Steel Museum ready to celebrate | News, Sports, Jobs
YOUNGSTOWN – Youngstown’s historic center of industry and labor – or the Steel Museum as most people call it – tells the story of the valley’s 30-year connection to the steel industry.
The center will celebrate the anniversary, which officially takes place on June 27, with a series of lectures beginning this month.
Site manager Marcelle Wilson, who has been there since 2014, said the museum’s mission has evolved to reflect changes in the way history is presented and used for educational purposes.
“We tried not to react but to embrace a lot of the changes that have happened in the realm of history,” said Wilson.
The educational program he brings to schools includes the presentation of artifacts, but he uses the artifacts to teach real-world skills, such as problem solving, budgeting, math, and the use of primary and secondary sources.
Programming is also designed to accommodate people with special needs and reflects the multicultural makeup of the Mahoning Valley, which the steel mills have helped foster.
“People of color came from the South” said Wilson. “A large Puerto Rican community was recruited to come and work here in the 1950s and 1960s. We have a lot of Italians and different ethnic groups here who were recruited to work in the factories, and that created a community not only based on personal experiences but also on their collective experiences of working in the factories.
There were signs in the factories in several languages, and the bosses did little to try to eliminate these language barriers, she said, because they made it more difficult to organize the different factions.
Over the decades, the museum has collected oral histories of many men and women who worked in the mills, and it tries to dispel misconceptions about these workers.
“Almost everyone we spoke to loved their jobs, loved the people they worked with,” said Wilson. “They felt like they were working with their family. There was a lot of camaraderie. The men all wanted to support each other and do a good job.
At the same time, it was hard and dangerous work. Everything was so heavy, from the buckets to the tools the workers used to withstand the heat, and visitors can feel how heavy some of these tools were.
“Working in a steel mill took a toll on their physical health – lung ailments, physical disabilities, injuries, deaths,” said Wilson. “I don’t think we give it enough thought today due to the advent of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in the 1970s. The industry had existed long before that. We emphasize the dangerousness of this and the evolution of protective clothing.
The building designed by architect Michael Graves has a massive collection of artifacts from the valley’s steel history, and only about 10% of the collection is on display at any given time, but assistant curator John Liana has said there were gaps in the collection, especially in the United States. Steel items.
“From what I understand, when they shut down US Steel, they dug a big hole and all the records and blueprints and everything went into that big hole,” he said. “They set fire to it and put dirt on it. They didn’t want any public records left by US Steel at all. Then they threw the ovens and everything for scrap and left only a big scar.
“Some of the guys ran off with certain things before they did this. I just have to get some of them to step up or clean out an attic or whatever their grandkids are doing these days.
Wilson credited AmeriCorps Museum representative Jessica Baloun with coming up with a series of lectures to mark the anniversary.
The first speaker will be Bill Lawson, director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, the “30 Years of Youngstown Social and Political Identity” at 6 p.m. on April 21.
“He has been in the valley for so long and has a lot of experience with the social and political identity of the community,” said Wilson. “He was a logical choice to come and speak for us. We respect the work that he and his organization do, and he is a very good speaker.
Tom Leary, outgoing director of the applied history program at YSU, will speak about “Saving the history of steel: 30 years of preserving industrial heritage” June 23. Members of the Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana will speak “Work Experiences in the Spanish Speaking Community of Youngstown” on September 22, and the series will conclude on November 10 with Donna DeBlasio, the museum’s first director, “Reflecting on the Creation and Growth of the Steel Museum.”
“We chose people who could address the issues we’ve seen over the past 30 years,” said Wilson.
A digital exhibit marking the anniversary will be posted on the center’s website – https://www.youngstownohiosteelmuseum.org
30th Anniversary Lecture Series
• April 21th – “30 Years of Youngstown Social and Political Identity” by Bill Lawson, director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society
• June 23 – “Saving the history of steel: 30 years of preserving industrial heritage” by Tom Leary, outgoing director of the applied history program at Youngstown State University
• September 22 – “Work Experiences in the Spanish Speaking Community of Youngstown” by members of the Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana (OCCHA)
• November 10 – “Reflection on the creation and development of the Steel Museum” by Donna DeBlasio, former director of the Youngstown Historic Center of Industry and Labor
All programs begin at 6 p.m. at the Youngstown Historic Center of Industry and Labor, 151 W. Wood St., Youngstown. Free entry.