Algonquin and Mohawk ironworker, on a fake beam in the exhibit. (Courtesy Iroquois Indian Museum)
The next time you’re in Manhattan, a place where skyscrapers poke at the clouds, look up and think about this:
The men who built those giants were perched hundreds of feet above the ground and walked on girders less than 12 inches wide.
The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, the Time Warner Building. Haudenosaunee ironworkers from the Six Nations of the Iroquois, most of them Mohawks, raised and riveted the beams of New York’s iconic buildings.
From 1968 to 1972, the World Trade Center was built by 500 men, 200 of whom were Mohawks.
At the Iroquois Indian Museum, a new exhibit, “Walking the Steel: From Girder to Ground Zero,” honors the Native Americans who proudly chose jobs in structural ironworking, one of the most dangerous occupations in construction.
“The structures are larger than life, the stories are larger than life,” says Colette Lemmon, curator of exhibitions.
“We hope this will pull in guys that are in construction, women in construction, young people who are interested in construction.”
Tools, work clothes, historic photos, artwork and many other objects borrowed from ironworkers were brought together to tell their stories.
The exhibit “resonates with family values, community values, things we forget,” says Lemmon.
“The ideas are about teamwork, responsibility for actions, standing up to fear.”
The story begins in the 1880s with Mohawks on Kahnawake Indian lands in Quebec.
When the Dominion Bridge Company of Canada wanted to build a bridge from Montreal through the Kahnawake, the contract to obtain land rights required that they hire Mohawks. The Native Americans proved to be skilled climbers and were trained to do structural ironwork.
Read the full story on dailygazette.com