Mistrust. Pride. Cancer. Prosperity. Shock. Community. A series of striking contrasts emerged as themes throughout the BMI’s “A Mill on the Patapsco” story sharing program at the Sollers Point branch of the Baltimore County Public Library on June 5, 2019. As part of the museum’s commitment to community participation, we partnered with the library to host this program. The evening attracted a racially diverse group of about 25 men and women from the Dundalk area ranging in age from elementary school to senior citizens. Almost everyone in the room had some kind of personal connection to Bethlehem Steel.

A word cloud summarizes some of the stories shared that evening

I was struck by the enormous disparity between participants’ fond memories of the company and their negative experiences, especially when it came to health problems caused by the steelmaking environment. I heard former employees and their family members describe benefits like 13 weeks of paid vacation–an unbelievable amount in 2019!–and how working at Bethlehem Steel enabled families to start their own businesses, buy homes, send their kids to college, and travel to visit relatives out-of-state. They also recalled the risks that accompanied the work–how living in the shadow of a steel mill led to untimely deaths due to industrial accidents, cancer, and lung disease. It could also be a terrifying force. For one man working at Sparrows Point, the heat from the blast furnace felt like a “preview of hell.” We also discussed the uncomfortable realities of discrimination and segregation, which shaped everyday life in the community. I could sense the pride with which participants spoke of their contributions to American war efforts as well as the betrayal of the company’s bankruptcy that still stings many area residents.

Other elements of the program provided more information about the history behind the famous steel mill. Volunteers from the Turner Station Conservation Teams opened the Turner Station History Center, located in the lobby of the county multipurpose center. This museum offers insights into the experience of African American workers at the mill as well as exhibits on neighborhood figures, community institutions, businesses, and housing. Senior museum educator (and Dundalk resident) Jack Burkert provided an overview of Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Steel Mill through a thoroughly researched Powerpoint presentation. After touring the exhibits and hearing from Jack, participants broke into small groups to share their own stories about working in the steel industry and everyday life in Sparrows Point.

Join us for our next story sharing program on August 10

The museum staff chose this format so that individuals who possess a great deal of expertise on the this topic of Bethlehem Steel could connect with each other as well as share their insights with the museum. We are actively seeking public input into this project, to help shape both future programming (such as film screenings, author talks, workshops, etc.) and as well as the exhibition slated to go up in 2021. Hearing directly from these individuals helps museum staff like me—I did not grow up in the Baltimore area and don’t have any personal connections to this topic—better understand what visitors already know about and are hungry to learn about when it comes to Bethlehem Steel. We also sent a follow-up survey to participants who shared their contact information, to ask their opinion on the program format.

If you couldn’t make it on June 5 but would like to participate in a similar program, come to the North Point library on Saturday, August 10 or follow the BMI on social media to get updates about future programs. You can also share your Bethlehem Steel story using this form.

Big thanks to the BMI’s partners who were essential to making this program happen: the Baltimore County Public Library, the Turner Station Conservation Teams, and The Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture.

Author Bio:

Auni Gelles is the museum’s Community Programs Manager, overseeing the BMI’s community outreach efforts, public programs (such as workshops, presentations, film screenings, author talks), and Farmers’ Market. A Seattle native, she currently lives in Hampden with her husband, son, and dog.

Story Sharing at Sollers Point

on June 21, 2019 Updates and Tags: , , , , , , , , , , with 0 comments
A special exhibition on Bethlehem Steel in the Turner Station History Center, curated by the Turner Station Conservation Teams

Mistrust. Pride. Cancer. Prosperity. Shock. Community. A series of striking contrasts emerged as themes throughout the BMI’s “A Mill on the Patapsco” story sharing program at the Sollers Point branch of the Baltimore County Public Library on June 5, 2019. As part of the museum’s commitment to community participation, we partnered with the library to […]

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Fixing the Problem with Iron

on June 3, 2019 Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project and Tags: , , , with 0 comments
A black and white photograph of the Bethlehem Steel mill at Sparrows Point, including railroads A 1940 photograph of the Sparrows Point steel mill by John Vachon, from the Library of Congress.

An overview of industrial steelmaking – by Jack Burkert Editor’s note: For another look at the steelmaking process, check out “Steel in the Making,” a brochure published by Bethlehem Steel and now housed in the BMI’s archives.   The railroads had a problem. From their earliest days in the 19th century, the rails their trains […]

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About the Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project

on May 8, 2019 Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project, Updates and Tags: , , , with 0 comments

We at the Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI) are proud to unveil this blog, which will provide behind-the-scenes insights into our Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project (BSLP). Announced in late January, this multi-year initiative will include several different elements. One major goal is to create a permanent exhibition at the museum in 2021. Members of the […]

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Collecting, Conversing, and Collaborating

on May 8, 2019 Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project, Updates and Tags: , , , with 0 comments

April 2019 project update by Deb Weiner The success of the Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project depends on input from community members, so we jumped at the opportunity to present to Tradepoint Atlantic’s semi-annual meeting. The meeting typically draws around 200 people—former steelworkers, residents of nearby neighborhoods such as Dundalk, Turner Station, and North Point, and […]

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Glimpses of an industrial past – a tour with Bill Barry

on March 26, 2019 Behind the Scenes, Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project, Stories with 0 comments
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