Locals piece together memories of Barnes-Hecker

ISHPEMING — Thursday, November 3, 2016, marks the 90th anniversary of the Barnes–Hecker mining tragedy that left 132 children fatherless and 42 women husbandless.

A core group of descendants and local historians spent the better part of the last few months organizing events in honor of those that survived the fallen miners by unraveling a long and sad history.

“The outpouring of support from this, not only the families, but also the people of this community, have been nothing short of phenomenal,” said the Barnes–Hecker Remembrance Committee Co–Chair Jim Paquette.

The idea to honor the legendary mining tragedy on its anniversary initially came out of program planning for the Marquette Regional History Center. Jim Paquette, who is president of the History Center’s board, thought it was a service greatly needed for the community, which has strong familial ties to the 1926 disaster.

This idea eventually morphed into Paquette’s presentation entitled ‘Miners Died and Widows Cried; Death in the Iron Ore Mines,’ which was given at the U.P. History Conference in Munising this year. The presentation focused on the deaths and serious injuries that occurred on the Marquette Iron Range, including the Barnes–Hecker accident.

As Paquette was preparing, Mary Tippett, a descendant of the sole survivor of the tragedy and two of the victims, offered her family’s photos and stories. It was from this partnership that created the Barnes–Hecker Remembrance Committee, headed by Tippett and Paquette.

The goal was to not only bring awareness of the anniversary to a local level, but to pay tribute to every miner who has died on the Marquette Iron Range.

“That’s one of the things we brought forth in the celebration of life for those people,” Paquette said. “It’s a sad event and we want to celebrate not only the lives of those miners but also the families and remember the things they went through.”

Historians from the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum and the Marquette Regional History Center pitched in their knowledge and artifacts. But the community outreach that supplied committee members with real stories and photo albums was a tremendous help in piecing the story together.

“Everyone has brought in their heart and their knowledge and their connections,” Tippett said. “We’ve ended up finding people who have connected with other family members they didn’t know.”

The group has seen full capacity turn out at the two events that were held prior to the anniversary. Tippett says she hopes holding these commemorative events will inspire the younger generations to talk with their parents and grandparents about their family history.

“Knowing that it’s been 90 years and knowing that the people of my generation would have the most knowledge from family, if we didn’t do an observance this year, then my children, my grandchildren and other people’s children and grandchildren would say ‘Yeah, we know that happened a long time ago but we’re not really sure,” Tippett said.

Though this accident is close to a century old, the threat of deaths and injuries still linger in the minds of the families that send their loved ones out to the mines each and every day.

“For those iron ore miners that work there today, it’s been the most important thing there always was and that is that you have to make it home at the end of the shift because there’s someone waiting for you at home,” Paquette said.

Today has been proclaimed as Barnes–Hecker Remembrance Day by several townships within the county, along with the county itself. In addition, several local churches rang their bells at 11:20am 51 times in honor of each of the miners who died in the cave–in.

If you missed the past few events but still wish to pay tribute to the miners and their families, you can catch the ecumenical service Thursday, November 3, at the Bethel Lutheran Church at 7pm.

On Saturday, November 5, there will be a candlelight vigil from 6pm–8pm at the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum to recreate the feeling the families had as they waited to hear if their miners were still alive 90 years ago.