Men of Steel
July 29, 2018 8:58 AM   Subscribe

How Brooklyn’s Native American ironworkers built New York

The Empire State Building. The George Washington Bridge. The United Nations. The Woolworth Building. 30 Rock. The Seagram Building. Lincoln Center. The Waldorf Astoria. Virtually all of New York’s most iconic structures were raised in part by Mohawk Native American ironworkers.
posted by poffin boffin (18 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
It's a great story. I remember Life magazine used to have pictorials on the Mohawks often.
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:07 AM on July 29, 2018

I'm pretty sure I saw a documentary once, many years ago, about the construction of skyscrapers that covered this very subject. I seem to recall it had film of the Mohawk steelworkers walking along beams hundreds of feet up with no safety lines and doing sit ups off the ends of them and other such unimaginable things (unimaginable to someone with a fear of heights so profound she has issues to this day about going more than a few rungs up a step ladder).
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:25 AM on July 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I painted houses for almost a decade and spent hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hours at the top of 40' ladders sometimes even 60' ones but the casual way that those guys could work on beams thousands of feet up just blows me away.
posted by octothorpe at 10:29 AM on July 29, 2018

Also made mention of in Joni's "Song for Sharon ..."

Little Indian kids on a bridge up in Canada
They can balance and they can climb
Like their fathers before them
They'll walk the girders of the Manhattan skyline

posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:58 AM on July 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

On High Steel ~ The Education of an Ironworker by Mike Cherry is a great book. (Kirkus review) Cherry found himself out of his teaching job, divorced, working a series on dead-end factory jobs, and then he fell into a gig as an iron-worker. He was not a native American but he sure worked with them, and wrote about it for us. Hell of a read.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:16 AM on July 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

"The Mohawks in High Steel", Joseph Mitchell
Can be found in Up in the Old Hotel
posted by librosegretti at 11:34 AM on July 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

One of the last surviving connections to the era of the Mohawks, Hank's Saloon in Boerum Hill (formerly the Doray Tavern), will be closing at the end of the year.
posted by neroli at 12:03 PM on July 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

That first photo. It makes me... smile.
posted by Splunge at 12:57 PM on July 29, 2018

I'm pretty sure I saw a documentary once, many years ago, about the construction of skyscrapers that covered this very subject

Was it Skyscraper, about the construction of Worldwide Plaza? It's a fun documentary in any case. Though I imagine construction in New York involves fewer mobsters and more computers now
posted by ddbeck at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by Cuke at 2:29 PM on July 29, 2018

ddbeck, looks familiar so maybe part of the same series?
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:40 PM on July 29, 2018

I have a hazy memory of my Dad telling me about a science fiction short story that mentioned the Mohawks who walked high steel...
posted by Qex Rodriguez at 5:25 PM on July 29, 2018

IIRC, Edward James Olmos played a Mohawk Iron Walker (and possible were-eagle) in the film adaptation of Wolfen.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:18 AM on July 30, 2018

Hah, I was going to mention Wolfen. I didn't think that anyone else remembered that movie.
posted by octothorpe at 5:24 AM on July 30, 2018

In the Previously that Cuke links to is a link I think should be highlighted here - the National Film Board of Canada's short documentary on the subject entitled High Steel by the late great Don Owen. There also Alanis Obomsawin's SpudWrench which is a bit longer and brings in some of the politics of the time in was shot (late 90s).
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:47 AM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Now that it's on the blue, I get to ask a question about this that I've wanted to know since I learned of it a while ago.
Are there other fields/industries/etc similarly dominated by First Nations & Native Americans?
Like, 'half the barbers in Northern Michigan are Ojibwe', or 'if you want a really good large-animal veterinarian, find a Sioux', or ' if you want to break into the gumball machine business, you better learn Nahuatl first'?
posted by bartleby at 3:53 PM on July 30, 2018

Came in here to mention On High Steel and Wolfen and you guys didn't let me down.

On High Steel is my go-to reference when refuting 9/11 conspiracy theories on inside-job/super thermite/contrail tanks bringing the towers down.
posted by Molesome at 7:56 AM on July 31, 2018

Sorry that I just noticed this but apparently the tag input for fpp's doesn't recognize some of the letters in "Kanien'kehá:ka" which is the preferred tribal name.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:58 AM on July 31, 2018

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