Hiawatha to get 50th birthday party Saturday
IRONWOOD - The Ironwood Chamber of Commerce will host a historical presentation with a few speakers to commemorate the 50th birthday of the giant fiberglass statue of Native American chief Hiawatha this weekend.
The real-life Hiawatha is credited as co-founder of the Iroquois Confederacy, which united five separate Native American tribes.
Ironwood Mayor Kim Corcoran is expected to say a few words, as is local historian Larry Peterson and Nancy Gotta, whose father-in-law, Charlie Gotta Sr., was instrumental in bringing the 52-foot tall statue to the city.
Charlie Gotta Sr. was the operator of Point Motor Sales and Gotta Motors Inc., of Ironwood, and was struck with the idea for the statue after visiting International Falls, Minn., where an oversized Smokey Bear statue resides.
The Smokey Bear statue is 26-feet tall and was made by Gordon Display, of St. Paul, Minn., the same company that built the Hiawatha statue.
When Gotta Sr. approached the Chamber of Commerce with his idea of bringing the statue to the area in 1960, he was turned away. So he tried again in '61, but suffered the same fate. The chamber, it appeared, wasn't interested in a oversized Native American statue.
But Gotta Sr. was determined the statue would increase local tourism after seeing people spend money at restaurants and hotels while staying in International Falls and viewing the Smokey Bear statue.
The Chamber of Commerce finally bought into the idea in 1962 and agreed to purchase the Hiawatha statue for $10,000.
The entire project cost about $15,000, including the statue, the concrete base and the preparation of the site.
It took more than 700 pounds, or 55 cubic yards, of concrete to create a base strong enough to support the 5,000 pounds of 26-foot steel reinforcement beams hidden beneath the chief's fiberglass legs.
The statue weighs 18,000 pounds and is able to withstand winds of up to 145 mph.
More than 1,000 people stood in the sun for several hours on June 27, 1964 when the statue was hoisted by a 90-foot crane and set on its foundation. And the crowd went wild with applause when the chief was secured, looking out over the city of Ironwood.
The statue was transported from Minneapolis, Minn., on a 70-foot flatbed trailer. The chief's outstretched arm wasn't attached at the time so that it could fit under highway overpasses.
The trailer was more than 14 feet wide and required a special permit, as well as a police escort, to make the 12-14 hour trek through three states.
The historical presentation is set to begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the site of the statue, Hiawatha Park, at the southeastern end of Burma Road.
There will be coffee, cake and other refreshments.
The event is part of Festival Ironwood, which is taking place throughout the weekend, just blocks from the statue at the Old Depot Park in downtown Ironwood.